“Peace Process Problems in Muslim Mindanao” by Malcolm Cook

2017/50, 22 August 2017

The Marawi City siege is the latest symptom of the profound political alienation of Muslim Mindanao.



Both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Duterte administration have publicly stated that the solution to this alienation includes the creation of a Bangsamoro regional autonomous government along the lines agreed upon by the preceding Aquino administration and the MILF. Last week, the Office of the President submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate a revised draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.


Two timing problems with this current draft bill suggest that it, like its Aquino administration predecessor, may fail again at this key legislative stage:

1) In the House of Representatives, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a key Duterte ally, has tabled a separate and distinctly different bill to establish a Bangsamoro regional autonomous government. This will delay and greatly complicate the House’s deliberations. It likely will mean that any Bangsamoro bill passed by the House will be substantially different to any passed by the Senate. These differences will likely extend and aggravate the congressional process of negotiating a single reconciled bill to submit to the President.

2) President Duterte has consistently argued that the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic Law and its establishment of a Bangsamoro regional autonomous government is an interim step to the establishment of a devolved federal system of government for the Philippines. No plan for this federal system has been made public. Yet, the current government timeline calls for the referendum to approve the required constitutional amendments to be held in 2019.


The likelihood that the two decade-old peace process between the Philippine government and the MILF will be subsumed at a final stage by the Duterte administration’s push for federalism is rising. The lack of detail of the proposed federal system, the difficulty of constitutional revision (a process that has yet to begin), and the Duterte administration’s tight timeline suggest that the plan to shift to federalism, and all that it has subsumed, may not prosper.   


Dr Malcolm Cook is Senior Fellow at the Regional Strategic and Political Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.


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