Cotabato City, BARMM – More than a hundred civil societyleaders and peace advocates gathered in Cotabato City from November 24-26 for the Kaakbay Kapayaan: Civil Society Peace and Solidarity Assemblyto facilitate public dialogue, consolidate their gains, and discussedwhat they call are “immense challenges and opportunities in both the Bangsamoro and GRP-NDFP peace processes.”

Organizers of the event said, “We see the critical importance of civil society’s role and participation in ensuring sustainable and enduring peace. We vow to pursue an enabling environment for meaningful people’s participation in agenda building and active citizenship during the political transition, especially in normalization and transitional justice aspects of the overall peace process in and beyond the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).”

Since its formal installation and inauguration in the first quarter of 2019, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) continues to organize its bureaucracy, draft priority legislations, and deliver basic social services while instituting reforms. Parallel to this political development is the accelerated implementation of the Normalization track that was recently punctuated with its 2nd phase of the decommissioning process last September.

Reiterating its previous demand tocriticallyintegrate transitional justice lens in the Bangsamoro, they stressed, “We have yet to see the Transitional Justice component to catch up alongside the decommissioning element and the cascading of socio-economic packages for the former combatants in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and its annexes.”

In his keynote speech during the first day of the said event,BARMM Interim Chief Minister Hon. Ahod Balawag Ebrahim stressed the need for Advancing Moral Governance in BARMM and the role of civil society. In a speech delivered by Asst. Regional Cabinet Secretary Atty. Ayla Herazade E. Salendab, the chief minister said, “The BARMM and its promise of lasting peace and development in the region arose from the labor not only of our brothers-in-struggle-and-arms but also of the stakeholders of peace, principally the civil society, which helped build an environment conducive to the peace process.”

Hon. Ebrahim added, “As the struggle has moved from the battlefield to the government offices, we are confronted with another difficult challenge – the challenge of moral governance. The challenge is not so much in assuming key positions of power in government but rather in advancing a government that is ethical and moral—a government whose vision is lasting peace, stability, democracy and progress but all in the context of, and is limited by, ethical and moral values.”

Addressing the civil society participants, he pointed out, “This is why in these challenging times we need the strength and resilience of the civil society to counterbalance the government and influence people using mechanisms outside the government. Civil society is our watchdogs, our critics, our friends, sometimes our foes, our partners, our movers and our challengers.”

The event in the morning of the first day dubbed “CSO Innovative Peace Engagements” was divided into 3 panels: Promoting Human Rights and Justice; Humanitarian Accountability; Good Governance, Sustainable Development and Environment. In the afternoon 3 other panels were held simultaneously on: Right to Self Determination; National Peace Policy; and Advancing a Culture of Peace.

Reacting further on the GRP-NDFP talks currently in limbo, Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), executive director Gus Miclat said, “The protracted insurgency that began in 1968 has already claimed an estimated 30,000 lives. How many more lives do we have to lose before we say it’s enough? If we are to build a genuinely peaceful Philippine society, parties involved must invest time and energy to consider political negotiation as a means where principled compromises must be reached to address the fundamental roots of the conflict.”

Miclat added, “We respectfully reiterate our view that a return to violence will hurt both parties and the end recipient of armed conflict due to the absence of a formal peace process are certainly the peoples and communities whom both parties vow and claim to fight for.”

Also, the Mindanao PeaceWeavers marking its 16 years of peacebuilding work in the country said,“Mindful of the current challenges we all are confronted within the BARMM and the rest of Mindanao whereby human rights and security challenges have become endemic due to the continuing enforcement of Martial Law and a punitive anti-drug campaign amidst a heightened counter-insurgency drive due to the stalled GRP-NDFP peace talks – it is imperative for civil society, kindred defenders and advocates to consolidate our ranks and address the problems on shrinking civic space in the country.”

The 3-day gathering of civil society and peace stakeholders was made possible through the collaborative support of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) and its consortium partners under the project “Enhancing Political Dialogue for Inclusive Peace in the Bangsamoro” (ENPOLD), the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD), and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict through its Working Group on Enabling Collaboration (GPPAC-WGEC). The gathering is also a celebration of the 16 years of Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW), a broad network of peace advocates engaging the peace processes in the country.