A Muslim group which spent decades engaged in armed struggle against the Philippines government in the country’s south is now running a local government after entering a peace agreement last year.
The peace process between Philippine authorities and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has reached an advanced stage, Turkish Ambassador to Ethiopia Fatih Ulusoy, also head of the International Decommissioning Body (IDB) -- which is overseeing the MILF disarmament -- told Anadolu Agency.
The Philippines' landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last year, established an autonomous region for the Muslims living in the southern Philippines. A referendum this January and February in the region ratified the law, paving the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Duterte and members of the new autonomous government -- which includes MILF members -- will govern the regional administration until 2022 when elections will be held.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Ulusoy spoke on the peace process, the disarmament phase, the autonomous government’s approach, and the role of Turkey.
Anadolu Agency: There was a chronic problem in the Philippines for many years. With the establishment of a comprehensive autonomous region after half a century, there is progress towards peace. During this process, a committee and sub-committees were established to follow the peace process. You are chairing one of them. First of all, could you tell us about the functioning of the IDB?
Fatih Ulusoy: It was a process with many ups and downs, continuing over a long time. As a result of the peace process in the southern Philippines, there was a framework agreement in 2014 with two drafts, called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
Turkish Ambassador to Ethiopia Fatih Ulusoy
This agreement has an attachment titled normalization. In its annexure, the establishment of the IDB was decided by the parties, namely the Philippines government and the MILF. It is not under the roof of the UN or any other international organization. But it is a key constituent in the normalization structure.
At that time, parties decided to hand over the presidency of the IDB to Turkey. I find this very important. Beyond the importance, it is a concrete sign of confidence in Turkey. In addition, Turkey is making important efforts for the peaceful resolution of conflicts in many regions globally. Apart from working on the ground, it is also playing a significant role in UN bodies. We are holding a conference on this subject in our country. Peaceful solutions to global problems and disputes have an important place in the foreign policy and diplomacy of Turkey.
The peace process in the southern Philippines has multiple mechanisms. There are many different dimensions, such as the political dimension -- for monitoring the cease-fire and the security dimension -- for obtaining socioeconomic rights of the MILF members. Also, the issue of disarmament, which is being monitored by the IDB. I have been on this mission this year.
The process of disarmament has not yet started definitely. A limited number of MILF members were disarmed in 2015. Since then, Bangsamoro has been in the process of delivering a list. They submitted it last month. During my second visit to Muslim Mindanao's capital Cotabato in the second half of March, we agreed on some important points. We can say the process has gained momentum. In particular, the process reached a tangible point after the peace agreement adopted by the Philippine Assembly and signed by President Duterte in 2018. As a result, in February, the region of Mindanao, as per the referendum, was named the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, governed by Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA). The transitional authority has 80 members. We can call it a parliamentary system of government. This is a three-year process until 2022. In February 2019, the BTA was sworn in at President Duterte's office.