ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Regional Darul Ifta’ in partnership with Institute of Autonomy and Governance conducted the Ulama Leaders conference on the Peace Processes and Federalism to engage the Ulama in the crafting of the converge Bangsamoro Basic Law.  As an agency mandated to provide moral and spiritual leadership and guidance through continuing struggle (mujahadah) and transformation of the Bangsamoro Muslim community, and to steer them towards the realization of a “community of moderation” (Ummatan Wasatan) and “mercy to humankind” (Rahmatan Lil ‘Alameen), it is important that there is unity among the Bangsamoro leaders whether political, traditional and religious leaders as they are the key players in achieving genuine peace. The Ulama lead in the promotion of meaningful dialogues for peaceful and harmonious co-existence in Mindanao.

Day-1: Arrival of Participants

The program started with a short introduction by Mr. Jefferson Isaac E. Jagoh which was followed by a Prayer by Aleem Terim Mohammad, Grand Imam of Basilan Province. Mr. Noor Saada (see Attendance Sheet) acknowledged the participants. Participants came from different parts of the country, specifically Davao, Cotabato, Palawan, General Santos, Maguindanao, Lanao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga. Representatives from National Commission on Muslim Filipinos were also present and acknowledged. The total number of participants coming from different sectors was 68 persons, composing of 55 males and 8 females. Also, important guests and partners were also acknowledged: Institute for Autonomy and Governance, PRO-PolitiCS for PEACE, Regional Darul-Ifta’-ARMM, Local Government Development Foundation, Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, ZABIDA, and Australian Aid.

Atty. Benedicto R. Bacani, Executive Director of IAG started by thanking partners who were present. He introduced the Institute of Autonomy and Governance to the participants by saying that the institute is focused on finding political solutions to the conflict in Mindanao particularly on autonomy and on federalism. Furthermore, he stressed that being a Muslim is very significant as the Islamic perspective is wholistic and cannot be divisive especially in matters on politics, religion and social issues. He expressed even more that the role of religious leaders are very important in this sense because they greatly affect the lives of the people. Atty. Bacani said that peace in Mindanao is not only for those in revolutionary groups such as the MILF and MNLF, the peace process involves everyone therefore many people should be consulted about it. Islam being a religion of peace, the role of the religious leaders of Islam is very important in terms of knowing about the peace process and having the right perspective about it. It is very fortunate that the President himself comes from Mindanao and identifies himself as a Maranao. He has a deep understanding of the Mindanao conflict and he wants to solve it during his term. He wanted to change the constitution itself to accommodate the solution to a lasting and sustainable peace. Atty. Bacani also highlighted that together with this opportunity are challenges which must be overcome. And the role of religious leaders of Islam is significant to institute reforms as they influence the hearts and minds of people. The politicians’ interests are only temporary but the Ulamas, scholars and other religious leaders’ interests are more lasting and permanent. Therefore, he asked the participants to have an open heart and mind as well as they go on with the sessions.

He was followed by the Message of the Executive Director of ARMM – Regional Darul-Ifta’, Alim Abdulmuhmin A. Mujahid. In his message, he finds the activity very significant because it is the first time that such a conference was held relating to the peace process and federalism, especially since this conference was particularly made for the Ulamas and religious leaders. It is important to finally listen to the voices of the Ulamas. They actually play a vital role in the struggle of the Bangsamoro. Prior to the formation of the MNLF, a group of Ulamas formed an organization to defend the rights and privileges of the Bangsamoro people in the southern Philippines. Later on, some of the members of this organization went on to join the MNLF. But many years later, other Ustadz also formed their own groups to continue the struggle- Abubakar Janjalani who formed the Abu Sayyaf, Umbra Katoh of the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters and Abdulah Maute and Omar Maute of the Maute Group among others. It is also important to know why this happened where Ulama are the ones who formed groups against the Philippine government. But in terms of the peace process and in talks about peace, the Ulama are rarely considered to take part. Most of the times, they are just being used during elections. So if there are similar conferences such as this, please do not forget the Ulama. The role of the Ulama has been confined to religious activities only. People forget that Ulama are also significant in other things as exemplified in the history of the Bangsamoro struggle. So, when IAG wanted to partner with us for this event, we immediately responded as this will really be a big help in the Bangsamoro struggle.

The Program Manager of Pro PolitiCS, Prof. Reydan Lacson, gave the Project Overview. In his presentation, Pro Politics for Peace is a project with 3-year timeframe implemented by IAG and this is in partnership with 3 local NGOs- Local Government Development Foundation, Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy and Zamboanga – Basilan Integrated Development Alliance. Pro PolitiCS or Promoting Politics, Climate and Stability for Peace in the Bangsamoro is supported by the Australian Aid. It attends to the strengthening of participation of political leaders as well as traditional leaders, women political leaders and religious leaders in the ARMM. It also caters to their participation in the broader peace process in Mindanao. No one actually attends to this sector of society in terms of participation in the peace process; there are those who attend to Civil Society Organizations, Academe, Women’s groups but none for political leaders. That is why, Pro PolitiCS for Peace focuses on them. Engagements have been very fruitful as political leaders, elected officials were very grateful as they had the opportunity to talk directly to the main actors of the peace process. Apart from all of these, the project also does research especially in terms of governance in the ARMM to serve as a guide to policy makers in the future. National analysts are being invited to converse directly to the participants as well as to deliver information directly. That is why it is necessary to engage in a conversation because the overarching agenda is to harness participation of Bangasamoro political leaders including Muslim religious leaders to the broader peace process so that in the end when it comes to choosing, we will have an informed participation and an informed choice pertaining to our situation.

Fatima Rasul of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy shares how the organization started. PCID was established as a council in 2000 and it addresses global and domestic challenges confronting Islam and Muslims that fuels scepticism on the compatibility of Islamic Democracy such as the US war on terror and the governance failures in the ARMM. PCID actively engages Muslim religious scholars and leaders, women and youth, and through the years PCID has an important platform in the articulation of the Muslim voices. The most important activity of PCID is when it organized the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines. Transitioning from a council to a center in 2010, PCID is now a think tank for Islam and Democracy, Human Rights, Genuine Autonomy, Peace building and Dialogue, and the current Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism. PCID is happy to be involved in the Pro PolitiCS project because it is high time that something good should happen to the Muslims in Mindanao and the whole country. PCID hopes that it could help a little so that we invite the participants to tap PCID for whatever help it can contribute. PCID also focuses on capacity building of Muslim religious leaders all over Mindanao.

In his Message, Mr. Vandrazaile Birowa, ZABIDA stands for Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance. It is a consortium of four organizations, namely; Nagdilaab Foundation based in Basilan, Reach Out to Others Foundation, where it focuses mainly on agriculture, Katilingban para sa Kalamboan where it focuses mainly on children, especially those who are victims of trafficking, at the same time other social development engagements, lastly we have Peace Advocates Zamboanga or PAZ, where it advocates for inter-solidarity peace movement at the same time most notable is its establishment of the Mindanao Week of Peace. The full thrust of the organization is based on the human security framework. This kind of framework goes beyond the peace process or the absence of war but looks at a holistic view to include food security and freedom among others.

Prof. Lacson reminded everyone about the pre-test that should be accomplished and at the end of the workshop; a post test will also be conducted to see if there are changes.


Dr. Noor Mohammad Saada, Consultant and Insider Mediator presented the Conference Overview. According to him, partners have been presented and the influence of the Ulama as critical role in the society as well. The involvement of the Ulama in the struggle has also been explained. In the organic act, there was a provision suggested by the Ulama that was considered to be part of the law and that is the Madrasah System. So there were already recognitions but not yet fully implemented. Another thing that the Ulama have advocated and was made part of the law is the Darul-Ifta’. Through this, in its 2 years of existence, Fatawah have been issued against drug addiction, election bribery and terrorism. It is important that there should be a venue for the Ulama to articulate their views and ideas. At the same time there should also be an exchange of ideas that is why there are invited resource persons who are directly involved in the peace process and federalism. The first objective of this conference is to update the status of the peace process and the proposed shift to Federalism. Second, provide a platform where Ulama can discuss among themselves especially regarding the advocacy for the inclusion. Ulama have their own views and ideas based on their learnings as Ulama that can be included in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, or in the governance of federalism. Third is the opportunity to look into more agreements among the Ulama where it will be submitted to the BTC. The workshop will open with a National Situationer to be given by Atty. Bacani followed by an open forum. Next will be a presentation of the proposed federal government set-up to be given by a national political analyst, Prof. Ramon Casiple which will be followed by an open forum. In the afternoon will be panel discussions with commissioners from the BTC then followed by another set of open forum. Different sectoral groups have been invited and will be grouped accordingly for the following day’s workshop. The following day’s workshop was interchanged to accommodate the schedule of the facilitator. What was supposed to be the schedule for the afternoon workshop will be moved in the morning while the workshop in the morning will be moved in the afternoon. Then there will be presentation of the outputs as well as an explanation on how this output will be utilized. (See Annex 2 for the presentation)

SESSION 1: National Situationer on Federalism and Autonomy, Federalism and Peace Process
by ATTY. BENEDICTO R. BACANI, Executive Director Institute for Autonomy and Governance

Autonomy, Federalism among others is just a brand or label. Political structures are mere labels. What is important are the processes involved and reflection. There are many kinds of federalism as there are many kinds of autonomy. Spain for instance is not a federal state but its regions are strong and powerful while Malaysia is a federal state but its government is centralized. We cannot judge something without knowing the details. That is why it is important to talk about the details. Because labels or brand doesn’t matter unless the details are clear.

We know that the solution for Mindanao since 1976 through the Tripoli Agreement is autonomy. And autonomy in this sense is empowering Mindanao but not making it a separate state. We still have one state but a certain degree of governance is granted. So the discussions were on the degree of self-governance and not about separation – unitary system and autonomous region. The problem here is that MNLF claims that the Tripoli Agreement was not fully implemented. The government tried its best to fully implement it through the Final Peace Agreement during the time of (past President) Ramos but there are still issues about it specifically on territory, provisional government and control of strategic minerals. That is why we have ARMM. Autonomy is exemplified as a political solution to the instrument.

Many say that the ARMM is weak and according to the past administration, it is a failed experiment and therefore should be replaced by the Bangsamoro Government. That is why we have the BBL which was not passed in Congress. Now, is it true that the ARMM is weak and a failure?

Autonomy is not only based on a single perspective. It is a two-way process. Autonomy is different from independence.

But when media or the public see it, ARMM failed because it is corrupt. So the people to blame are the officials, Nur Misuari and his people for instance. But come to think of it, in reality, the budget of ARMM is so minimal that it only goes to salaries of people. And talking about corruption, the corruption in ARMM is too small as compared to the corruption in Malacañang. Because of biases and prejudices, these issues prevail. IAG has been studying about it since 2000 because it is dangerous to speak without studying about the issue. The problem as we see it is structural. What do we mean by it? Fiscal autonomy did not actually happen – because political autonomy cannot be fully exercised without money. And without control over finances, ARMM cannot plan efficiently.

Even though in paper, ARMM was given the power of autonomy but the structure, process and finances was not properly delegated such that the power given to ARMM was not efficiently implemented. Transactional politics persist in a sense that the leaders of ARMM subject themselves to the President. In reality, the budget of ARMM is reliant upon congress and the President. So what kind of autonomy is this and what kind of self-determination exists in this set-up? The problem lies not in the concept of autonomy but in the implementation of it- in the processes and structures.

We have no control over the police and the armed forces. We don’t have a control in the security in your areas. In fact, we don’t trust the very people who should be protecting us. MNLF and MILF tried to address the gaps.

MNLF and MILF expressed in the negotiating table that there is a problem with this kind of autonomy. In the Bangsamoro basic law, the proposed government will not be reliant on the annual IRA but instead the regional assembly will have a control over its own budget. So we will have what we call a Fiscal Autonomy.

It is important to know that in the political structure for peace, conflict resolution is only half of the picture. Conflict resolution must lead to better governance or good governance. This in turn will resolve and manage conflict. These two should come hand in hand with each other. But we got stuck in the conflict resolution mode. That is why it was difficult for the peace agreement to translate into an enabling law. If you implement a peace agreement, you also see its feasibility, capacity, budget and constitutionality among others.

The peace agreement cannot be fully implemented overnight. It is a set of aspirations, a roadmap. The way we implement it should be considerate of the politics, policy and environment. If there is a need to change the policy or political environment, we must do so otherwise we will not be able to fully implement the peace agreement.

According to the President, “On the domestic front, my administration is committed to implement all signed peace agreements instead with constitutional and legal reforms.” This peace agreement will not be fully implemented without charter change – a policy different from all the past presidents.

The former president Aquino wished to implement the peace agreement according to the flexibility of the constitution. But in IAG, we do not recognize such thing as flexibility of the constitution. In the Supreme Court, they are very strict in the interpretation of the autonomous region. According to Justice Carpio, “ARMM is a special local government unit.” So what kind of autonomy is it when it is treated like a local government unit?

President Digong advocates for constitutional reforms not necessarily federal. But can we accommodate the terms in the peace agreement without going federal? Maybe yes but it will be more efficient with a federal form of government.

The principle of federalism is shared rule between the regional and the national governments- shared governance or in a more progressive sense, shared sovereignty. Federalism is not a simple devolution or decentralization of powers. It is actually transfer of powers and delineation of powers. It is clear what the exclusive powers of the national and regional governments are, as well as the concurrent powers.

Constitutionalists like Miriam Santiago have commented that in the CAB, it is a substate or a federal state. That is why there is a need to change the constitution to accommodate this. That is what President Digong is advocating for. But he wanted an inclusive process where everyone’s voice is heard and not only amends the constitution for the sake of the MILF or MNLF but for the Bangsamoro people. That is why you have to have a unified stance and convergence where the process is inclusive.

Sound bites are dangerous because it does not capture the essence of the political structure. Details are very important.

There is also a need to have an internal dialogue to settle differences. Especially since what is evident are political interests and clan interests. The constitution and laws are instruments to manage the conflicting interests.

The two most significant things in this administration’s peace policy is charter change or federalism and inclusivity or convergence. In the process, there is also consensus building which is a longer process to ensure that there is sustainability in the peace efforts. That is why we are training internal mediators. But the natural mediators are the Ulamas. But we need to understand the frame of mind of all the parties before we go into a dialogue.

There is a change in the political and policy environment for the implementation of peace agreements. The passing of the BBL was challenging because we adapted an old roadmap with an old policy environment. And the old policy environment does not consider charter change. That is why there is a need to change the constitution.

It is not only constitutionality or more autonomy but working relevant and efficient autonomy. The way to assess is not because it has given so much power but to recognize that those powers can be meaningfully implemented.

Political autonomy will not work without fiscal autonomy.

We need to begin the transition. We need to get out of our individual boxes. All of the sectors must start to take risks. Only when we get out of our box we can start some sort of a dialogue.

The take away message is to study, be engaged and dialogue, and these are the things that we need to cultivate among the Moros. Also, active listening is the key to real consultation and consensus-building.

All the participants were encouraged to ask questions, raise clarifications and share suggestions pertaining to the presentations made earlier. (See Annex 3 for the complete transcription of the forum)

Session 2: The Proposed Federal Government Set-up
by Prof. Ramon Casiple, National Political Analyst

Prof. Ramon Casiple, National Political Analyst, talked about what federalism is and its effect to local governance, particularly in ARMM. He began his talk with the current happenings in the government such as the filing of cases by the opposition against President Duterte in the International Criminal Court, the arrested senators being imprisoned and other rumors about the change of leadership in the current administration. The administration is having also internal fights among them, not only with the opposition.

The right question to be asked to the administration: What is happening with the administration? Is it going to last? And, is its power strong enough to govern the people? He said that no one strong enough is challenging and going against the administration. According to surveys, it still shows high level of support of people even though there is a slight decrease. People support the anti-drug campaign of the president. However, there is also a high number of who are against the extra-judicial killings that allegedly brings.

The speaker emphasizes the accomplishments of the president since he took office. Among accomplishment, few cited accomplishments in the session are the following:

  1. Anti-drug campaign
  2. Social reforms progress in major areas
  1. Negotiation with Middle Ease government for the return of stranded unemployed OFWs

He also said that the Duterte Administration is a coalition among Marcoses. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Manny Villar, Fidel Ramos and others who helped him to win the substantial portions in Luzon; and now he has to requite these people’s interest.

The number one subject matter of the Duterte Administration is the federalism. He basically wants to remove the over-wealthy and monopolistic imperial manila and to share or delegate powers of the national government to the local government.

The speaker is a member of Federalism Study Group of PDP-LABAN who helps to build the details on the proposal of federalism. The concept of federalism will probably be adopted by PDP-LABAN and eventually, Pres. Duterte. However, the president will also create his Presidential Study Group who will also study about the concept of federalism.

The concepts of federalism of Federalism Study Group of PDP-LABAN are the following:

  1. Federalism system would be called semi-presidential system with the formal context of federal parliamentary system
  1. The leaders of the government are the following:
  1. President, who is the head of state, is elected by the people. His position is not ceremonial. He is in charge of the national security, he is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces; and he in charge of the foreign affairs as the chief diplomat of foreign affairs. Also, he is responsible in maintaining the unity of the states, their survival and to relate states with others.
  1. Prime Minister, who is the head of the government is elected by the Parliament or National Assembly which is equivalent of House of Representatives, is in charge of the national budget and he is responsible in maintaining the unity of the states, their survival and the day-to-day transactions of the government agencies
  1. The Parliament will legislate and implement the laws. The legislative branch will be divided into two levels:
  2. Level I- The National Assembly – sole law making power
  3. Level II-The Senate – the consent legislation

The senators are not elected on national basis but they are rather elected by regions.

  1. In the National Assembly, the party list system will be changed to the right party list system being implemented globally. Only regular political parties can take part in the election. Fifty per cent of the National Assembly will come from the party list and the rest will come from individual congressmen.

The speaker also talked about the taxation process of the region for their own budget, and regarding the equalization funds and development funds that the regions will receive from the national government to give them subsidy for a certain time and for them to make the regions self-reliant while the region is working on its taxation and development projects for them to progress once federalism is implemented.

He discussed the proposals on the number of regions shall there be under the federal government. The proposals are the following:

  1. Three (3) regions: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao
  2. Five (5) regions: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, ARMM and CAR
  1. Seven (7)regions: : Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, ARMM, CAR, Metro Manila and Metro Cebu
  2. Eighty one (81) regions, all provinces will be the regions

Number 4 is impractical according to the speaker since it is difficult to administer all the provinces and there is a question regarding the capability of small provinces to be self-reliant. However, there is a current working arrangement proposed by Pimentel which is 11 + 1 (Metro Manila) = 12 regions.

The difference of ARMM from the normal federal region is that they retained autonomous power such as the Shari’ah Court and the Shari’ah Law, the Daru;-Ifta’ and other important structures that is needed in the regional government. This will only happen once there is a Charter Change which will change the constitution. There will be a possibility and opportunity to change the unconstitutional provisions of BBL and adopt them in the constitution.

In the proposed federal government, there are going to be three levels of government unlike the present unitary government, and these are the following levels:

  1. National government level
  2. Regional/state government level
  3. City/municipal government level

The barangay will be brought back to pre-martial law status as Barrio. Thus, the city or municipality will be the smallest unit of government. Barrio then, was a unit of local autonomy—-its management is not driven from the top most level of the government, but from the community.

The speaker also discussed the time table given by the president to change the current government to a federal government. He emphasized that the passage of the BBL to the president must be align with the timeline for it to be included in the federal government proposal.

Time Table

2018 Drafting of the constitution through either constitutional

convention or constituent assembly

2019 National and local election together with the ratification of

the constitution

2020-2022 Transition period
2022-onwards Federal Republic of the Philippines

All the participants were encouraged to ask questions, raise clarifications and share suggestions pertaining to the presentations made earlier. (See Annex 4 for the complete transcription of the forum)

Session 3 – Panel   Discussion–Bangsamoro Transition Mechanism: Prospect and Challenges for the Bangsamoro by Atty. Maisara Dandamun-Latiph, BTC Commissioner and Atty. Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema, BTC Commissioner

The first speaker, Atty. Maisara Dandamun-Latiph, discussed and presented thoroughly the unconstitutional provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that need to be constitutionalizes as being debated and discussed by the commissioners of the Bangsamorot Transitional Committee. (See Annex 5 for the complete presentation)

The second speaker, Atty. Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema, talked about the struggles of the old BTC in the Aquino administration and creation of the new BTC under the Duterte Administration. The President is entertaining two processes in the peace processes which are the passing of the BBL and the convergence of all signed peace agreements. Also, he talked about the nature of work of the BTC Commissioner.

He also shared his own personal and professional struggles and predicament working as commissioner in the BTC. Some of these are delayed releasing of budget of BTC, glitch in adopting the internal rules of the BTC due to the convergence of all signed agreements, and correcting the unconstitutional provisions of the BBL with limited time.

All the partcipants were encouraged to ask questions, raise clarifications and share suggestions pertaining to the presentations made earlier. (See Annex 6 for the complete transcription of the forum)

Recap and Synthesis

Mr. Noor Saada presented the recap and synthesis of the day 1 activity. Session 1 was the National Situationer on Federalism and Autonomy, Federalism and Peace Processes presented by Atty. Benedicto R. Bacani. Session 2 was The Proposed Federal Government Set-up presented by Prof. Ramon Casiple. Lastly, Session 3 was a panel discussion on the Bangsamoro Transition Mechanism: Prospect and Challenges for the Bangsamoro discussed by Atty. Maisara Dandamun-Latiph and Atty. Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema.

The second day of Ulama Leaders Conference on the Peace Process and Federalism started with an Opening Prayer lead by the ulama from Cotabato City.

Workshop 1- Calling for Intra-Moro Dialogue

The speaker, Prof. Aiyub Sakaluran Alih, analyzed and synthesized the first day activity through a framework. The participants were also encouraged to provide feedback on the thoroughness of the presented framework.

Humans have needs, interests and position. But all of these are clouded by doubts, ignorance, background, tribe and religion. When they make decisions, the lens they used is biased with several factors. These can be clouded when an individual or groups take sides because of their tribal affiliation.


Source: Documentation from Institute of Autonomy and Governance

Posted in Networking & Linkages, Programs & Activities.


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