MALAYSIA is ready to help Mindanao develop its full potential with a blueprint that would elevate the Bangsamoro from its impoverished existence.
This is, however, contingent on the volatile south Philippines securing the promise of a lasting peace.
Malaysian Third Party Facilitator and/or special adviser Datuk Kamarudin Mustafa said Malaysian investors were encouraged to explore areas of Mindanao’s economic resources and help develop the region.
“Many Malaysian investors would love to go there for the great opportunities in the minerals and plantation sectors, among others.
“But, currently, the security situation is volatile and that is a problem… but, once stability sets in, investors will readily and happily come in,” he told the New Straits Times, adding that Kuala Lumpur would play its role in spurring investors to look Mindanao’s way.
He spoke of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao, serving to ensure that the tail-end of the peace process was not derailed, and that, when the time was right, a team from the Economic Planning Unit would be reinstated to help the region move its economy.
“That is the plan… when we set up the IMT, it was on the basis that the military presence would be phased out and the focus will shift to the economy and developing the region, including through the East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA),” said Kamarudin, who was instrumental in drawing up the papers for IMT’s set-up.
The BIMP-EAGA initiative is a sub-regional economic cooperation, comprising Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines, founded in Davao City.
Kamarudin said Malaysia, like other neighbours of the Philippines, was hopeful that the Bang-samoro Basic Law (BBL), which reflected the inclusivity of all stakeholders in the prospective Bangsamoro, would be passed.
The BBL seeks to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a new, self-governing region, with a bigger territory and additional powers.
Kamarudin agreed with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and former chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, Irene Santiago, who told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the submission of the draft law that the legislation, which would give birth to the Bangsamoro (autonomous region), was the formula for lasting peace in Mindanao.
He said unlike in preceding years, time was of the essence, as pocket groups, bent on pursuing their personal agenda, would seize any opportunity presented to the already anxious and impatient communities in the region.
The Marawi City siege, he said, was partly triggered by that, and was partially “fed” by the simmering frustration and discontent felt by the general populace there.
“We are concerned. That is why we now have the tripartite agreement to contain any spread of the unrest from there.
“You need to address the root causes prevalent in the area, which is like Malaysia back in the 1960s. Everything there is expensive and the hardship is a daily grind,” he said, adding that Kuala Lumpur hoped to be able to work with Manila and MILF to develop the region and provide opportunities to everyone there.
“It is the poverty that is the main issue, so development is the next phase in our plan. Japan is also ready to help with social economic developments.”
Kamarudin shared an insight on how MILF was on the ground during the Marawi City siege, telling the people to not get involved, while working with the Philippine government.
“There is this realisation that the Bangsamoro is not only for the Muslims. That it includes the Christians and indigenous people, as well.
“This, and the fact that it takes into account the interests and concerns of these other groups, have been well explained.”
He said with Malaysia as a third party sitting to ensure that the process went smoothly, the level of trust between the two parties had never been higher.
“Negotiation is about trust, and when you achieve that, it will happen. In fact, most of the critical people involved from Manila, is from the south. The president, who is from there himself, knows that BBL must happen.”
Kamarudin said Kuala Lumpur’s role was “technically done” the minute the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) was concluded.
The CAB is a peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and MILF that sets out the agreements to be enacted in BBL.
“From there, it was up to the Philippine government and MILF to draw up BBL. We were not involved in the drafting of BBL.
“We were there as the facilitator to see to it that it happened. Sometimes, you may say that we had no role… but, what if something does not go smoothly?
“Our role is to observe and bring the two sides together… to pacify or to patch things up,” Kamarudin said, adding that at times, this sort of diplomacy was done over a cup of coffee.
With both sides trying to protect their own interests, Kamarudin said, as the third party, he would, at times, be required to move between Cotabato, the MILF base and Manila to resolve issues arising between the two groups.
He said Kuala Lumpur was encouraged by the fact that BBL had not seen any insurmountable hurdles.
“Both sides in fact are positive about the Bangsamoro region happening.” – NST