Photo from Conciliation Resources
Leading figures in the transition to a political process in the Bangsamoro, visited the United Kingdom for a week from 10th to the 19th of February, to learn from key politicians and peacemakers in the Northern Ireland peace process.
As Northern Ireland approaches the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, this learning trip, facilitated by international peacebuilding organisation Conciliation Resources, aims to support the transition to peace in the Bangsamoro by learning from the successes and challenges of the Northern Ireland peace process.
The trip brought together leaders from the MILF and MNLF, as well as representatives from the Indigenous People’s communities, civil society, and women’s organisations. The delegation was composed of Parliament Floor Leader Atty. Sha-Elijah Dumama-Alba, Minister Muslimen Sema, Deputy Speaker Omar Yasser Sema, MP Marjanie Macasalong, MP Laisa Alamia, MP Forilyn Mendoza, Deputy Minister Nur Ainee Lim, DAB Director Hisham Nando, Prof. Abdullah Adam and CBCS Chairperson Guiamel Alim.
The learning exchange facilitated conversations with Laurence Simms, the Joint Secretary to the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat in Belfast and a senior official of the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) of Ireland. They met with the 81st Lord Mayor of Belfast, Tina Black of Sinn Fein, as well as Alex Maskey, the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Likewise, they met key political figures from Sinn Fein to deepen their understanding on their political transformation. Claire Bailey of the Green Party shared her experiences on alliance building. Ruari de Burca, head of the Anglo-Irish Division of DFAT Ireland, also highlighted dialogue mechanisms that the Bangsamoro government may adopt if relevant to their context. The learning process was further enriched by talks with other key figures in the Northern Ireland peace process including perspectives from the academe, former combatants and civil society leaders.
Other relevant topics under discussion included how former armed groups can transition to become political parties, disarmament, reconciliation and transitional justice and how to ensure women and minority communities are included in the transition to peace. The group also had a tour of Belfast delivered by former political prisoners who shared their personal experiences of the conflict.
Salic Sharief, Jr. is Conciliation Resources’ Philippines Programme Director:
“There is so much that we can learn from the successes and failures of other peace processes around the world that can help us make progress in the Philippines. This year marks 25 years since the end of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and the country still faces challenges. There is no quick fix for peace, but we can continue to take small steps into a better future for everyone in our country.”
In March 2014, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peace agreement, which is intended to end the four decades of conflict and envisioned the establishment of a new self-governing region in Muslim-dominated areas of Western Mindanao, called the Bangsamoro.
In January 2019, a referendum paved the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Government, which will replace the current authorities. Accordingly, the Bangsamoro government will have greater financial autonomy and a more representative parliamentary system.
Nur Ainee Lim, is the Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Social Services and Development in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Government. Speaking during the visit to Northern Ireland, she said:
“This trip allowed us to get out of our comfort zone, open our minds and hearts and be open to new insights and possible strategic improvement in the way that we deal with our constituencies. How we engage with our communities, and most specially to put politics aside even in political situations because the interests and the needs of the people come first.”
Dr. Marjanie S. Macasalong, MP and Chair of the Bangsamoro Youth Commission, also took part in the trip and said:
“I’m inspired by the determination of all sides in Northern Ireland to keep talking. Even though there are very hard issues, they still talk to find a way forward. From the trip, I can see a need to have even more young people trained and involved in the peace process in the Bangsamoro so that we can be sure that whatever gains we have can be sustained.”
MP and Deputy Speaker Laisa Alamia said:
“I appreciate the way that this learning exchange has considered and valued perspectives from the women sector. The conversation during the London leg was a brilliant foundational prologue to the in-depth discussions in Belfast.”
Conciliation Resources has been supporting the peace process in the Philippines since 2014 as part of the International Contact Group, providing technical advice to the negotiation parties, and working with partners to ensure the inclusion of women and Indigenous People’s communities in the transition to peace.
MP Sha-Elijah Dumama is the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Deputy Speaker:
“Conciliation Resources has been there for the Bangsamoro region, and I’m happy that this support continues today. I hope for a Bangsamoro that is progressive, self-reliant and determined. Reaching a state that everyone is free to live a life that has integrity and where the next generation can enjoy the fruits of peace.”
Deputy Minister Nur Ainee Lim added:
“We are on this trip together representing every single sector of the Bangsamoro community and we have formed friendships and bonds and political alliances that perhaps in the future would be very good for the people we all serve.”
The comparative learning furthered discussions on the current challenges and opportunities that the Bangsamoro transition is facing as the delegation looked into the 25-year timeline of the Friday Agreement of Northern Ireland.
CBCS Chair Guiamel Alim said:
“Peace process does not end in signing agreements and passage of organic law. Belfast has its own process not too different from what we have in the Bangsamoro but one thing is certain – there are no quick fixes to rebuild decades-old conflict.”
Minister Muslimen Sema added:
“I have experienced being in prison as I serve the fought for the self-determination of the Bangsamoro and now that we are in the transition, we cannot afford to be disunited and lose the grip in the gains of the peace process.”
Conciliation Resources has an evident commitment to working with communities and various stakeholders to promote a peaceful transition away from conflict. It is determined to build and sustain connections among key groups and individuals as it provides a space for co-existence, respect and mutual understanding. (Press Release from Conciliation Resources)