The guns of 106 Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants from Lanao del Sur are displayed during a decommissioning ceremony held February 18, 2020. The decommissioning and normalization process in the Bangasamoro region has been set back by the coronavirus pandemic. — BARMMGOVT

THE PALACE on Monday said President Rodrigo R. Duterte remains supportive of the peace pact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the extension of the transition body that seeks to normalize the situation in the conflict-torn region of Bangsamoro in southern Philippines.

“He continues to be supportive po of the initiative for the transition,” Presidential Spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Monday.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the MILF, clashed with government troops in Datu Paglas in Maguindanao province last week following weeks of conflict in the more remote surrounding areas.   

Facing Bangasamoro leaders a few days after the incident, Mr. Duterte had warned armed groups to stop their operations in Mindanao or risk facing an all-out offensive by government forces. He asked the Bangsamoro officials to help the government solve the conflict in the region while he’s still in office.

Mr. Roque said the President’s strong statement was an “expression of exasperation” and a warning that the state will not tolerate such acts of violence.

“He is not blaming the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim in Mindanao). We know that those who are wreaking havoc are the BIFF, the bandits, splinter groups of BARMM,” Mr. Roque said in Filipino.   

Various groups have been urging the President to certify as urgent proposed measures extending the term of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) officials by another three years from 2022.

The Palace last year said the President would ask legislators to amend the Bangsamoro Organic Law to extend the life of the BTA.

“That is moving and what is important, as the President has repeatedly said, even if he can certify anything as urgent, if Congress is not really convinced, then it will face difficulties,” Mr. Roque said.

The proposed BTA extension has both supporters and opponents among lawmakers.

Congress has only nine remaining session days before it adjourns sine die on June 4.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) earlier said the normalization track of the peace pact is yet to be achieved more than three years after the transition team was established in 2018.

Budget realignments and logistical problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic affected the normalization process, according to OPAPP.

The decommissioning of 70% MILF combatants, or approximately 28,000 fighters, is yet to be done, OPAPP said at a Senate hearing on the proposed legislation seeking to extend the term of BTA officials.

The normalization plan aims to disarm MILF’s armed members, initiate socio-economic programs, create transitional justice and reconciliation, and implement confidence-building initiatives. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza