From arms to elections: A story of democracy in Bangsamoro
In 2019, more than 1.9 million people participated in a historic referendum in the Philippines. This vote established a new autonomous region of Bangsamoro, stemming from the peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of Philippines. This agreement marked the end of long-arduous armed conflict, leading a renewed hope for lasting harmony in the region. Bangsamoro is now gearing up for its first elections in 2025.
The unfolding of peace
The comprehensive peace agreement in 2014 gave birth to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) in 2019, which guides the region towards a peaceful and inclusive autonomy. The peace journey developed along two paths: normalisation track, which brings former fighters back to civilian life, and political track, which sets up the legal and institutional basis for the region. However, the BTA has many challenges to overcome in making the transition work, such as crafting a devolved parliamentary system, building a fair and representative electoral system, and increasing the participation of marginalised groups and women in politics.
WFD’s work in Bangsamoro
WFD is working in Bangsamoro to support the democratic aspirations of the BTA on key areas such as strengthening the Bangsamoro parliament. This has been done by developing the expertise of its staff members, supporting the development of political parties to ensure meaningful representation of marginalised communities, and supporting women political leaders to identify and influence policies that ensure better representation of women.
Support is being provided to the Members of the Parliament though masterclasses and mentorship resulting to passing of priority codes and enabling laws in this transition phase.
Fostering collaboration, resolving conflicts
WFD is working on several initiatives to strengthen the BTA. WFD is working with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in understanding the BTA and Bangsamoro Organic Law, enabling constructive dialogues with the parliament. This process led to the development of a CSO playbook, offering practical guidance to engage with parliament.
WFD's efforts in Bangsamoro are not only enhancing knowledge but also helping to reduce tensions between political leaders. For instance, a workshop facilitated by WFD brought together leaders from various parties for the first time in four years, fostering internal conflict resolution.
“The leaders talked about their issues and came up with workable solutions, with WFD facilitating and providing inputs. It is a historical moment that we became part of this conversation,” says WFD’s Bangsamoro representative.
Women at the heart of democracy
WFD believes that women’s political leadership is essential for democracy. This is rooted not just in our commitment to fundamental rights, but also the knowledge that when women can fully and equally participate in leadership, all of society gains.
WFD in Bangsamoro conducted various workshops for women political leaders. For instance, WFD recently held a three-day workshop for former women rebels to discuss political parties and elections. The workshop covered the characteristics of a parliamentary system, compared to the presidential system, which was the usual practice in Philippines. Moreover, there were many interesting topics that sparked debates, such as a 30% quota for party candidates, representation of youth and women in party positions, ban on hate speech, anti-dynasty clauses. The participants also prepared for elections and campaigns, and talked about several obstacles such as voter registration, election fraud, security issues, and lack of campaign funding. Despite these difficulties, the former rebels were enthusiastic and motivated, as MP Engr. Aida Silongan expressed.
“Our comrades know this, whether it's in rallies and assemblies or queueing up at the voting precincts, there are more of our women there. They are also the most persevering. They will weather the rain or scorching heat, always to achieve their aims. I've never observed a woman colleague who, upon failing to find her name listed in her usual precinct, go home and give up without going through each precinct and each list one by one”.
Strengthening political parties in Bangsamoro
WFD is supporting five political parties in Bangsamoro with initiatives like sessions on multi-party systems, strategic communication workshops for campaign messaging, and facilitated high-level meetings with representatives of WFD and British Embassy. In addition, a masterclass on parliamentary governance and budget processes was also organised for MPs.
“One of the MPs suggested that the lessons learned from the classes should be included in the parliament's library so that everyone could access them.”
Bangsamoro region is at a critical period as it prepares for the 2025 elections. It must complete many important tasks to ensure the formation of a strong democratic government. WFD is dedicated to supporting the region’s aspiration of becoming a democratic society that respects and includes all its citizens.