Shoring up peace by bringing citizen voices into the new Bangsamoro democracy

A group of CSO representatives gathered around a table at a training workshop

Shoring up peace by bringing citizen voices into the new Bangsamoro democracy

With WFD’s assistance, a group of civil society organisations in Bangsamoro have formed a technical working group (TWG) with increasing membership and produced a guide to engaging parliament.

In the wake of conflict and instability, WFD is there to help establish systems that work for the people, so peace and prosperity can take root once again.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is a fledgling autonomous region in the Southern Philippines.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region is transitioning to become a working democracy following decades of conflict. The region is establishing a new parliamentary system of government.

One of the main challenges facing the region is ensuring that the new system includes everyone, and that decision-makers hear minority groups’ voices. This is essential for achieving lasting peace and a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are independent form the state and not-for-profit. They play an important role in building inclusive, effective democracies. CSOs provide citizens with a channel to decision-making and help ensure policy and laws are based on evidence.

Supporting civil society’s ability to engage with parliament

CSOs bring the voices and concerns of ordinary citizens into governance. For decades, CSOs in BARMM have generally had an uneasy relationship with government. Their concentration on issues and adversarial tactics meant government actors often mistrusted them.

As one civil society leader said: “our issues have not reached the government agencies concerned.” Recently, supported by WFD, CSOs have changed their approach with the arrival of the new democratic system.

Organisations like Mindanao Organization for Social and Economic Progress (MOSEP), an organisation that promotes responsible governance, dialogues for peace, and active citizenship are keen to engage with the new parliament. However, a lack of knowledge on how the new parliament works, and the absence of specific platforms for people’s participation and engagement are challenges. These challenges have limited – and at worst prevented – CSOs from participating.

With WFD’s assistance, a small group of CSOs gathered as a loose coalition and movement for change. This evolved into a technical working group (TWG) with increasing membership.

The Technical Working Group (TWG) serves as a coalition for collaborative work towards pushing for shared goals and policy agenda in the Bangsamoro parliament.

It works to strengthen the capacities of each member organisation through trainings, mentoring and other activities to increase their knowledge and skills when engaging with the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament and BARMM ministries and agencies.

As the CSOs deepen their understanding of how the parliament works, they see opportunities to engage members of parliament and make the case for certain provisions in laws and policies.

Together, the technical working group learn from each other as well as from WFD support. They have realized the need to actively participate in legislative work. They also started to see their unique role as watchdogs during and after legislative work. In addition, they facilitate feedback to and from citizens.

The CSOs are also shifting from an adversarial to a collaborative approach in bringing their concerns to parliament.

By proactively engaging members of parliament, the CSOs can build mutual trust and confidence with the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) – the transitional government. They show that they can be effective partners in inclusive, accountable governance.

CSOs working together for change

With WFD assistance, civil society organisations have developed a CSO playbook. The playbook is a labour of love among like-minded civil society leaders. They invested their knowledge, skills, and time, to develop a guide to help fellow CSOs.

The CSO playbook is a valuable resource containing detailed guidelines and practical steps on how to effectively engage parliament in Bangsamoro.

In the BARMM, the shift to a parliamentary system in the last two years has been fast. There is an urgent need to strengthen the structures and processes in preparation for the first parliamentary elections in 2025. In this context, civil society organisations are now at the crossroads in bringing meaningful change in the Bangsamoro. Starting with constant dialogue, lobbying and negotiations, they are fulfilling their mandates to deliver a more inclusive, equitable and accountable democratic governance in Bangsamoro.