MILF: 2 House BBL amendments violate peace accord

Angela Casauay
MILF: 2 House BBL amendments violate peace accord
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front 'appreciates' but does not 'necessarily accept' the version of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law passed at committee level in the House of Representatives

MANILA, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “appreciates” the amended version of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law passed at committee level in the House of Representatives but is awaiting the final version of the bill before passing final judgment. 

“On the level of the ad hoc committee, we appreciate the result but not necessarily to accept because there are many levels of engagement – the level of the ad hoc, the level of the plenary and there is still another level – the bicameral conference committee,” MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told Rappler Thursday, May 21.  

“On the level of the ad hoc, we appreciate the result, and I think it can be credited to President Aquino and his alies in Congress for staying as much as possible to what the (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) and the (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro) and the (Bangsamoro Basic Law) have indicated,” he added. 

The MILF signed a peace deal with the government in March 2014 – the basis of the proposed law for an enhanced autonomous region being deliberated in the House and the Senate.  

Iqbal said the MILF is 90% satisfied “quantitatively” with the House ad hoc committee version of the BBL, renamed Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, in terms of the number of provisions amended. (READ: Most important parts of the BBL intact – gov’t negotiator)

However, the MILF is only 50% satisfied “qualitatively” when the contents of what was revised are scrutinized, Iqbal said. 

Iqbal identified two major revisions, which he said violated the peace accord and the peace framework between the MILF and the government: amendments on natural resources and the introduction of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act. 

Natural resources

The rebel negotiator objected to the insertion of the term “strategic minerals” to describe exceptions to natural resources under the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro. 

“There is an entirely new provision taken from Republic Act 9054 which described practically all natural resources as strategic minerals – that is not in the CAB, FAB and the BBL,” Iqbal said. 

Article XII Section 8 (Natural Resources) of the latest House BBL version states: 

The Bangsamoro Government shall have the authority, power, and right to the control and supervision over the exploration, utilization, development, and protection of the mines and minerals and other natural resources within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in accordance with the Constitution and the pertinent provisions of this Basic Law except for the strategic minerals such as uranium, petroleum, and other fossil fuels, mineral oils, and all sources of potential energy, provided that the Bangsamoro Government shall be consulted.

The first paragraph of the original version reads:  

Section 8. Natural Resources, Nature Reserves and Protected Areas. – The Bangsamoro Government shall have the authority, power, and right to explore, develop and utilize the natural resources, including surface and sub-surface rights, inland waters, coastal waters, and renewable and non-renewable resources in the Bangsamoro.

The use of the word “strategic” to describe mineral resources in the Bangsamoro was a contentious issue when the peace deal was just being negotiated. 

While the existing law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao outlines the ratios on how much income derived from mineral resources would go to the regional government, using the words “strategic” or “non-strategic” caused uncertainties on which kinds of minerals can be considered under the region’s control.

WATERED DOWN? Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal says the amended version of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) passed at committee level in the House of Representatives contains elements that violate the peace deal.

Issue caused deadlock

Negotiations over how wealth would be shared between the Bangsamoro government and the national government were so difficult that these stalled the peace process for 5 months and almost caused a breakdown in the talks

In the end, the government peace panel agreed with the MILF panel to qualify minerals as “metallic” and “non-metallic” instead of the vague and general term “strategic” and non-strategic. 

But the House committee’s decision to put back the more general term in the amended BBL means that “the Bangsamoro did not get anything at all” since most kinds of valuable natural resources could be declared as “strategic,” Iqbal said. 

“There is no fiscal autonomy unless we have a definite share in the resources,” he added.

In an interview with reporters after the passage of the BBL in the committee, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said the committee introduced changes to provisions on natural resources to ensure the constitutionality of the bill. Rodriguez invoked the regalian doctrine or the principle that the state owns all lands and waters of the public domain.  

Indigenous People’s Rights

Another killer provision for the MILF is the recognition of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) in the BBL. 

Iqbal said the IPRA is “nowhere to be found” in any agreements signed by the MILF with the government.  

The committee voted to recognize the validity of the IPRA, a law that recognizes ancestral domains and implements the issuance of native titles. A number of IP groups lobbied hard for the recognition of the law in the BBL. (WATCH: Are the Lumad victims in war and peace?)

Lawmakers also voted to move the responsibility for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples or Lumad from the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro to concurrent or shared powers between the Bangsamoro and the national government. 

Archie Buaya, acting secretary-general of the Organization of Teduray Lambangian Conference, told Rappler Thursday that invoking IPRA in the proposed law divides the Lumads from the Bangsamoros instead of unites them. 

Buaya said it also deprives IPs from getting an equitable share from revenues generated from the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources found within the terrritories as indicated in the BBL – a feature not found in IPRA. 

Other IP groups, however, said that the original version of the BBL violates the IPRA, a national law. (READ: BBL falls short on UN indigenous peoples’ rights)

Other amendments

Iqbal is hoping that the House would restore the provision creating a position for the Wali or the titular head of the Bangsamoro Parliament when the bill goes to plenary.  

He said that this feature is not unique as all models of parliaments in the world have a ceremonial head. Rodriguez said the position was deleted because it characterizes the attributes of an unconstitutional sub-state.  

Iqbal also singled out the amendment stating that properties of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that are located outside Bangsamoro areas will be given back to the government once the Bangsamoro is established. Under the original version, the properties will stay with the autonomous regional government. 

The MILF welcomed other amendments but are still pushing for “enhancements.” 

Iqbal said the MILF welcomed the transformation of the constitutional bodies in the Bangsamoro (Commission on Elections, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Audit) to regional bodies, but pushed for amendments that would emphasize the “uniqueness” of these bodies as part of an autonomous regional government in the Philippines.  

Chief Justice Hilario Davide, a member of Peace Council that reviewed the draft earlier said “the Bangsamoro special bodies were created with the goal of supplementing, not supplanting, the work of their national counterparts.”

On security provisions, Iqbal said he has yet to take a close look at the Bangsamoro Police, but his initial review indicate it is acceptable. 

The MILF, however, continues to oppose the deletion of the provision requiring the establishment of coordination protocols between the chief minister and the President for the movement of the military in the Bangsamoro. Lawmakers raised concerns over the provision in the aftermath of the Mamasapano tragedy, which killed 67 Filipinos. 

The Bangsamoro bill will be discussed in the House committee on ways and means and the House committee on appropriations before it goes to plenary. 

At the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr raised doubts that the Senate would meet the target deadline to pass the law before session adjourns on June 11.

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