MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte formally handed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Monday, August 6, marking a milestone in the group’s efforts to bring peace to Mindanao.
The landmark law was presented by Duterte to Murad during a ceremony in Malacañang, in the presence of Congress leaders and Cabinet members.
The BOL is a significant step to stopping the spread of terrorism and extremist beliefs in Mindanao, a region that has been besieged with conflict, said Deputy Presidential Peace Process Adviser Nabil Tan.
“That’s why [Mindanao] has become fertile ground for the recruitment of terrorists – Abu Sayyaf, Maute – because the frustrations of people are easy to feed. It’s easy to lure them into illegal activities,” he said in a press release.
“This (BOL) is one effective vaccine against terrorism,” he added.
The MILF Central Committee announced last August 1 that it “formally accepts” the BOL, which Duterte signed on July 26 after its ratification by both chambers of Congress.
This brings to a new level 17 years of peace negotiations between the MILF and the government.
“I consider it a great honor to witness this event, proof of all those years of hard work in name of just and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro and the rest of Mindanao,” said MILF implementing panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal in a press release.
More resources for Bangsamoro region
Tan said the BOL would help address grievances that provoke some in Mindanao to join terror groups.
In particular, he cited provisions in the law that provide annual block grants to the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region from funds automatically appropriated in the national budget.
Some of these funds would be devoted to rehabilitation and development of conflict-ravaged areas.
This would give the Bangsamoro government “greater fiscal autonomy” compared to the previous situation where the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) practically “begged Congress” to release funds for certain projects.
If the block grant is not enough, the BOL also sets aside a Special Development Fund for the new region specifically to help develop its economy.
“It will improve the present ARMM. It will empower [the Bangsamoro government]. It will accord [the Bangsamoro people] greater participation by the national government in terms of governance,” said Tan.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said a plebiscite for the BOL would be held in November or December. This is in conformity with the law’s provisions that a plebiscite must be conducted not earlier than 90 days and not later than 150 days after the BOL’s effectivity.
“Plebiscite is a must to jumpstart implementation of the BOL. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority will take control after the plebiscite ratification,” Dureza told Rappler.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will only be considered established after a majority of ARMM residents vote in favor of the BOL in the plebiscite.
A majority of votes in specific cities and provinces is also required for certain barangays and towns to join the new region.
With the upcoming plebiscite, the next challenge is for the Duterte administration, MILF, and other BOL proponents to galvanize support for the new law and the Bangsamoro region. (READ: After Bangsamoro law, a bright yet bumpy path to peace)
Duterte called for those in the ARMM to join the plebiscite.
“I encourage you to take part in the upcoming plebiscite so that you may express your sovereign will through the ballot,” he said on Monday. – Rappler.com
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