MANILA, Philippines – The leaders of both houses of Congress committed to pass within the year the law aimed at helping end 4 decades of fighting in Mindanao.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr met with other top congressional leaders on Thursday morning, February 6, and agreed to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law by the end of 2014.
“That is our target because we want to see 2015 as the year we can submit this for ratification by the areas covered by the Bangsamoro Basic Law. So this is our commitment on the part of the Senate and our deadline, not deadline, our target dates that we want to pursue seriously in both houses of Congress,” Drilon said.
The Senate President made the announcement in a press briefing with Senate peace committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal at the Senate.
The leaders held the briefing after the Iqbal-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) paid a courtesy call on Senate leaders. The commission also visited the House last week.
The BTC is the body tasked to draft the law that will provide the legal framework for the Bangsamoro political entity, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Crafting the law is the next step in the peace process between the government and the MILF after both sides signed the normalization annex last January 25. It was the fourth and final annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and paves the way for the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement.
Drilon said the congressional leaders who agreed to the target date were House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, and Senate Deputy Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III.
During the press briefing, Iqbal said the BTC also committed to submit to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Office of the President the first draft of the law by March 31.
Drilon said the administration will then submit its version of the bill to Congress in May. As part of the peace process roadmap, President Benigno Aquino III will certify the bill urgent.
Iqbal, a former rebel leader, admitted that there are technical difficulties with crafting the law but said the BTC will deliver on its commitment.
“I, for one, I’m not trained to craft a law. I have very little knowledge about crafting the law…. It’s not an easy job, but we have the determination,” Iqbal said. “We are in close coordination with the Office of the President, the Office of the Speaker, the Senate President and, hopefully – and I am very sure that whatever problem that will crop up from time to time, especially in the technical aspect – we will be able to overcome it.”
Deles stressed the significance of the courtesy call of the 15-member commission composed mostly of Muslim scholars. (READ: Meet the members of the Transition Commission)
“This coming together, bringing the mission to the Senate, is certainly an important moment, a historic moment, and it tells us that the roadmap laid out in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is in place. It is now here, moved to the arena of Congress,” she said.
After Congress passes the law, it will be subjected to a plebiscite. If approved, the ARMM will be deemed abolished, and an interim Bangsamoro Transition Authority will take over until the election of officials in 2016.
[Staff] Meeting with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission is ongoing here at the Senate. pic.twitter.com/9TUS3qFJOC— Senator TG Guingona (@TgGuingona) February 6, 2014
Iqbal: Bill doesn’t require cha-cha so far
Drilon advised the commission that the basic law must be constitutional and must not require constitutional amendments. He said this was a key lesson from the peace process under the Arroyo administration.
“We are not saying that the Bangsamoro people cannot advocate for charter change. What we are saying is the basic law is not the avenue through which the amendments can be done because Congress, in a debate on the basic law, cannot propose amendments to the Constitution. We are limited by the 4 corners of the Constitution,” the Senate chief said.
Iqbal said the BTC took Drilon’s advice seriously. He said that in crafting the law so far, this is not a problem.
“We have not encountered anything here that requires amending the Constitution so far. There is no such thing that we encountered in our task of drafting the basic law that will require amending the Constitution,” Iqbal said.
What exactly will the law look like? Deles said the law is similar to an organic act, and includes the form of the Bangsamoro government and defines its powers.
She said the law puts into legal form the Framework Agreement, and the 4 annexes on transitional arrangements and modalities, revenue generation and wealth sharing, power sharing, and normalization. The normalization annex involves the “decommissioning” of rebel firearms. (READ: Normalization 101: Firearms, amnesties and rebel camps)
“In the normalization annex, not all of that part has to be put into law. Much of the normalization annex, the executive can already proceed with that, in partnership with the MILF but the wealth-sharing annex and power-sharing annex and most of the transition arrangements, particularly the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the plebiscite, will all have to be put into the law,” Deles said.
“In the normalization annex, it is the matter of the police that will have to be put into the basic law. That’s what it will look like. It will have to be put into a legal form because the agreement is a political document,” she added.
What of BIFF, MNLF?
Deles and Iqbal were asked about the two groups that have been tagged as “spoilers” and challenges to the peace process: the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
The BIFF opposes the peace talks while the MNLF faction of founder Nur Misuari said it does not recognize the government-MILF peace agreement.
Iqbal said the MILF was concerned with the fighting between the military and the BIFF that occurred after the signing of the normalization annex.
“But the concern is mainly on civilians because civilians are non-combatants,” Iqbal said. “The BIFF and the AFP have no ceasefire…so it is understandable that such fighting will take place. Our main concern is the civilians.”
As for the MNLF, Deles said there is an upcoming meeting for the Tripartite Implementation Review of the status of the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF.
Deles said the challenges will not weaken the resolve of the two sides to pursue the peace agreement, and to end the 17-year peace talks. She said all peace agreements in the world met challenges, citing the bombing that occurred after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998.
“But that did not deter the process from continuing, and that is our point. There will be challenges, there will be disturbances on the ground but over the past years, we have shown that these challenges only made us stand firmer and push the process to its completion.”
Iqbal agreed. “There is no other way now except to push the issue of peace so there will be peace not only in Mindanao but for the entire Philippines so everybody will reap the fruits of peace. With peace in Mindanao, we can be a great country.” – Rappler.com
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