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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III on Friday, June 27, pledged to rally the passage of the proposed law that will provide an enhanced autonomous government in southern Philippines by January 2015.
“I can assure the Filipino people that we will be exerting all efforts to ensure that this measure is passed in a timely manner because the dream, still, is to give the new Bangsamoro government time to demonstrate its abilities and the time that they need as a minimum is a year and 6 months,” he said.
“So, we’re hoping that all the steps will be done [so] that they can sit already in office by January of 2015.”
Aquino wants the Bangsamoro Basic Law to be submitted to Congress before the opening of its second regular session on July 28.
Aquino, who met with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Murad Ebrahim in Japan last week, said he hopes to meet with Murad again to further iron out details. He said the unscheduled meeting was too short, only spanning 10 minutes.
“Now, we’re putting in all of the details and I asked him if it would be possible to meet sometime next week, either their panels or we in particular, or our designated representatives, to thresh it out and come up with that proposed measure and give it to Congress even before the SONA [State of the Nation Address],” Aquino told reporters on Friday, June 27.
The SONA is slated for July 28.
In his meeting with Murad, Aquino said they discussed the output of the Transition Commission in charge of drafting the bill and ways to ensure its swift passage in Congress.
The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted the draft law to Malacañang in April – close to a month after the signing of the historic peace deal between the government and Muslim rebels.
The bill was expected to be submitted to Congress in May, before the end of the last session, but is still under Palace review.
The MILF has expressed concern about the delay. Constitutional experts have also raised concerns about the legality of certain provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, even as the draft of the basic law has yet to be released.
Aquino however, gave his assurance that the reason for the delay is nothing serious, and is simply because of how the Bangsamoro framework principles “should be articulated or written out.”
“I don’t think there’s a disagreement on the guiding principles. There is an agreement on how you actually work [but] there’s a need to further refine the language so that it really states a meeting of the minds of both parties,” he said.
He also dismissed concerns regarding its constitutionality. (INFOGRAPHIC: The Bangsamoro peace deal at a glance)
“From the start, the Constitution was a guiding document in crafting the Framework Agreement so the Basic Law that gives the details should also be consistent,” he said.
The President confessed he has yet to read the 6-inch thick document in full – which includes the comments of both parties – but said he has reserved Sunday to go through every page.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law will legalize the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity, which is designed to have greater political and fiscal powers than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which it will replace.
Submitting the law before the opening of session will give lawmakers the choice to call for a committee hearing during the break to discuss the measure.
Early passage of the law will also allow Aquino to appoint an MILF-led transition authority that will lead the transition of the present ARMM towards the Bangsamoro.
As indicated in the final peace pact between the government and the MILF, the Bangsamoro bill will be certified as urgent by the President once transmitted to Congress.
In his 2013 SONA, Aquino asked Congress to pass the basic law by the end of 2014. This will give the MILF-led transitional authority at least one year to lead the transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro.
It took the government and the MILF 17 years to arrive at a final peace accord that hopes to end 4 decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.
The MILF, with 10,000 armed followers, is the biggest rebel group and its signing of the accord has raised hopes of an enduring peace in the south, despite other breakaway groups still vowing to fight. – with reports from Agence France-Presse