Peace panels in KL to resolve issues on draft Bangsamoro law

Angela Casauay
Peace panels in KL to resolve issues on draft Bangsamoro law
The meeting comes after Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF, accused Malacañang of heavily diluting the proposed Bangsamoro law

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The 15-minute meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on the sidelines of a recent peace forum in Japan was not enough to resolve issues in the proposed law creating an enhanced autonomous government in Mindanao. 

Just 4 months after the government and former rebel group MILF signed a much-heralded final peace agreement, their respective negotiating panels are back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to resolve issues that have arisen from Malacañang’s review of the draft Bangsamoro basic law, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a statement

The KL meeting comes more than a week after MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who also heads the Bangsamoro Transition Commmission (BTC), the body that crafted the draft law, described the Malacañang version of the measure as “heavily diluted.” He said it was worse than the law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Iqbal made the remarks just days after Aquino himself sought a surprise meeting with Murad on the sidelines of another peace conference in Hiroshima, Japan.  

 

Following disagreements on the contents of the Malacañang version of the proposed law, the BTC on July 3 passed a resolution elevating the resolution of the issues to the negotiating panel – hence, the meeting in KL. 

“We know that the review process conducted by the Office of the President (OP) on the proposed law submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission has raised some apprehension over some content where modifications were recommended by the OP review team. That is why we are taking the necessary steps to ensure better understanding of the concerns, and to find a good resolution through frank and open discussion,” Ferrer said. 

A product of the final peace pact between the government and the MILF, the Bangsamoro basic law hopes to replace the ARMM with the Bangsamoro, a political entity that is envisioned to have a unique form of government with greater fiscal powers. (READ: The Bangsamoro peace deal at a glance)

Fresh round of negotiations?

Ferrer didn’t call the KL meeting as “negotiations” or “talks” but a “workshop” that would help sort out “gray zones” in the proposed basic law.

Aside from the peace panels of the MILF and the government, Malaysian facilitator Tengku Ghafar and international observers will be in attendance. Members of the BTC will also be present, Ferrer said. Malaysia serves as the third-party facilitator for the peace process. 

Under the final peace deal, the BTC – composed of representatives from various Bangsamoro sectors – is tasked to create a draft law for the Bangsamoro, which would be submitted to Malacañang for review before it is transmitted to Congress and certified as urgent by the President. 

 The BTC submitted the proposed law to Malacañang one month after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the govenrment and the MILF in March.

Malacañang had hoped to submit the measure in time for the resumption of session in Congress in May. Following the request of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr amid the delays, Aquino instructed the Malacañang team to submit the measure after the State of the Nation Address in July

What are the issues?

Delays in the completion of the review process have fueled speculations that the proposed measure is riddled with unconstitutionality. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and the Philippine Constitution Association have raised doubts over the legality of the peace agreement on which the proposed law is based. 

Since peace talks started under the present administration, Aquino has instructed the government peace panel to negotiate within the bounds and flexibilities of the Constitution. The MILF, meanwhile, is of the position that the Constitution needs to be amended to entrench a truly autonomous government. 

Part of the mandate of the MILF-dominated BTC is to recommend to Congress “whenever necessary” possible amendments to the Constitution. 

In his June statement, Iqbal told the audience in a peace forum in Turkey that the BTC “mainly copy-pasted the essential elements” of the final peace agreement. 

Meanwhile, during the visit of envoys from the European Union to MILF’s Camp Darapanan in April, Murad told the delegation that there were some details in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that was purely introduced by the BTC, which he said the MILF ackowledges could be subject to changes. 

Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr has repeatedly said the ongoing review process seeks to ensure that the draft law will pass muster both in Congress and the Supreme Court, in case it is questioned before the court. 

Neither the BTC nor Malacañang has released a copy of the Bangsamoro draft law. At least one civil society group said it believes the document should be made public even at this stage of the process. 

“It is high time that the draft BBL must be released to the public so that all stakeholders for peace will be assured that this remains faithful, compliant and consistent with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” the Mindanao Peoples Caucus said in an earlier statement.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters Monday, July 7, the public would have to wait until the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law is submitted to Congress before a copy of it is released. 

 The government wants to resolve “substantive issues” before the bill is transmitted to Congress since it will be certified as urgent by the President. 

“If we are going through this difficulty now, it is because we want the next stages to be less difficult not only between the government and the MILF, but among all the institutions and actors that will be or have been playing a role in the process. A well-processed bill that goes through the legislative mill, with the certification of the President as urgent, will stand much better chances of smooth-sailing passage in both the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Ferrer said. 

Once the proposed law is with Congress, lawmakers are free to make further changes on the measure. 

‘On the verge of going the way of MOA-AD’

Without mentioning specifics, Iqbal expressed disappointment over the Malacañang-approved version, a copy of which was sent to the MILF while some of its leaders were attending the Japan conference. 

In a statement, Iqbal said: “Sad to note, however, that only after two months, to be exact 61 days, while I was in Hiroshima, Japan, on June 23 that this humble representation, as chairman of the BTC and the MILF peace panel, had received a copy of the proposed BBL bearing the remarks and comments from the OP, which heavily diluted the original proposal coming from the BTC.” 

He added: “A lawyer of the MILF, commenting on the remarks of the OP on the BBL, said that when a law is crafted out of it, it would be worse than the Republic Act No. 9054 that created the so-called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which in every bit is an administrative arrangement. No less than President called the ARMM as a ‘failed experiment.'”

Should the parties not resolve their issues, Iqbal warned that the Bangsamoro basic law would not be passed in time for the SONA or, worse, that the peace process could break down. 

“Now the challenges ahead appear daunting. Unless the parties and the supporters and friends of the peace process come to the timely rescue and prevent the foreseeable collision of approaches of the two parties, the much-heralded signing of the [Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro] in Manila, Philippines, last March will be overshadowed by bickering, blaming, and shaming,” Iqbal said.  

Before the 17-year negotiations between the government and the MILF bore a final peace pact, negotiations between both parties went through highs and lows. 

Peace talks that started during the Ramos administration broke down after his successor, President Joseph Estrada launched an all-out war against the MILF. The Arroyo administration tried to arrive at a peace agreement with the group, but hostilities once again broke when the high court declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain unconstitutional in 2008. 

“Today, we are on the verge of a similar situation. But I don’t think we are in a hopeless situation. I don’t think the parties will allow the situation to degenerate into something we do not like. I still have confidence on both sides’ determination to overcome the perceived hardships ahead of us,” Iqbal said.   

No backtracking

Despite apparent disagreements on what the content of the draft basic law should be, Ferrer said the parties are not backtracking from the peace agreement. 

As we have said many times in the past, this partnership between the GPH and the MILF is not for the fainthearted. It is also not for the impatient and the impetuous who, in the face of difficulty, immediately throw in the towel,” Ferrer said. 

“Rather, it is for those who persevere so that when the going gets rough, they  get going. They do not turn back to their old comfort zones, or to the familiar sound of their war cries,” she added. 

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the MILF hope to end 4 decades of armed conflict in the South that has cost the lives of over 120,000 people.  Rappler.com

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