Aquino promised us the BBL, says MILF chief negotiator

COTABATO, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is holding on to a promise by President Benigno Aquino III the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will be approved and will give the rebel group full autonomy in troubled Mindanao.

“President Aquino promised us to do something with the BBL. We are optimistic of a positive outcome of Congress’ voting,” MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said in a phone interview Saturday, May 9.

Congress is scheduled to vote for or against the passage of the BBL on May 12-13, 2015. (READ: Marcos aims to finish BBL hearings by May 25)

“We are aware that they already made some changes in the original draft but the alterations were meant to enhance it to have a better BBL,” Iqbal said.

The draft BBL would establish a new autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao as part of a peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF in March last year.

But a Mindanao governor cautioned legislators on passing the proposed bill.

“I am not against the passage of the BBL. What I am against is passing it under their terms,” South Cotabato governor Daisy Avance Fuentes said.

Vote not on basis of ‘Mamasapano’

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo said passing the BBL would prevent a future deadly incident like what happened in Mamasapano.

Congress suspended hearings on the proposed BBL after the ceasefire between the government and the MILF broke down on January 25, with a day-long clash between Philippine National Police Special Action Force commandos and guerrillas from the MILF and its splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, in Mamasapano.

But Quevedo said once approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the BBL will give more meaning to the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

“I pray that wisdom and rationality will prevail over the Mamasapano incident when the Senate and the House vote. I’m optimistic the Senate and the House will vote on the basis of the BBL and not the Mamasapano incident,” Quevedo said.

The SAF commandos went to Mamasapano to take down Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan” and his Filipino deputy, Abdul Basit Usman. They killed Marwan, but Usman managed to escape.

As they withdrew from Mamasapano, the commandos were set upon by BIFF and MILF guerrillas, who killed 44 of the US-trained counterterrorism officers. 18 MILF guerrillas and 5 civilians were also killed in the fighting.

According to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr, Usman was eventually killed in a firefight with the MILF in Guindulungan, Maguindanao on May 3, 2015. 

Passing BBL is for fellow Filipinos in Mindanao

At a forum on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law last April 7, Caloocan City Representative Edgar Erice said Congress owes it to Filipinos in Mindanao to pass the BBL.

“Basta tayo sa Kongreso gawin natin yung trabaho natin, ibigay natin yung para sa mga kababayan nating Muslim (For us in Congress, let’s do our job and give our Muslim countrymen what they deserve),” Erice said.

Erice added his support is despite the fact that most of the district representatives in the National Capital Region were not members of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL. He admitted that until they see, read, and study the Ad Hoc Committee report, "we'll have a very limited knowledge of the discussions, the pros and cons of the issues raised."

Regarding the contentious provisions of the BBL, Erice added, "“I would like to believe that our Constitution is alive and it should be able to unite our people whether we have divergent views, different religion or culture, dapat ma-unite niya yung ating mga kababayan, ang mga Pilipino (it should unite our countrymen, all Filipinos)." Rappler.com