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Binay: Bangsamoro law should not be only option for peace

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) should not be the only option towards establishing lasting peace in Mindanao.   

Vice President Jejomar Binay made the statement in an interview on Bombo Radyo Dagupan on Tuesday, March 3, when asked if he favored the proposed law. 

"Not necessarily BBL. Dapat po ay isulong natin ang lahat ng pamamaraan para magkaroon ng katahimikan doon sa bahagi ng Mindanao. Hindi po sa buong Mindanao nagkakagulo. Doon lamang po sa mga kapatid natin sa Muslim community," Binay said. 

(Not necessarily the BBL. We should push for all sorts of ways to have peace in that part of Mindanao. It's not the entire Mindanao that has conflict, only the areas of our fellowmen in the Muslim community. 

"Dapat lagyan natin ng pamamaraan para magkaroon ng katahimikan. Ito naman, kung magkakaroon ng peace agreement, sana hindi po matapos ng dahil sa may deadline. Kasi kapag may deadline parang pinupuwersa mong mahinog," he added. 

(We should find ways to have peace. If there will be a peace agreement, it should not be concluded just because there is a deadline. If there is a deadline, you are forcing it to ripen.) 

When asked if he believed that the BBL is unconstitutional, the Vice President, however, admitted that he has not read the entirety of the proposed law.

"Hindi ko pa nababasa ang kabuuan ng BBL na iyan pero may mga nagsasabi na sa (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) na dineclare na unconstitutional lahat ho iyon ay kasama sa BBL. Kung totoo ho iyon ay grabe naman," said Binay, a lawyer himself. 

(I have not read the entirety of that BBL but there are some who are saying that provisions in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that were declared unconstitutional were included in the BBL. If that is true, that is too much.)

Binay, a presidential aspirant, has repeatedly said that the passage of the measure should not be rushed to beat the target deadline of creating a new autonomous region in Mindanao before President Benigno Aquino III steps down from office in 2016.  

A product of the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the proposed law aims to create a new autonomous government with more teeth than the current one, in a bid to address the decades-old armed conflict in the South.  

Binay said it is not only the MILF that should play an active role in the process – other groups such as the Lumads and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) should also be engaged.  

"I hope this gets taken cared of, not just with the MILF – everyone should be active an participant. In fact, Lumads or the MNLF should be signatories. If the MNLF does not want to, then don't. But the Lumads, the Christians – all stakeholders should be given a chance," Binay said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

The MNLF signed a peace deal with the government in 1996 but the rebel group maintains that the government has yet to fully implement the agreement. The MILF broke away from the MNLF at the height of the conflict in Mindanao in the 1970s.  

The House and the Senate suspended discussions on the BBL following the Mamasapano clash as lawmakers questioned the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process. 

Leaders of both chambers on Monday, March 2, agreed on a June timetable to pass the law but not without amending provisions of the measure which they believe to be unconstitutional. 

The MILF has appealed to Congress not to water down the measure, saying that diluting the law would render the MILF useless and would only strengthen other rebel groups. 

Never-ending negotiations?

With disagreements on how much Congress can amend and up the extent to which the MILF would be willing to accept changes, Senator Grace Poe said Congress deliberations have become an extension of negotiations.  

"This is the problem. We have a government peace panel and they have agreed on that, so they entered into this agreement with these provisions. What is happening here is we are once again entering into negotiations," she said, and referred to the call of Cagayan de Oro Representative and House ad hoc committee chair Rufus Rodriguez to delete certain provisions of the proposed law.

Rodriguez wants to delete provisions on the proposed Bangsamoro law creating its own autonomous Commission on Audit, Commission on Elections, Commission on Human Rights, and Civil Service Commission, and the proposed set up for a regional police force.

Citing this, Poe said, "We will once again start talking to them to see what is acceptable to them."

In an editorial published in Luwaran.com, the MILF unveiled provisions in the BBL that it considers as non-negotiable. These include provisions on the regional police force, the shari'ah law, and constitutional bodies.

Poe, who chaired the committee that investigated the Mamasapano clash, said the government peace panel was "too generous" in providing concessions.   

"That is one of the issues being raised. I don't want to judge them. I know they did enough research, their resumés are impressive. I know they have institutional knowledge. But that's what some are saying, that we were too generous. So, I have this opinion. Others also share the same opinion. I'm not the only one comprising the Senate. We all have to give our own opinions," Poe said. 

Senator Francis Escudero, a co-author of the measure, put the government peace panel to task in making the MILF understand that it is within the power of Congress to amend the proposed law. 

"It’s now up for Congress to clean up the mess our government negotiators have created. Now let OPPAP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) and the GPH panel work and impress upon their counterparts that Congress reviewing the draft BBL and amending provisions is fairly part of our democratic process," Escudero said. 

The House ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro is set to resume deliberations on the bill once the Board of Inquiry (BOI) submits its report on the Mamasapano. Rodriguez, however, said the bill would not be put to a vote unless the MILF surrenders members in the event that the Department of Justice files charges against them because the measure only stands to lose without a show of good faith from the MILF.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr said he is also awaiting the results of the Senate investigation, the BOI and the MILF before deciding on whether the probe can be resumed.

Marcos clarified that the he is not setting any conditions for the resumption of BBL discussions. 

"There are no conditions; we are not putting any conditions. What we were asking the MILF were for those confidence-building measures that I keep calling about as 'gestures of good faith.' That's all.  Well, it’s too bad, the process would be better if they do that but we will still continue deliberations even if they don't do so," Marcos said. – Rappler.com