Gov't, MILF asked: Submit draft law in August

MANILA, Philippines – After a 3-month delay, Senate President Franklin Drilon imposed a deadline on Malacañang’s submission of the law that will be key to achieving peace in Mindanao.

The Senate leader asked the Palace to submit to Congress by the end of this month the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law so the legislative branch can pass it within the administration’s timeframe.

“Assuming that they can give it to us by the end of the month, we will work double time. I think the first quarter of next year is a reasonable period by which to pass this law. Have it ratified by 2015, have the elections take place in May of 2016 and have a new Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in place by July 1, 2016,” Drilon said at a press briefing at the Diamond Hotel in Manila on Monday, August 11. 

After a 10-day meeting in Davao City, the peace panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) committed to submit the bill to President Benigno Aquino III by August 18.

Drilon said lawmakers are running out of time. “We are asking the MILF and Malacañang to submit to us at the soonest possible time the draft because while this is dragging on, we in Congress are having a harder time in passing it." 

Drilon noted that the panels missed their target of completing an agreement after the Davao meeting.

“From my information, the government and the MILF gave themselves 10 days from August 1 within which to come up with the final version of the Basic Law to be submitted to Congress. The deadline was supposed to be yesterday and they were supposed to submit to Congress this week the proposed law but obviously, they have not come to an agreement,” he said.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body that crafted the bill, first committed to submit to Congress the draft by May but the target was moved to June and again to July after the President’s State of the Nation Address.

The delay was due to differences between Malacañang and the MILF on the contents of the bill.

The MILF accused the Palace of diluting the draft law that the BTC submitted for review. The group maintains that the version should be faithful to the agreements it signed with the government. The Palace though expressed concern about the constitutionality of the initial version but the MILF said the government promised it “flexibilities” in the Constitution during the negotiations.  

After Malacañang returned the draft law to the BTC, commissioners decided to elevate the matter to the peace panels.

A former justice secretary, Drilon conceded that the issue of constitutionality is “where the snag is taking place.”

“The issue of course is that the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro must be within the 4 corners of the Constitution. The Senate cannot pass any law that violates the Constitution,” he reiterated. 

In the Davao workshop, the panels discussed issues involving fiscal autonomy and the administration of justice in the proposed Bangsamoro political entity, which is aimed at replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The panels said "they have reached agreement on substantial portions of the document and have developed a shared understanding of the remaining challenges and unsettled issues, which they will bring back to their principals for further guidance.”

In March, the Aquino administration and the MILF signed a historic peace agreement meant at ending decades of armed conflict in Mindanao. Yet the delay in t he submission of the draft law raised concerns about the feasibility of the administration’s timetable of creating the Bangsamoro region by the time Aquino steps down in 2016.

Aquino initially asked Congress to pass the law by the end of 2014 but the delays might move the target to the first part of 2015. 

‘Non-passage not an option’

Despite the hurdles, Drilon said Congress will fast-track the passage of the bill once it is submitted.

“The schedule is a little tight but we will work on it because non-passage of the law is not an option. We need to pass it for peace and progress in Mindanao because peace and security is a basic foundation of progress and poverty alleviation.” 

Once submitted to the Senate, the bill will be under the local government committee of Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, which will tackle it jointly with the peace committee of Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, who hails from Bukidnon. In the House, a "supercommittee" comprising of all concerned committees will be created.

“Senator Marcos assured me he will give it priority. He will resolve issues in favor of its constitutionality because ultimately, any doubt will be brought to Supreme Court. It is there where the real debate will take place on the constitutionality [of the bill].” 

The Senate leader acknowledged the significance of passing the bill, considering that the stakeholders go beyond the MILF, Malacañang and Congress. He noted the global participation and support for the peace process.

“The international community has been unselfish in assisting us in having this agreement signed. Japan, Great Britain, Turkey, the US – they have been very enthusiastic and supportive of this process so we cannot afford to fail here.” –