MANILA, Philippines – As Congress begins deliberations on charter change, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said the plan to shift from a unitary government to a federal system should not affect President Rodrigo Duterte's commitment to push for a law that will create a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
"The implementation of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro), particularly its political track, which means the passage of the stalled Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), must precede the shift from unitary to federal form of government," said MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.
"MILF holds on to the pronounced commitment of President Duterte to implement the CAB first with the passage of the BBL, and then the prospective Bangsamoro government shall serve as template of a Philippine federal state," Ebrahim added.
Ebrahim, who is in Uzbekistan for an Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting, was the expected keynote speaker at the forum Global Autonomy, Governance and Federalism 2016 in Makati on Wednesday, October 19. His signed speech was instead read by MILF Central Committee member Akmad Amer.
The Muslim rebel group in the Philippines is awaiting the passage of a law that will create a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao, an implementation of a peace agreement signed in March 2014.
Amer said a draft executive order creating the body that will draft the new law has been submitted to Malacañang and is awaiting Duterte's signature. It expands the membership of the Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC) that drafted the BBL under the Aquino administration, from 15 to 21, to allow the government to include representatives from other groups.
The administration of President Benigno Aquino III failed to pass the law following public outrage sparked by the bloody encounter between government forces and the MILF and private armed groups in MILF territory in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in January 2015.
Critics of the proposed BBL claimed some of its provisions give too much independence to the proposed Bangsamoro region and are thus unconstitutional.
During the campaign, Duterte said the country should shift to a federal form of government which is believed to address, among others, concerns over the BBL. The House of Representatives committee on constitutional amendments has convened to discuss proposals.
The MILF said it supports federalism because it will strengthen the CAB, but it cannot replace it. Ebrahim said the MILF "clings to the CAB as the solution to the centuries-old Bangsamoro problem."
"While federalism is generally good for the entire Philippines, we should not lose sight of the uniqueness of the Bangsamoro situation. It is only this region, and I do not mean it to be just the administrative one, that continously asserted and fought for its right to self-determination," Ebrahim said.
Duterte said the proposed BBL will be revised to address constitutional concerns. But the MILF said it is up to the Supreme Court to declare if provisions in the BBL are unconstitutional. Unconstitutional provisions, if any, could be addressed later through constitutional amendments.
Duterte said he also wants the new law to be "inclusive" to address the concerns of other groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), whose members protested that the new peace deal with the MILF disregards its 1996 agreement with the Philippine government and Tripoli Agreement. (READ: Past peace pacts haunt BBL)
The MILF is an MNLF breakaway group that protested the Tripoli Agreement. MILF has since become the dominant Muslim rebel group.
Ebrahim said the OIC, particularly the Bangsamoro Coordinating Forum, is the "rightful body to initiate and undertake the convergence" because it is the "main entity that faciliated the agreeements."
"The MILF is very hopeful that under President Duterte the BBL would pass Congress. As fellow Mindanaoan, he understands deeply the struggle of the Bangsamoro against historic injustices. In his veins still run the blood of a Moro, and so we have no doubt that he would be instrumental in finally putting a closure to the age-old conflict in the Bangsmoroo," Ebrahim said. – Rappler.com