Govt, MILF reach consensus on draft law

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – In the midst of a tight deadline, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Friday, August 15, concluded discussions on the draft law creating a new autonomous entity in Mindanao. 

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr and Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairperson Mohagher Iqbal made the announcement in a joint statement issued days ahead of their August 28 deadline to submit the draft to President Benigno Aquino III for approval.

"After a series of productive meetings involving the GPH and MILF Peace Panels, the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process, the Office of the Executive Secretary, and the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, we have concluded discussions on the various issues involving the draft Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL) originally drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and submitted to the President last April," the statement said. 

"The parties have agreed that the resolutions arrived at by both parties will be incorporated into the final draft Basic Bangsamoro Law that will be prepared and submitted to President Benigno S. Aquino III," it added.  

The draft law will be certified as urgent by the President once it is submitted to Congress. 

Senate President Franklin Drilon vowed to lead the Senate to work double time to pass the measure by the first quarter of 2015.

"The Bangsamoro Basic Law represents all our hopes and aspirations for a lasting and genuine peace and inclusive social and economic development in Mindanao. We will not fail the Filipino people, especially our brothers and sisters in Mindanao," Drilon said. 

At the heart of discussions that have stalled the submission of a "mutually acceptable" draft to Congress is the constitutionality of the measure. 

The MILF earlier accused Malacañang of diluting the draft law submitted by the MILF-dominated BTC, prompting the commission to elevate discussions to the peace panel. 

Since the beginning of the negotiations, the MILF has been of the position that the Constitution needs to be revised to entrench a truly autonomous government. The government, meanwhile, believes the final peace pact can be implemented without charter change, and it would be more preferable to ensure that the proposed law is consistent with the Constitution before it goes to Congress.  

The government and the MILF concluded talks on the draft law days after Aquino revealed in an exclusive interview with TV5 that he is open to charter change, but only to review the  parameters of judicial reach and possibly to lift term limits for the president to allow him a second term.

 Towards peace

A product of 17 years of negotiations, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed on March 24 requires the MILF to decommission their firearms and troops in specific phases while political commitments towards the creation of a new autonomous government in Mindanao are achieved. (READ: The Bangsamoro peace deal at a glance)

The Bangsamoro Basic Law will serve as the legal basis for this new political entity that is designed to have greater political and fiscal powers than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 

Under the comprehensive peace pact, the Bangsamoro entity will have a parliamentary form of government, with members elected by the people electing a chief minister within themselves. 

The composition of this proposed government, as well as how powers will be shared between the national and Bangsamoro governments, were some of the key issues in the negotiations.  

Instead of having to go to Congress for budget approval like the ARMM, the Bangsamoro entity will enjoy block grants or automatic appropriations. The formula for this will be outlined in the basic law.  

The proposed law will go through two rounds of approval – in Congress and through a plebiscite in identified areas in the South.  

Once the basic law is approved, the ARMM will be deemed abolished and an MILF-led transition authority will take over until the election of the first set of Bangsamoro officials in 2016.

The contents of the proposed law have yet to be made public. – Rappler.com