Senators to battle-weary Marawi: 'We will pass Bangsamoro law'

LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) got a push after senators spoke with the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and visited the former battle area in Marawi City on Friday, January 26.

"When my husband (Senator Manny Villar) was still a senator, he passed the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) law. For the Moro people, we should pass this (BBL) as this is seen by the people to bring lasting peace," Senator Cynthia Villar said during a public hearing in Marawi City. 

Other senators present in the jampacked Mindanao State University (MSU) made the same commitment. They promised to deliberate on the bill before sessions close again on March 22.

Mindanaoan Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said the BBL will be the antidote to the prolonged conflict that Mindanao is going through.

“I’d like to commit to Senator Zubiri. We will support the hard work of the chairman and assure that the proposed BBL be reflective and inclusive of all the ambitions and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people," said Senator Sonny Angara. 

A day earlier, senators also held a public hearing inside the MILF's Camp Darapanan, where they spoke with the MILF leadership.

Jampacked BBL hearing 

Placards inside the gym read, "Pass the BBL now for Peace." Many Moros were upbeat that the BBL will finally be passed during the administration of Mindanaoan President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Thousands joined the public hearing. Some travelled for hours just to get to Marawi city.

Many tried to get inside the MSU gymnasium, which was full to the brim, while thousands remained outside.

Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Bombit Adiong urged both chambers of Congress to give to the Muslims what is due them, as the BBL is seen to free them from generations-old neglect by the national government. 

But concerns were raised against the BBL, too. There was wariness about the inclusion of new territories in the proposed Bangsamoro region, and confusion on its impact on taxation. 

Preventing another Marawi 

There are those who believe that what happened in Marawi City in 2017 was a direct result of the failure of the government to pass the BBL during the Aquino administration. (READ: MILF, Maute Group battle for legitimacy)

The proposed measure seeks to create a new Bangsamoro region that would replace and expand the powers of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It will implement the peace agreement with the MILF, the dominant Muslim rebel group.

Local armed groups linked with the Islamic State have reportedly capitalized on the growing frustration because of the delayed implemention of the peace agreement. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)

The military warned that another Marawi could happen if the remnants of the ISIS-linked groups are not eliminated. 

Duterte's promise

President Duterte has called on Congress to pass the BBL amid concerns about the growing disappointment in the delayed implementation of the peace agreement with the MILF. (READ: Duterte to Moro people: Give government a chance)

Debates on supposedly unconstitutional provision in the BBL delayed its passage in the previous Congress. 

Zubiri said the Senate would tackle the BBL draft by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), a body dominated by MILF representatives that was tasked to review supposedly unconstitutional provisions in the proposed legislation.

"I have withdrawn my version of the BBL and instead passed the BTC version," Zubiri said.

Duterte had said amendments to the 1987 Constitution can address powers that cannot be included in the BBL. 

Contested provisions 

Lanao del Norte 1st District Representatives Mohammad Khalid Dimaporo also raised concerns during the public hearing, particularly on the inclusion of new territories in the new Bangsamoro region.

He opposed the automatic inclusion of 6 towns from his province to the new region.

In a plebiscite back in 2001, the towns of Balo-i, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal voted "yes" to joining ARMM. 

Dimaporo argued a new plebiscite should be held because ARMM is different from the new Bangsamoro region.

"ARMM and BBL are different, that is why we need a new plebiscite, not just automatically add them just because they said 'yes' in 2001," Dimaporo said.

Dimaporo said it would be difficult for the local government to handle a situation where some of its towns belong to the Bangsamoro region. 

One of the complications would be taxation. Senator Paolo Benigno  Aquino IV said there are questions taxation, especially if a town or barangay opted to join the BBL.

"That would be double taxation: tax for the province and for the BBL," Aquino said.  

Aquino said these are the provisions that the senate will work on before they close the session again   on March 22.

Local stakeholders

Local stakeholders were also active in the public hearing.

Aghakhan Sharief, chairman of the  Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development, said they would push the Senate to pass the BTC version of the BBL. 

Former BTC commissioner Samira Gutoc-Tomawis also urged the senators to include in the BBL the institutionalization of the Madrasahs under the supervision of the Department of Education. She said this will prevent false teachings that will lead to teaching of extremism. 

Tomawis also urged the senators to include the creation of the Sharia Academy that will develop the Sharia law under the BBL. – Rappler.com