MILF's Iqbal says Bangsamoro bill reaching plenary is 'progress'

MANILA, Philippines – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal considered as "progress" the submission of the substitute Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to the Senate plenary in spite of the overhaul made by Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr to their original version.

"Personally, I want to commend Senator Bongbong Marcos for coming out with the committee report. It was signed by 17 senators," Iqbal said on Tuesday, August 11, a day after Marcos submitted the substitute bill.

"That is already an achievement by itself. It is a good indication that we are moving forward," Iqbal added.

The submission of the substitute bill to the plenary means the proposed law creating the new Bangsamoro region in Mindanao is now in the hands of the 24 senators, who may agree or disagree with the version submitted by Marcos' committee. It will now undergo the period of interpellation and, later, the period of amendments.

"I cannot comment on the substitute bill sponored by Senator Bongbong Marcos. First, I have not read it in full, just the title. Secondly, I do not want to preempt the discussion in the Senate," said Iqbal.

Iqbal said he and other members of the negotiating panel will attend Senate deliberations on Wednesday, August 12, to "observe." He said they are willing to meet the senators individually to answer whatever questions they have.

He remains "optimistic" that an acceptable BBL will be passed within the term of President Benigno Aquino III. "I'm quite confident it will be delivered within the term of the Aquino administration."

Iqbal also met on Tuesday with members of the House of Representatives, where the BBL is also being deliberated in the plenary.

The MILF opposed the draft law submitted by the House ad hoc committee on BBL because of 28 provisions that were removed from the original version. 

"The discussion was in-depth. The understanding of certain issues has deepened. I think that is important in conflict resolution," said Iqbal.

Iqbal said they seek to restore, above all, powers of the regional government over natural resources. 

"There can be no real autonomy if there is no fiscal autonomy and if there is no access to resources," Iqbal said.  Rappler.com