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MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – This is the main “antidote to radicalization” in Mindanao.
This, according to, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who also heads the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, as President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday, September 10, submitted the proposed law creating a new autonomous government in Mindanao to Congress leaders.
In a ceremony attended by close to 200 guests, Aquino personally handed over the Bangsamoro basic law draft to Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
The Bangsamoro bill provides a legal framework for the final peace accord signed by the government and MILF in March after 17 years of negotiations aimed at ending 4 decades of war in Mindanao.
The mood was festive inside the Palace, with President Benigno Aquino III himself optimistic about the creation of the Bangsamoro within his term.
While the transmission of the draft took longer than expected, Aquino said the “long and thorough process,” was to ensure “every detail involved in fulfilling our shared desires for the Bangsamoro region.”
“I assure you: The Bangsamoro Basic Law was crafted to be fair, just, and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumads, or Christians,” he said.
The submission of the basic law came at the backdrop of commemorations of the anniversary of the siege of Zamboanga by MILF’s rival group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as well as reports of increased terrorist activity in the Philippines.
Iqbal said he is confident the creation of a new autonomous government would be enough to curtail radicalization in Mindanao.
“We’re here in Malacañang with no less than the President handing the Bangsamoro Basic Law to Congress. I think this is the main antidote to whatever radicalization there might be,” Iqbal said.
“The reality that nothing happened (between the MILF and the government) since we started negotiating until the crafting the Bangsamoro basic law…So, I don’t believe there is growing radicalization. So people can also imagine the situation. There will be radicalization to a certain extent but not to the extent that it will create a problem,” he added.
The crafting of the proposed law marks the next stage of the peace process that will open discussions to more public scrutiny once the full text of the bill is made public.
To fast-track deliberations, the House has formed an ad hoc committee to to tackle the measure. Belmonte and Drilon are aiming for the passage of the Bangsamoro bill – a top priority of the Aquino administration – by March 2015.
In an interview with reporters after the turnover ceremonies, Iqbal refused to comment on whether he was satisfied with the target deadline.
“It is my firm belief that the wisdom of the House and the Senate will come up with a legislation that is faithful to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Iqbal said.
Efforts to arrive at a “mutually acceptable” draft pushed back the submission of the basic law to Congress by 4 months from the original target of May, after the MILF accused the government of diluting the first draft of the law submitted by the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission to Malacañang for review.
At the core of discussions are the constitutionality of the measure, one of the issues lawmakers are also expected to focus on once Congress starts deliberating the measure.
Iqbal earlier said that Malacañang’s revisions made the envisioned Bangsamoro government less autonomous than the ARMM as it departed from the “letter and spirit” of the comprehensive peace accord.
For the MILF, issues, as well as language, that had already been settled prior to the signing of the peace agreement were no longer subject to discussions.
The government, meanwhile, wanted to ensure that the draft is constitutional. After all, it will still pass through Congress, which will be free to make changes on the measure.
It took at least 4 meetings, including a marathon 10-day workshop in Davao, before both sides finalized the draft to be submitted to Congress.
He refused to comment when when asked what the BTC expects would be the possible contentious issues when Congress tackles the measure.
“Members of the media have asked me what the most difficult issues were in the negotiations. I said, everything,” Iqbal said.
Meeting between Aquino and Murad
A final meeting between MILF chair Murad Ebrahim and Aquino in Malacañang on Thursday, September 4, finally allowed the parties to agree on remaining issues.
A Rappler source said the one of the final issues discussed was how the relationship between the national government and the proposed Bangsamoro government would work.
Under the final peace accord, the national government and the Bangsamoro would have an “assymetrical” relationship, unlike LGUs, which are directly under the national government.
How this would be realized in the BBL, as well as how it would be operated within the confines of the Constituion became one of the last considerations before the BBL was finalized.
The proposed Bangsamoro law is expected to define how the parliamentary form of government of the Bangsamoro would take shape.
It will also clarify how the proposed block grants or automatic appropriations similar to internal revenue allotment of local government units would be computed.
Other issues that have been contentious in the negotiations were on the territorial rights of indigenous peoples, the territory of the so-called Bangsamoro Waters, and what would happen to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) when the region transitions into the Bangsamoro.
The Bangsamoro government will replace the ARMM once the basic law is passed in Congress and approved in a plebiscite.
Under the final peace agreement between the MILF and the government, the MILF agreed to decommission rebel firearms in specific timeframes as political commitments towards the creation of the Bangsamoro are achieved.
Aquino praised the commitment of both sides for peace, calling the bill a reflection of “our shared efforts to towards growth that leaves no one behind.”
“Trust brought us here. Throughout the negotiations, I saw that each side genuinely wished to reach an agreement. We have proven that, in a situation where one does not consider who has the upper hand, one can truly give rise to a situation where everyone wins,” he said.
He also appealed to the Filipino people to do their part in “ensuring genuine transformation of society.”
“As I have said in the past: We must boost them up, to allow them to catch up,” he said.
“Let us now open our arms for our Muslim countrymen. Let us respect the beliefs and rights of the indigenous peoples of our land. Instead of choosing to spread negative news and unfounded assumptions about our southernmost region, let us harness our knowledge and time to fully understand the history, culture, and narratives of our fellow countrymen.”
Aquino said doing so will make Filipinos realize “that we are really the same.”
Aquino said the BBL is something he will take with him during his trip in Europe, and will “share with the leaders and our countrymen in Spain, Belgium, France, and Germany.”
“I will tell them the story of how, through trusting and working with each other, we have reached this point in our history. I will tell them that, while our success is not complete yet, we are all confident that our collective efforts towards a more progressive and more peaceful Philippines will continue,” he said.
Consultations in Mindanao
The President also asked the Congress to scrutinize the bill but to pass it at “the soonest possible time,” in order to give the Bangsamoro people enough time for the transition process.
Senate President Franklin Drilon for his part, gave assurances the BBL will “have bipartisan support in the Senate.”
Drilon said committee hearings for the law will be set for next week, although he said it would be “difficult” to pass it by the end of the year due to budget deliberations. He said the goal of the Senate is to pass it by the first quarter of 2015.
He also promised that the Senate would make sure the BBL is constitutional, as committed by the President.
“We’re confident we will pass the law,” he said. “We should not let this historic opportunity pass… [for] it may never come again.”
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr said the committee will conduct consultatations in Mindanao to reach various stakeholders in the Bangsamoro.
Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, who is expected to head the ad hoc Bangsamoro committee in the House, said hearings will start as soon as possible. The committee will hold an executive meeting to discuss their internal rules on Thursday, September 11, he added.
The passage of the basic law is under time pressure as the administration wants the Bangsamoro to be established before Aquino steps down from office in 2016.