Aquino to endorse Bangsamoro bill to Congress September 10
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The road towards peace in Mindanao is set to reach its next stop: Congress.
After much delay, the proposed law that will create a new autonomous region in Mindanao will be submitted to Congress on Wednesday, September 10 at 10 am, President Benigno Aquino III confirmed Monday, September 8. It will be certified as an urgent bill.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr will go to Malacañang to receive the draft law from Aquino, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles said.
In a statement, Deles revealed that Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairperson Murad Ebrahim met on Thursday, September 4, in Malacanang to finalize the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Murad was accompanied by MILF chief negotiator and Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chair Mohagher Iqbal while Aquino was joined by Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr., and government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, among others.
"The President has decided to personally submit the completed draft to Congress to highlight the importance of the proposed legislative measure. The BBL tops the list of priority legislation which was submitted by the Office of the President to Congress two days after the President's State of the Nation Address," Deles said.
All 14 remaining members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) on Sunday, September 7, signed a letter formalizing the completion of the final draft, a source privy to the peace process said.
The BTC is set to transmit the letter and the draft law to the Office of the President Monday, September 8, Deles said.
A product of the comprehensive peace accord between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) seeks to create a new autonomous region, which will enjoy greater political and fiscal autonomy than the region it will replace.
With the expected submission of the draft law to Congress, the peace process now moves from the peace table towards the nitty-gritty of entrenching the legal framework for the new political entity.
The submission also marks the first time that the proposed BBL will be released to the public.
It will include details of the vital features of the Bangsamoro government that will differentiate it from the ARMM, such as how the new autonomous government will be composed and how it will get its funding.
The envisioned Bangsamoro government is designed to be ministerial or parliamentary in form, with members elected by the people electing a chief minister among themselves.
It is expected to enjoy block grants or automatic appropriations, and the formula for this will be outlined in the draft law.
How the police force for the Bangsamoro will take shape is also expected to be included in the law.
Congress is under pressure to fast-track the passage of the law following delays in its submission.
Lawmakers had expected the law to be submitted to Congress by May, but disagreements arising from the executive review of the first draft of the law crafted by the MILF-led BTC, headed by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, pushed the deadline further.
The MILF had accused the government of diluting the BTC version of the basic law. It took at least 4 meetings, including a marathon 10-day workshop in Davao and at least 2 major revisions, before the BTC and the government reached a consensus on the bill to be submitted to Congress.
Belmonte and Drilon said Congress aims to to pass the law by the first year of 2015. This will give the MILF-led transitional body at least one year to lead the transition towards the Bangsamoro.
To fast-track deliberations, the House of Representatives is expected to create a supercommittee composed of at least 5 concerned committees that will tackled the bill. It is expected to be led by Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez.
At the Senate, Drilon said the bill will be immediately referred to the Senate committee on local government chaired by Senator Bongbong Marcos and the Senate committee on peace, unification and reconciliation chaired by Senator TG Guingona.
Since Congress also needs to pass the proposed 2015 budget before the end of 2014, Drilon said he expects the basic law to reach the Senate plenary by the first week of December so it could be passed by the first quarter of 2015.
While the political process towards the creation of a reformed autonomous region in Mindanao is underway, the decommissioning process for armed troops is also expected to commence.
Under final peace agreement, the MILF agreed to decommission a certain number of rebel firearms in specific timeframes as political commitments, including the passage of the basic law, are achieved.
Both the government and the MILF hope to entrench the Bangsamoro government before Aquino steps down from office in 2016.
Time for Mindanao to catch up
In his speech during the Philippine Business for Social Progress meeting and launch of the Mindanao Inclusive Agribusiness Program on Monday in Davao City, Aquino highlighted the increasing investments in the Bangsamoro both from the government and the private sector.
"The objective for all of us: to build a Mindanao that can catch up in the soonest possible time, and, by so doing, create a regime of opportunities where no Filipino is left behind," Aquino said.
Breakthroughs in the peace process in Mindanao caused investments in the ARMM to reach a record-high amount of P2.532 billion, 72% higher than the P1.463 billion investments registered in full-year 2013. – With reports from Angela Casauay and Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler.com
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