Aquino turns over Bangsamoro bill to Congress
Manila, Philippines — After delays, renewed negotiations and fears of a breakdown in peace talks, President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday submitted to Congress leaders the draft of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Aquino, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles and Bangsamoro Transition Commission Chair Mohagher Iqbal turned over copies of the 122-page document to Senate President Franklin Drilon and to Speaker of the House Feliciano Belmonte Jr. at Malacañang Palace.
In his speech, Aquino said what was first thought impossible – ending the decades of conflict in Mindanao – is now within reach.
“We have taken yet another step towards a more peaceful and more progressive Mindanao. Through this proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, we are giving shape to the enactment of the principles behind our Framework Agreement,” Aquino said.
He said “trust” between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) made the drafting of the BBL possible.
Iqbal, on the other hand, said he was happy with the culmination of their almost two decades of negotiations.
“It is my firm belief that the wisdom of the leadership of the House and the Senate headed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House would come up with a good legislation to form the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” he said.
Iqbal admitted that they were not able to get everything they wanted during the negotiations.
“Of course, in all negotiations you cannot get all what you want. Neither the other side can get what it wants. It is a compromise. The fact that we have the Bangsamoro Basic Law, personally and politically, as far as the MILF is concerned, we are happy,” he said.
Aquino said what was important now was to help the region of Muslim Mindanao to catch up.
“Indeed ARMM has been left behind. This is why we seek to promote fairness, especially as regards our countrymen in the margins, so that they themselves, as empowered individuals, may have the wherewithal to contribute to our collective growth. As I have said in the past: We must boost them up, to allow them to catch up,” he said.
During his speech, Aquino assured Congress and the public that the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law is within bounds of the Constitution.
“Now that we have a proposed bill, I fully believe that it is in accordance with our Constitution and with the principles of our Framework Agreement, and that it reflects our shared efforts towards growth that leaves no one behind,” he told around 200 guests at Malacañang’s Rizal Hall.
The controversial bill, which was met with delays and disagreements, underwent a “long and thorough process,” Aquino said.
“We went through 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 explained.
Reports said among the causes of the prolonged discussion of the draft were the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro political entity, among others.
Critics, including Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, claimed that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) itself was unconstitutional since the executive branch “misrepresented” the Philippine government by clinching a deal with the MILF. Meanwhile, the result of the agreement will not only be an autonomous region but a sub-state, the Senator said then.
Running out of time?
The BBL is the product of 17 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Once passed by Congress and ratified by a plebiscite, the BBL will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the BBL was supposed to have been reviewed and approved by the Office of the President four months ago.
However, contentious issues such as wealth and power sharing between the central government and the soon-to-be established Bangsamoro political entity had to be agreed upon by both sides.
At one point, the Philippine government and the MILF peace panels had to step in after the Bangsamoro Transition Council complained of the Office of the President’s version of the BBL.
During his fifth State of the Nation Address, Aquino asked Congress to pass the bill before the end of the year. However, Senate President Franklin Drilon said it was not likely to happen because they need to tackle the national budget first.
He repeated this request on Wednesday, saying the 122-page bill should be passed at the “soonest possible time.”
Drilon, after the turnover ceremony, said they are confident that the BBL will be passed into law but will most likely be approved by the first quarter of 2015, which still gives enough time for the law to be ratified by a plebiscite.
“We will immediately set the committee hearings next week… Realistically however, the budget committee hearings are ongoing,” he explained.
“We are giving ourselves until the first quarter of next year. There’s enough time to have it set for plebiscite and have the transition commission in place before the 2016 election,” he said.
In addition to tackling the constitutionality of the bill, Congress will also hold hearings in the region that will be covered by the Bangsamoro political entity.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is the chair of the Senate committee on local government, said, “My approach to the entire process is simple: is that we will allow everyone who wants to say something or has a view or has an opinion that is valid and a reasonable one that we will give them a venue for them to make their case.”
He said the Senate will also work closely with the House of Representatives to ensure that all bases are covered and that there will be no duplications.
Marcos, who was present at the turnover ceremony, said they will also look into the possibility of inviting Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari to the hearings.
“Although he is still wanted, in a sense that he has a warrant against him, we are thinking about allowing the suspension of that to allow the chairman Nur Misuari to come and speak and give us his idea,” Marcos, who is the chair of the Senate committee on local government, said after the turnover of the draft BBL in Malacanang.
“Because if you remember, the Zamboanga uprising was precisely the product of the feeling that they were out of the (peace) process,” he explained.
Misuari and other members of his MNLF faction are still on the run a year after the so-called Zamboanga City siege, which resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of families and the death of more than 200 people.
Originally posted: 10:21 am | Wednesday, September 10th, 2014