Zubiri urges President to talk to possible spoilers of Bangsamoro deal
President Rodrigo Duterte could play a key role in helping ensure the success of the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) by reaching out to potential spoilers of the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Tuesday.
The BARMM would be established by the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which was passed by Congress and signed by the President last month to hand to the MILF what Zubiri called the government’s “last promise” under the 2014 peace agreement.
The President handed a symbolic copy of the law to MILF chief Murad Ebrahim during a ceremony in Malacañang on Monday, in the culmination of a peace process that stretched over more than two decades to end the conflict in Mindanao, which had claimed about 150,000 lives since the 1970s.
MNLF Misuari faction
Speaking at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia Forum on Tuesday, Zubiri said he was optimistic that many armed rebels in Mindanao would embrace the new autonomous region, which would receive a raft of resources and expanded powers.
The senator expressed hope that the President could bring Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari, whom the senator described as “a class of his own,” on board to support the establishment of the BARMM.
The BARMM will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which was formed following the conclusion of a peace agreement between the government and the MNLF in 1996.
Misuari served as the first governor of the ARMM, which was described in 2011 by then President Benigno Aquino III as a “failed experiment.”
The MNLF faction led by Misuari did not take part in the deliberations on the BOL.
“All things perfect, we’re hoping they join in. We’re weighing on the fact that the President is close to Chairman Nur. We’re hoping that he can reach out to Chairman Nur,” Zubiri said.
Followers of Misuari could be included in the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that would oversee the shift to the BARMM, he said.
The President will name the majority of members of the BTA, he added.
“We’re hoping he also involves the MNLF from the Tausug areas,” Zubiri said.
The elected officials of the ARMM would automatically become members of the BTA and they would serve until June 30, 2019.
Members of non-Moro indigenous communities, youth, women, settler communities, traditional leaders and other sectors would have representatives in the BTA as well.
The BTA would have executive and legislative powers and would be headed by an interim chief minister, who would be appointed by the President.
It would serve until 2022, when regular elections would be held for the BARMM parliament.
The MNLF faction affiliated with Muslimin Sema supports the establishment of the new Bangsamoro region, but it has its differences with the group of Misuari.
Autonomy for Misuari?
In a speech in Zamboanga Sibugay on July 26, the President announced that he had signed the Bangsamoro law and said he would like to talk to Misuari “to figure out things so that we can have it by the end of the year.”
The President also said he could create an autonomous area for Misuari pending the shift to federalism.
“That is what he wants. I have about three years to hack it,” the President said.
Zubiri said he hoped the additional powers and autonomy given to the BARMM would convince the disparate groups in Mindanao to support the new region, which he described as “ARMM plus.”
“If they actually look and study the provisions of this Bangsamoro Organic Law, this is a 10-time improvement of the ARMM in terms of self-governance, self-determination, in terms of giving them block grant, fiscal autonomy,” he said.
Aside from the potential spoilers, another possible problem for the new region is the discontent that could emerge among MILF members should six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato fail to join the BARMM.
Under the BOL, the six towns and 39 barangays would be allowed to join the BARMM if their “mother units”—cities or provinces—also agree to it in a plebiscite.
According to critics, however, the provision means there is little chance for those towns and villages to join the BARMM because the mother units are unlikely to give up territory.
Zubiri said the Bangsamoro proponents would “just work hard in the campaign” to get those towns and barangays into the BARMM.
The MILF is also trying to control its fighters in the area, Zubiri said.
“Hopefully, the peace can be maintained,” he added.
Another possible problem for the BOL is a challenge to the constitutionality of the parliamentary government of the BARMM in the Supreme Court.
Zubiri, however, said he was optimistic that the BOL could hurdle the challenge.
He said he had consulted with legal experts, and cited the words of former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, who had written that what is not explicitly banned in the Constitution is allowed.
Despite concerns, Zubiri said hopes were high for the establishment of a new Bangsamoro region.
He said the signing of the BOL would trigger the decommissioning of MILF fighters. Many of them, he said, were excited to join the government.
Imams in Lanao del Sur are also happy because they could now offer their fellow Muslims an alternative to extremism, Zubiri said.
“The heads of the imams in Lanao del Sur are saying, ‘Sir, help us here because this would be our ammunition to convince our brethren not to join the other side, that we have a better alternative with the BOL,’” he said.
He said Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, was also happy about the signing of the BOL because it meant that fewer troops would die in battle.
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