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Bangsamoro bill off to rough start at House

Celso Lobregat

Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat: Why the rush to invite a terrorist group and a person with a warrant of arrest? congress.gov.ph

MANILA, Philippines–The 75-member House committee drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) got off to a rough start on Tuesday as members clashed on whether or not to allow two fugitive Muslim rebels to attend the public hearings.

Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat vehemently objected to a proposal by Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oamnil, a committee vice chair, to allow Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Nur Misuari and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) leader Ameril Umbra Kato to attend the hearings to be held at the Batasang Pambansa beginning Sept. 24.

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“Why are we rushing to invite a terrorist group and a person who has a warrant of arrest?” asked Lobregat, who threatened to walk out of the first organizational meeting of the BBL ad hoc committee.

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Lobregat was referring to Misuari who has been on the lam since being charged with rebellion for leading the MNLF in a bloody siege on Zamboanga City last year and Kato who has evaded arrest after leading his group, the BIFF, in a bloody assault on soldiers and civilians in Central Mindanao six years ago.

Panel members also differed on whether to give Misuari and Kato a five-day pass or an indefinite safe conduct pass to allow them to attend.

“Inviting Misuari and Umbra Kato will send the wrong signal. We should first ask the National Security Council for advice,” Lobregat said.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, committee chair, said Misuari and Kato’s presence was crucial to the public debates on House Bill No. 4994, which aims to carve a new Muslim territory to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Partial peace’

“It is necessary to hear all the groups, including the MILF and BIFF, in our public consultations. If we leave out some sectors, we will have partial peace. What we want is complete peace,” said Rodriguez in a phone interview.

“I already talked to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and told her it was the sense of the committee to invite everybody, including enemies of the state, because as far as we are concerned this is just political. De Lima said she would study the implications of suspending the arrest warrant against Misuari,” said Rodriguez.

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To ease the tension, the committee decided to adjourn. Rodriguez said this would give the members more time to weigh all sides of the issue.

Rodriguez said the committee would hold public hearings from Tuesday to Thursday in Manila and from Friday to Saturday in Mindanao during the congressional recess from Sept. 27 to Oct. 19.

“We are going to invite experts like former Supreme Court justices, former justice secretaries and members of the academe to hear all their points and legal arguments on key issues such as wealth sharing and the constitutionality of the BBL’s provisions,” Rodriguez said.

Under study

De Lima, in a separate interview with reporters, said Rodriguez had mentioned the proposal to allow Misuari and Kato to attend the hearings when the two of them met at a recent event in Malacañang.

“I told him the DOJ will study it because I don’t know if that has been allowed before, if there is a precedent. I want to know if this would be defensible, if this action would be legally correct, and if the court— let’s say we’ll move for the suspension of the warrants of arrest—will allow it,” De Lima said, noting that both Misuari and Kato had pending arrest warrants.

“The proposed suspension of the arrest warrants is not an easy issue. I don’t know if it would be legally defensible. That is why I told him [Rodriguez] the DOJ will study it,” De Lima said.

The secretary also said that she asked Rodriguez to submit a formal request from his committee so the DOJ could “act accordingly.”

“I think the point of Congressman Rufus is that they also want to get input from Misuari and [Kato] about this very sensitive and very important matter about the basic law. But because of the outstanding warrants of arrest, they will surely not show up even if they are invited. But then the warrants are there and these can’t be ignored,” De Lima said.

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TAGS: Ameril Umbra Kato, Bangsamoro Basic Law, Bangsamoro bill, Celso Lobregat, Congress, MILF, Moro rebellion, Nur Misuari
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