Palace admits BBL now in limbo
Malacañang may finally be facing up to the fact that President Benigno Aquino III may have to bow out in 2016 without his longed-for “Bangsamoro entity” in place.
Though this is a question she has not been able to put to the President, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Friday said the delay in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is supposed to give the constitutional underpinning for an expanded autonomous region for the country’s Muslim minority, is a reality.
“We have accepted that fact, that there will be a delay, but what’s important is, it’s still on the table,” Valte told a press briefing on Friday.
BBL still on table
She insisted that Congress leaders have given assurances that they have not dropped the draft BBL bill, which Mr. Aquino had submitted as a priority measure.
“They recognize that it’s an important piece of legislation, and when the hearings commence, we will come to the deliberations ready, and as has always been the case, our peace panel will be ready to answer the questions,” Valte said.
Mr. Aquino’s officials and allies have touted putting to a peaceful end the Muslim secessionist movement in Mindanao as one of the most important, if not the most important, legacy that the President will leave.
To end the decades-long conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than a million people, the Aquino government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace agreement last year that provides for the creation of a so-called “Bangsamoro” autonomous region—which expands on the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)—by the time the President completes his term in June 2016.
The peace settlement provides for the holding of a plebiscite among the constituent provinces and a yearlong transition to be completed by May 2016—when elections to choose the leaders of the newfangled autonomous region will be held, to be synchronized with that year’s national elections.
Before this can happen, Congress must approve the BBL by March 20, its last day of session for the first quarter of the year.
However, recent events have all but dimmed the prospects of the BBL becoming law, as many lawmakers are challenging the idea of talking peace with the MILF whose members were shown to have participated in the massacre of 44 police commandos who took part in the operation to take down international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, last Jan. 25.
The MILF claimed to have lost 18 of its guerrilla fighters, while about five civilians, including a young girl, were killed in the cross fire.
The sacked SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, admitted to having bypassed the ceasefire mechanisms of the peace process, as he said he did not trust both the military and the MILF.
Napeñas and the PNP leadership have blamed the MILF and the military, which inexplicably failed to promptly provide reinforcements to the trapped SAF commandos, for the brutal end of the policemen.
The very idea of talking peace with the MILF has also come under attack, with lawmakers, netizens and the public at large accusing Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles and chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer of lawyering for the MILF, when they were only supposedly trying to explain at the congressional hearings on the Mamasapano debacle the dynamics and intricacies of the negotiations.
Malacañang on Friday defended Deles and Ferrer, saying the two “are exerting their best efforts to be able to explain the situation.”
“It is not a secret that they have open communications—being part of the panel and being the President’s peace advisers—that they have a more regular opportunity than most of us to speak to the other table. We understand also their need to convey the information that is conveyed to them,” Valte said.
Gov’t’s ‘peace partner’
According to Valte, the MILF continues to be a “peace partner” of government, citing as proof the fact that the peace panels continue to meet to finalize the protocols of the arms decommissioning by the MILF.
“It is understandable that citizens have taken a contrary view, or may think less kindly of them. It is up to them [the MILF] how to answer that… it is also up to them to continue to be partners of government when it comes to the peace process because, at this point, we all want to be for peace because we know the costs of not having peace and just having war,” she said.
“Some may think it is difficult but we will continue to stay the course,” said Valte.
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