BBL: Gov’t hit for lack of consultations with indigenous peoples
President Aquino’s peace negotiators came under fire on Monday during the penultimate Senate hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro charter for their alleged failure to consult sultanates and indigenous peoples in peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Undersecretary Jose Lorena of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) took the hot seat, as Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles and chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer had previous engagements.
Deles and Ferrer had a bad time in earlier Senate hearings on the massacre of 44 Special Action Force commandos on Jan. 25 in an MILF-controlled area in Maguindanao province that sparked widespread indignation and delayed Malacañang’s timetable for the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Under questioning by Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Francis Escudero, Lorena said the government peace panel dealt directly with the MILF, which he said represented the Bangsamoro people. He also said the government panel had conducted “Bangsamoro congresses” with “Bangsamoro people.”
Lorena said the “reality on the ground” was that even previous administrations had dealt with the MILF since then President Fidel V. Ramos signed a peace agreement with the MILF in 1996.
Abraham Idjirani, secretary general of the Sultanate of Sulu, said that in 2010, the sultanate wrote a letter to Malacañang requesting that it be included in the negotiations with the MILF. Idjirani said the sultanate was told in 2013 that its letter had been lost in the Palace files.
During the four-hour hearing, other representatives of sultanates and indigenous peoples decried that they likewise had been excluded in the peace negotiations. Their lament highlighted the penultimate hearing on the BBL.
The final hearing on June 3 will hear representatives of local governments who likewise claimed they were not consulted.
Claim to Sabah
Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano raised a concern on the Philippines’ claim on Sabah. Cayetano pointed out that Malaysia, which is contesting the Sabah claim, is an MILF sponsor.
“Is there any guarantee that the sultanate’s claim on Sabah will be pursued if the MILF becomes the leaders of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission?” Cayetano asked.
Lorena said the Philippines’ claim on Sabah had not been abandoned. He also said a government committee was studying the Sabah claim.
“I understand the failure of the Opapp in not including the sultanates of Muslim Mindanao because again it would seem that the nature of the negotiations between the Opapp and the MILF was very, very exclusive and not inclusive,” Marcos later told reporters.
Last week, the House BBL committee passed a version of the autonomy bill selected by President Aquino after two meetings with his House allies in Malacañang. The Palace denied news reports that the congressmen were promised P50 million in pork barrel projects and P1 million in cash if they voted to approve the BBL.
Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who earlier said there was a consensus in his committee that six provisions in the BBL were unconstitutional, steered the swift passage of the BBL with only minor changes. He denied criticisms that he “railroaded” the Palace version of the BBL.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, is circulating a draft report raising constitutional infirmities in the BBL, which Malacañang wanted approved by June so that it could be mentioned in President Aquino’s final State of the Nation Address on July 27.
Nine senators have signed the Santiago report.
Malacañang has said that those who object to the BBL may go to the Supreme Court.
In 2008, radical factions of the MILF rampaged after the high tribunal rejected a peace agreement with the MILF signed by the Arroyo administration, leaving hundreds dead and 500,000 displaced.
Several hundred supporters and opponents of the BBL held demonstrations outside the Senate during the hearing yesterday.
A Marcos critic, Abdul Malik Cleofe, blasted the Senate panel’s “sluggishness” in approving the BBL, indicating a “lack of commitment to the realization of peace.”
Cleofe’s group urged Marcos to do a “Rufus Rodriguez” and fast-track the passage of the BBL, which would establish a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao.–With a report from Maricar B. Brizuela
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