Congress adjourns, fails to pass BBL
Congress Wednesday failed to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a key component of the peace deal signed by the Aquino government with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) aimed at creating a new Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, igniting fears of fresh violence.
President Benigno Aquino had lobbied hard for the passage of the bill, but was unable to muster enough support in the House even to secure a vote Wednesday, the final session day before Congress adjourns for the election campaign.
Failure to pass the bill means it cannot be passed under Mr. Aquino, whose six-year term ends in June, with no certainty over whether his successor will even pursue a peace deal.
Asked if the failure to pass the bill could spark violence, chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told Agence France-Presse: “That’s the danger. That’s why we are taking steps, calling for sobriety.”
“This delays the final settlement,” said Teresita Deles, the presidential peace adviser. “There will be elements that will completely lose hope that this can really be done,” she said.
Ferrer said hard-line Muslim rebel groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which opposed peace talks and vowed to continue fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the south, could exploit the setback.
“They will be emboldened to renew their course in the hope that they will harvest the discontent,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer blamed the “sheer indifference and chronic absenteeism” of a number of House members for the failure to pass the BBL.
“It is only expected that the Filipino people, especially those in the Bangsamoro, who had pinned high hopes on this new law are grieving, hurting and once again, dreading what tomorrow may bring,” she said.
Chief MILF negotiator
Mohagher Iqbal said the rebel leadership was working hard to avoid a repeat, and vowed to continue working for peace with Mr. Aquino’s successor.
He told ABS-CBN television there could be a feeling of “repression” within the MILF ranks, but the leadership was countering with “massive engagement.”
“We just explain to them that here lies the problem in the peace process. We will never cease engaging in the peace process,” he said.
Iqbal said the peace negotiators on both sides have set an emergency meeting to discuss what the next move should be.
He said the two panels would come out with a joint declaration in the light of the new development.
Iqbal did not say when the meeting would take place. He said the emergency meeting would not usher in a new round of negotiations.
Meanwhile, an MILF leader Wednesday said the reported tension between government troops and MILF forces in Lanao del Norte province has been defused and the situation was now back to normal.
Toks Ibrahim, the head of the MILF’s normalization secretariat, said in a phone interview that the tension subsided when the MILF commander Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Bravo, agreed to pull out of Kauswagan town, following negotiations.
Ibrahim said the tension started on Monday when Macapaar wanted to visit his old camp in Kauswagan after attending an event in connection with the normalization process. The event was properly coordinated with the government but not Bravo’s visit.
Because the planned visit was not coordinated, soldiers from the 15th Infantry Battalion and 2nd Mechanized Brigade based in Kauswagan positioned themselves on Macapaar’s route in Barangay Delabayan.
Von Al Haq, the MILF spokesperson, said members of the MILF’s ceasefire committee talked with Macapaar and made him understand that he had to back out until coordination for his planned visit was made.
Fears about renewed attacks by the Macapaar group largely fueled the tense situation in Kauswagan as his presence in the town came after Congress failed to pass the BBL.
MILF leaders said this was not the case, insisting that Macapaar just wanted to visit his village.
Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon said “yes and no” when he was asked whether the failure to pass the BBL would affect the President’s legacy.
“Yes, in the sense that he was not able to complete the structure. No, in the sense that he was able to come up with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which, by the way, can be pursued,” he said.
It was “not as if the peace process died with the President,” Drilon said.
“He has set the framework, we have the Comprehensive Framework on the Bangsamoro, there are the steps that outline one of them being the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the change in the form of government to fit the Muslim region,” he said.
He said the BBL bill can be refiled and urged the next President to be elected in May to push for its passage.
“It can be refiled and all the experts’ opinion, all the testimonies of the resource persons, need not be taken again, it can incorporated in the present law,” Drilon said. AFP and AP, with Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao; and Jerry Esplanada and Jonathan Leonor, Metro Manila
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