The final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted by President Benigno Aquino 3rd to Congress on Wednesday has no provision on the laying down of firearms by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
This was confirmed by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, who said the crafting of the BBL did not imply decommissioning of firearms for MILF fighters.
She said that an independent body will oversee the decommissioning.
The “normalization process doesn’t have to be in the law. Except for the part on the setting up of police, it’s an executive action that doesn’t need new legislation,” Deles told The Manila Times in a text message.
“Normalization bodies are already set up and joint planning ongoing,” she added.
In a separate statement, Miriam Colonel-Ferrer, head of the government peace panel, said the draft BBL focused only on the establishment of a new Bangsamoro political entity.
“Ang proposed law ay patungkol sa pagtatayo ng Bangsamoro. Ang decommissioning ay isasagawa ng government (The proposed law is about the establishment of Bangsamoro. The decommissioning will be implemented by the government); this doesn’t need a law to implement,” Ferrer said.
Under the annex on normalization contained in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the MILF agreed to “decommission” a specific number of their firearms and troops in certain periods as the government, in exchange, also gave its commitment to reduce armed forces and help disband private armed groups in Mindanao. The normalization annex, which was signed on Jan. 25, 2014, aims to pave the way for the laying down of weapons of MILF members and their transition to civilian life.
The MILF, however, had said they will not “surrender” their firearms to the government.
The proposed BBL law which Aquino personally endorsed to Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. after months of delay allows the Bangsamoro government to have its own police force but it shall be part of the Philippine National Police. The national government retains powers on defense and external security, foreign and monetary policies, immigration and naturalization and postal service.
The Bangsamoro government, which shall be parliamentarian, shall be headed by a Chief Minister. The Bangsamoro parliament shall be composed of 60 members who will enact laws on the rights of the Bangsamoro people.
The Bangsamoro government shall have exclusive powers on agriculture, economic
and cultural exchange, trade and industry, labor and employment, barter trade with Asean countries, tourism, creation of sources of revenue, financial and banking system and creation of government owned and controlled corporations.
It shall also regulate power regulation, transmission and distribution.
On power sharing, the Bangsamoro government will have exclusive power to explore, develop and utilize natural resources but it will jointly explore with the central government fossil fuels and uranium.
Aquino justified the delay in the submission of the BBL draft, saying the “long and thorough process” was to ensure “every detail involved in fulfilling our shared desires for the Bangsamoro region.”
“I assure you, the Bangsamoro Basic Law was crafted to be fair, just and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumads or Christians,” he said.
Moros refer to the Filipino Muslim minority in Mindanao and Lumads, to the region’s indigenous Filipinos.
The President called for the immediate passage of the measure.
“We understand the need to thoroughly review the bill. We ask Congress, however, to pass this bill in the soonest possible time. If we are able to legislate this, we can give our Moro brothers enough time to prepare, thus enabling them to nurture the seeds of meaningful governance [that]were planted for the Bangsamoro,” he said.
Aquino and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad met last week to clarify and resolve issues in the draft BBL.
Ferrer said a parliamentary system will allow “a broader base of political representation and participation in governance.”
“It would compel the formation of competitive and sustainable political parties in the region,” she explained.
Ferrer said the Bangsamoro government will enjoy significant powers over and above the powers granted to the ARMM today. It will also have fiscal autonomy but it will still receive additional funding from the national government to hasten socio-economic development in the region.
The United Nations and the World Bank lauded the transmission of the BBL draft to Congress.
“We celebrate this remarkable achievement and are proud to have accompanied both sides on this journey. The United Nations System in the Philippines welcomes the finalization of a consensus draft. This is a critical milestone in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and a crucial achievement in ensuring lasting peace and sustainable development in Mindanao and in the wider Philippines. The United Nations System stands ready to support further implementation of CAB,” it said in a statement.
The World Bank Group, meanwhile, commended the government and the MILF in completing the preparation of the draft law.
“This is a crucial step in the road map to achieving peace and development in Mindanao,” it said.
The Canadian government also welcomed the submission of the BBL draft to Congress.
“This [draft Bangsamoro Basic Law]and the pending substantive debate on the bill are important steps in the process aimed at achieving lasting peace and long-term prosperity in Mindanao,” Canadian Ambassador to Manila Neil Reeder said in a statement.
He commended the “diligent efforts” of the BTC and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which “continue to bring new hope for an era of opportunity for the people of Mindanao, the people of the Philippines and partners in the surrounding region.”
Reeder said Canada remains committed to supporting establishment and implementation of the Bangsamoro region.
Once the BBL is signed into law by Aquino, a plebiscite will be conducted in the Bangsamoro territory to ratify the new government that will replace the ARMM by 2016.
“The only appeal I make to our brothers and sisters who will vote in this plebiscite.
Study well the provisions of the law. Your understanding and your participation will be the best defense against those who seek to sow doubt in our agenda of a just and lasting peace,” the President said.
Drilon also on Wednesday said the measure will be passed by Congress by March next year because the House and the Senate must first tackle the budget bill.
“We are giving ourselves until the first quarter of next year. There’s enough time to have it set for plebiscite and have the transition commission in place before the 2016 elections,” he added.
“We should not let this historic opportunity pass. It may never come again,” Drilon said.