After reviewing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft bill “line by line,” President Benigno Aquino 3rd wants to introduce changes that could further delay the transmission of the measure to Congress.
According to Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles, the President spent much of his time explaining his “concerns” before members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) on Thursday.
The meeting ended with the members of the commission only agreeing to meet again the following day for a deeper discussion of the issues.
“They [Moro Islamic Liberation Front panel] affirmed that the President should endorse to Congress a mutually acceptable draft bill.
There was agreement to resume panel discussions today [Friday],” Deles said in a text message to The Manila Times.
A Palace statement quoted the President as telling the members of the commission: “I want to be able to push this [Bangsamoro Basic Law] with conviction.”
He told them to approach the drafting of the proposed law with an open mind and see if everything is consistent with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
“Let us put ourselves in each other’s shoes,” Aquino said as he urged both parties to work together to bridge the differences.
While admitting difficulty in agreeing on certain “political” issues, Deles said the “resumption of the discussion between the panels is a good sign.”
“We are not back to square one. The parties have signed the CAB and remain committed to ensure the passage of the law, which will put the political agreement into legal form in accordance with the road map up to the 2016 elections,” she added.
The President met with the commission to give his “reactions on the draft of the BTC,” Deles said.
In that meeting, the head of the commission, Mohaqher Iqbal, was absent in an apparent display of frustration over the alleged “alterations” made by Malacañang on the draft measure.
When asked on Friday if Aquino had read the draft, Deles replied: “Yeah, line by line.”
“I think if you ask the BTC they will see that the President [was]not just shooting off. [He had studied it] and had noted all of the concerns,” she said.
“It [was]safe to say that some of the proposed revisions reflected the concerns of the President. And that was put forward,” Deles added.
On Thursday, political analyst Ramon Casiple warned that the conflict in Mindanao could resurface if the impasse on the basic law dragged on, noting that such may erode the MILF’s credibility to represent Bangsamoro in the peace process.
Another analyst, University of the Philippines Public Administration Professor Prospero de Vera, said the crafting of the BBL is “inherently difficult given the general language of the framework agreement and the demands of the MILF.”
De Vera told The Times that the real challenge lies in the ability of both sides to muster enough votes in Congress and for the BBL to withstand future legal questions.
“Executive officials are trying their best. But the challenge is not in crafting a BBL from the executive branch. It is in getting the needed votes in Congress and possibly withstanding a legal challenge in the SC,” he said.
Deles said it was difficult “to thresh out the language, the still unresolved language in the draft.”
“There is no one that wants to renegotiate what has already been agreed upon. The problem is in the interpretation of how a political agreement is put into legal form,” she added.
The challenge for both panels is to “find the fastest resolution on the issues that are not diluting political agreements that have already been signed,” Deles said.
She explained that Iqbal was unable to attend because he was busy with something else and had “fully authorized” his representatives.
Deles said Iqbal had phone conversations with his colleagues during the meeting.
On June 23, the MILF received a copy of the proposed law containing comments from the Office of the President which, according to Iqbal, “heavily diluted the original proposal.”
If Malacañang’s comments are given weight, he said, the BBL “would be worse” than Republic Act 9054 that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which Aquino himself had described as a “failed experiment”.
Iqbal warned that unless the parties and other stakeholders come “to the timely rescue and prevent the foreseeable collision of approaches,” the proposed legislation will not be submitted to Congress early as planned and the government would proceed to submit the bill without MILF concurrence.
The government and MILF panels met in Kuala Lumpur and in Manila earlier this month, with BTC members attending as observers.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said that due diligence is needed since the President will certify the BBL as an urgent bill to fast-track its passage in Congress.
“The meticulous process of drafting the BBL will ensure that the bill, which is the legal document operationalizing the CAB, conforms with the Constitution, with its flexibilities, and embodies the true spirit and genuine intentions of the CAB—a product of 17 years of negotiations between the government and the MILF,” the OPAPP said.
Government peace panel head Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the BTC will work on the draft law through the weekend and hope to wrap up discussions in two weeks.
Ferrer added that the target completion date is August 7, which is 10 days after the President’s State of the National Address (SONA) on Monday.
MILF Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said Malacanang’s delayed response on the draft BBL has raised doubts on the government’s sincerity to bring lasting peace in Mindanao.
But Jaafar added that they continue to hold on to the President’s commitment that the BBL would be enacted into law within his term.
With William B. Depasupil