THE Bangsamoro draft law is not likely to be submitted to Congress anytime soon because the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has refused to accept what it called a “drastically altered” measure.
The head of the government peace panel, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, admitted that no final draft has been made because negotiations have stalled over significant disagreements on the proposed law that aims to create a Bangsamoro entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Ferrer said the approval of the draft measure had been greatly delayed because “there continue to be significant points of differences” between the two panels.
She noted that the government “stands firm” in its stance that the proposed law should “withstand political and legal scrutiny and be acceptable to various stakeholders, and the nation as a whole.”
“We will not and cannot move forward in the roadmap toward the establishment of the Bangsamoro unless we hurdle this crucial stage,” Ferrer said.
Following a “surprise meeting” between President Benigno Aquino 3rd and MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim in Japan last month, the MILF’s chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, raised concerns over how the version of the bill drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) has been “heavily diluted.”
Because of the stalemate, Aquino and Murad will again meet this week to thresh out contentious issues.
The MILF confirmed the holding of the meeting in its website.
“The meeting is necessary in threshing out issues confronting both sides on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The purpose of the proposed meeting is to save the peace process in the light of major alterations made by Malacañang’s legal team on the draft BBL,” the MILF said.
But Ferrer maintained that the changes were made so that the measure “will pass through regular legislation in Congress and therefore must fall within the parameters of the Constitution.”
She gave assurances that the government was “not throwing in the towel” on the peace process. Earlier this month, the two panels met for four days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but achieved only “modest progress.”
“We have been trying to stretch these parameters to accommodate the ideas that have been put in the BBL, in addition to what have been put in the signed documents. But it is very clear we cannot overstep the boundaries of the Constitution,” Ferrer said.
She noted that the draft BBL retains the “key features that will distinguish the ARMM from the Bangsamoro,” including the parliamentary form of government; a parliament with more than 50 members made up of district, party list and reserved seats; an autonomous government that will enjoy high fiscal autonomy; and a transition arrangement where the MILF’s brand of leadership will be tested.
“All of us want the BBL draft to be submitted to Congress as soon as possible. But we cannot substitute haste with prudence. Whatever delay we are experiencing now is intended to avoid further difficulties after the bill is submitted to Congress,” Ferrer told reporters in an interview.
“We understand the apprehensions of people who have long fought the government and now entering a new stage where they can actually participate in the government. But what we want is a mutually acceptable draft as the two panels have agreed to accomplish. We ask the MILF to reflect on how we can arrive at this,” she said.
Aquino earlier said he wants the BBL to be submitted to Congress before the opening of its second regular session on July 28.
The delays have raised concerns the BBL may not be passed in time for a referendum on the creation of the Bangsamoro to be held simultaneously with the 2016 elections.
Ferrer admitted that finishing the draft measure will take some time.
“We have not been able to finish the review. May mga parts na naayos, may mga parts na hindi pa naaayos kaya medyo marami pa talagang pag-uusapan [There were parts that were fixed, there were parts that were not so we have a lot more to discuss],”she said.
Ferrer added that a delayed submission of the draft law “is better than trying to rush the submission in time for the opening of Congress because we feel that there are issues we need to discuss.”
Last week, the draft Bangsamoro law was returned by Malacañang to the transition commission for revision.
Ferrer explained that the two panels had to consult their principals after engaging in “workshops” during the past days to resolve contentious issues.
“A lot of issues remain pending. So at this point hindi pa talaga namin masasabi [we can’t say]that we have come up with a mutually acceptable draft that we can jointly endorse to the President together with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission,” she said.
A peace agreement between the government and the MILF was signed in March this year.
The President had said he will certify the bill as urgent so that a Bangsamoro autonomous region can be installed before he steps down in 2016.