President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday signed an executive order (EO) expanding the panel that will draft a new law that will create and define the powers of a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
The EO increased the members to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) from 15 to 21 to make the process “inclusive.”
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which will head the panel, will nominate 11 members while the government will name the other 10 members.
Duterte said the process will be more inclusive with the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The President’s chief peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, said slots will be given to the MNLF faction led by former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema.
The faction led by MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari however will not join the BTC.
Dureza said a separate panel will be formed to discuss with Misuari and his group their proposed amendments to the territory covered by a Bangsamoro region.
Duterte, who called himself a “creature of Mindanao,” emphasized the importance of a peace deal in the South which has seen decades of fighting.
“My only desire is that peace in Mindanao would finally come and if that can be done peacefully without a fight, we will be grateful to God that not a single drop of blood has been shed in this new undertaking of giving a country finally the deliverance from violence,” he said.
“I am committed to the peace process. I pray to Allah that it will succeed in my term. Sabi ko nga, maski iyan na lang ang magawa ko para sa bayan, okay na ako (if that’s the only thing that I can do for the country), then I can retire in peace,” he added.
MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said the signing of the EO shows the sincerity of the Duterte administration to the peace process.
“I’m here to witness the rebirth of hope that we may finally achieve the fulfillment of the peace agreement,” Murad said.
The Philippine government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its annexes under the Aquino administration.
However, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law was stalled in Congress. Critics of the peace agreement and the proposed law claimed the process should be more inclusive.
In August, the government and MILF panels agreed to increase the membership of the BTC from 15 to 21.
Government panel chief Irene Santiago said the BTC will submit a draft law to Congress “middle of next year.”
Meanwhile, Sulu Princess Jacel Kiram said peace talks with the MILF will be successful if Malaysia will not interfere.
“Siguro napapanahon na magkaroon tayo ng totoong usaping pangkapayapaan, ang ibig ko sabihin ay hindi Malaysia ang mag interfere, ang facilitator ay yung walang interest, lalong lalo na sa Mindanao (It’s time for us to have real peace talks, one that mmalaysia will not meddle with. The facilitator should be a party with no vested interest, especially in Mindanao,” Kiram said.
She added that any country can be a facilitator for the peace talks as long as it is not driven by any personal motive.
However, Kiram said the country need not cut its ties with Malaysia, and that both countries should discuss the issue on Sabah.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said Duterte is prepared to discuss the Philippines’ claim on Sabah if it will
come up during his visit to Malaysia.
“It may or it may not be raised. But if it is raised by either side, I’m sure our President will be prepared to discuss this issue,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told reporters during a news conference in Malacanang.
Sabah is contested by the Philippines and Malaysia, but it was placed on the back burner to allow for greater diplomatic relations between the two countries. Duterte earlier said he would stick to the government’s original position on the Sabah issue.
Duterte will be in Malaysia on November 9 and 10. He is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.