A VOW TO BRING PEACE TO MINDANAO

Duterte to form ‘Moro country’

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President Rodrigo Duterte has promised to establish a “Bangsamoro country” in a bid to bring peace to Mindanao, where government troops are battling the Islamic State-linked Maute group.

Duterte gave the assurance as he formally received the final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) during a ceremony in Malacañang on Monday.

MILESTONE Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and government peace panel chairman Irene Santiago sign the communications plan that aims to inform the public about the proposed Bangsamoro law. PHOTO BY RUSSEL PALMA

In his speech, the President said the Moro people will have a Bangsamoro country of their own in Mindanao during his term.

“I am for this — within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country,” the President said.

“This will be realized while preserving and strengthening the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines,” he added.

Duterte also promised to shephered the Bangsamoro measure in congress.

“I commit to support my covenant with you that I will support and husband this instrument as it goes in the legislator for its consideration. And there will be no objections of the provisions of all that is consistent with the Constitution and the aspiration of the Moro people,” he said.

“Today marks a new milestone in our history that will stand as proof of our resolve to set aside our differences and stand united to achieve our common goal of peace. This moment is a significant step forward in our quest to end centuries of hatred, mistrust and injustice that cost and affected the lives of millions of Filipinos,” he added.

The President said the draft BBL also embodies the government and the Moro people’s “shared aspirations of a peaceful, orderly and harmonious nation.”

“After decades of armed struggle and violence, we will soon come up with a constitutionally consistent legal instrument that will lay the foundation for establishing real and lasting peace in Mindanao. The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law puts into life and spirit the constitutional mandate provided in the 1987 Constitution for the establishment of a truly autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao,” he said.

“This paves the way for meeting the just aspiration of the Bangsamoro people for self-determination. And that is consistent and reflective of the distinct historical [and]cultural heritage, and economic and social structures common to the people residing in the Bangsamoro,” he added.

Duterte said the entire country stands to benefit from the passage of the BBL because “it shall give rise to a genuine autonomous region as well as bring forth healing and reconciliation to the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.”

“May this new entity be marked by good governance, equitable sharing of wealth and generation of revenue, and normalized, stable environment. We will achieve sustainable and inclusive peace and development in the Bangsamoro, Mindanao [and]the entire country,” the President added.

Joint communication plan

The draft BBL measure was turned over to the President on the same day that the peace implementing panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formally signed a joint communication plan that aims to influence and gain public support toward the ratification of the BBL.

In her speech, government implementing panel chairman Irene Santiago welcomed the plan, saying the ultimate goal is to sustain positive public opinion and win support for the implementation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in July 2018.

“We are very pleased indeed to sign this joint communication plan,” Santiago said. “The big aim is to create the public will that will influence the political will. Because the people in Congress will vote for or against the bill and they have to hear from our people.”

Under the joint communication plan, the government and the MILF will create a common message aside from their current efforts in reaching out to the people.

This includes the creation of information campaign materials such as flyers, brochures, and advertisements, and the conduct of seminars, workshops, and social experiments. A separate website and social media accounts will also be produced.

Santiago said the joint communication plan is their way of informing the public that the challenges in Mindanao need a holistic approach.

“It’s really getting people involved in peace so that it won’t be just the interest of the MILF and the government,” she said. “The Mindanao challenge or the Mindanao issue is not just a Mindanao issue, it is a national issue and therefore the entire country has to be involved.”

‘BBL is antidote’

MILF implementing panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal described the signing ceremony as another milestone in the peace talks.

“This joint communication plan is a milestone by itself. Since we started talking to the government on January 1997, this is the first time that we ever had signed a document on a communication plan like this,” he said.

“If the Bangsamoro people are given the opportunity to rule itself and be given development, then they will succeed in this country,” he said.

“The BBL is the menu for solidarity and unity of this country,” Iqbal added. “The BBL is the antidote to the dismemberment of this country.”

The government and the MILF are eyeing the passage of the BBL within the year and its ratification in a plebiscite during the first quarter of 2018.

They hope to then “sustain public support” for a “smooth transition” from the regional government setup to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

Iqbal said transition towards the Bangsamoro government would be from 2019 to 2022 to allow officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to finish their terms.

The BBL is the enabling measure of the peace compact signed by the Philippine government and the MILF in 2014.

The proposed law’s passage however was derailed during the previous Aquino administration because of the Mamasapano clash, where some 44 elite cops were killed by lawless elements and some members of the MILF. It also faced questions on its constitutionality.

President Rodrigo Duterte offered self-rule to the Philippines’ Muslim minority on Monday in an attempt to defeat Islamist militants who seized a southern city in the gravest challenge to his year-old rule.

Duterte hopes the promise of autonomy will persuade Filipino Muslims to reject the Islamic State group, whose followers still control parts of Marawi after nearly two months of fighting that had left more than 500 people dead.

Duterte vowed to shepherd through Congress a “Bangsamoro Basic Law” bill jointly written and submitted to him Monday by government officials and the country’s largest Muslim guerrilla group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“This moment is a significant step forward in our quest to end centuries of hatred, mistrust and injustice that cost and affected the lives of millions of Filipinos,” he said in a speech to MILF leaders and government officials.

Both sides said that giving the mainly Catholic nation’s large and largely impoverished Islamic minority a better choice was crucial to heading off the lure of violent extremism.

“These misguided people have filled the vacuum created by our failure to enact the basic law, and feed into the frustration of our people,” MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim told the same gathering, referring to the Marawi gunmen.

Muslims since the 1970s had waged a decades-old insurgency that claimed more than 100,000 lives in the Mindanao region that includes Marawi.

The MILF signed a peace treaty with Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino in 2014 but Congress refused to pass the self-rule bill — a key provision of the accord.

Small rebel factions began pledging allegiance to the IS soon afterwards. The Marawi attack on May 23 was their first major action, forcing Duterte to impose martial rule across Mindanao.

The chief government peace negotiator, Irene Santiago, said Manila expects the bill’s passage within a year.

“The next 12 months are full of opportunity but also fraught with so much danger. The dangers are staring us in the face: violent extremism, the source of the crisis in Marawi,” Santiago added.

An Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has been in place in parts of the south since after a rival faction, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), signed peace with Manila in 1996.

However it had failed to end violence and rebellion.

Santiago said both the MILF and MNLF helped to draft the new self-rule bill giving all sides optimism about its passage.

Duterte is also set to decide within the week whether to extend military rule over Mindanao.

The constitution limits martial rule to 60 days, a safeguard against abuses put in place after the downfall of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.

However Congress can authorise an extension.

The military said there were still 60-80 gunmen holed up in about 500 Marawi houses and buildings after weeks of day and night air strikes and artillery pounding.

About 300 civilians also remain trapped in the area and some of them have been taken hostage, the military said.

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