After a week of negotiations, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are nowhere near resolving the thorny issues that had delayed the crafting of a final draft agreement that will be the basis for establishing a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
On Thursday, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal accused President Benigno Aquino 3rd of turning his back on his promise that the government will be flexible in its application of the Constitution to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Iqbal noted that the President made the promise before the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) in March this year.
He, however, said Malacañang’s legal office almost entirely changed the BBL draft when the office reviewed the draft crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
“Most of their comments are really on the basis of the integrity of the Philippine Constitution. That’s the problem,” Iqbal added.
“[They’re] very restrictive. What we’re looking for is the flexibility that they promised to us,” he said.
Although the MILF chief negotiator acknowledged that there were some gray areas in the process of the submission of the BBL to Malacañang, Iqbal noted that it was never said in the agreement that “when it reached the Office of the President, they would not touch it, but it was not stated also that they could touch it.”
But despite these roadblocks, Iqbal said they remain confident that the peace process would be completed if the signed agreement was not amended.
“As long as the two parties would stick to two principles, one is they still commit that there is really a need to finish this process, and then the second principle is that the signed agreement should not be amended, I think we can finish this one,” he added.
The government and MILF panels will be on their eighth day of negotiations today but Iqbal said the negotiators still failed to thresh out the most contentious provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro law.
“We are making progress and there are a lot of contentious issues that the two parties were able to [solve]… but of course the most contentious issues are still unresolved,” he told ANC.
Iqbal disclosed that the biggest obstacles were the provisions on the extent of “power” that would be granted to the Bangsamoro government and wealth sharing.
“These are the biggest obstacles in our discussions. It’s about powers, and it’s about resources,” he said.
The annexes on power and wealth sharing were part of the initial framework agreement that the two parties signed.
Under the initial agreement, the proposed Bangsamoro government would have its own law enforcers, which some observers say violates the constitutional provision of one national police.
On wealth distribution, the two panels agreed on a 50-50 sharing on fossil fuels, which refer to mineral deposits like coal, uranium, petroleum and natural gas; and 75-25, in favor of the MILF, on the sharing on metallic minerals, among others.
Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer also on Thursday denied reports that the peace deal with the MILF is nearing collapse.
“Things are going on smoothly and we are confident of reaching a consensus on this. We’ve covered a lot of ground and the ceasefire is very much in place,” she told The Manila Times.
Ferrer noted that the two panels are doing a lot of balancing on the BBL draft so that it would pass the scrutiny of Congress.
She downplayed the MILF complaint on deletions and revisions on the draft law, saying it was done to make it “lean and neat.”
“Some of the deletions were made because there were repetitions in other parts of the draft law. There are so many provisions, for instance, that are replicated in the current part of the article, and that’s the kind of cleaning up that we are doing now, to make sure it will be a lean and neat law without sacrificing any of the provisions or the principles that we have already upheld in the comprehensive agreement,” Ferrer explained.
The government had planned to endorse the draft BBL to Congress in May but a final draft is yet to be crafted because of the MILF’s refusal to accept a “diluted” version.
Sen. Francis Escudero said Congress can pass the law within the year if the draft is submitted by September.
The senator added that all stakeholders in Mindanao should have been consulted before a draft law was crafted to avoid the pitfalls of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
“The road to peace in Mindanao is a delicate issue. Our peace panel should find the right approach [that]does not isolate anyone. The direct participation of local and religious leaders, representatives of tribes and clans should be solicited. Inclusivity should be one of the major bases for the talk,” Escudero said.
With JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA