DUTERTE WANTS SPECIAL CONGRESS SESSION TO PASS BBL

MILF holds rally to boost peace process

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SULTAN KUDARAT: The Philippines’ main Muslim guerrilla group staged a huge rally Monday at its southern headquarters that attracted Christians and rival rebels, in a joint effort with the government to reignite a stalled peace process and legislate wider autonomy for the Bangsamoro people.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members and supporters attend a gathering at their main camp in Sultan Kudarat . AFP Photo

President Rodrigo Duterte called for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at the main base of the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Monday afternoon, with both sides hoping peace will help quell the rising threat of the Islamic State group.

Muslims have been waging a rebellion since the 1970s seeking autonomy or independence in the southern areas of the mainly Catholic Philippines that they regard as their ancestral homeland. The conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives.

The MILF, the biggest rebel group, signed a peace deal in 2014 that would give the nation’s Muslim minority self-rule over parts of the southern region of Mindanao, but a proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law to implement the pact has not been able to get through Congress.


The immediate objective of Monday’s rally was to build support for the proposed law.

“There is no way that we can find peace forever if we do not give them back at least a part of their heritage,” Duterte said in a speech last week, referencing Filipino Muslims who consider the south their homeland.

“If we do not give them that, there will be trouble because they will open really to (join a) cabal with the other terroristic activities or the terrorists there.”

The MILF had said it wanted a million people to turn up on Monday at its sprawling Camp Darapanan base just outside of Cotabato City in Mindanao.

No firm crowd numbers were immediately available on Monday morning but an Agence France-Presse journalist at Camp Darapanan reported seeing tens of thousands of people.

Among those in attendance were Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop of Cotabato and the highest Catholic Church official in Mindanao, as well as members of the MILF’s main rival, the Moro National Liberation Front.

The rally came about a month after Duterte declared the southern city of Marawi “liberated” from IS supporters who attacked it in May in a bid to put up a caliphate.

Duterte to ask Congress for special session

President Duterte on Monday said he would ask Congress to convene a special session to tackle the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL.

Speaking before an audience of pre-selected members of the MILF and MNLF, Duterte reiterated that his administration would pursue peace talks on all fronts.

“It must be inclusive. No one should be left behind in these peace talks. The MILF, the MNLF, all of them, the Lumads, they should be part of it,” Duterte said in a speech during the Bangsamoro Assembly held in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao.

“But I will now state my condition. I will work very hard for it. I will ask Congress to (convene) a special session just to hear you talk about this. Sabi ko, ito sagrado ‘to. Importante to at mahalaga to (I said it is sacred. It is important and crucial),” he added.

Duterte said he wanted all Moro rebel leaders, including MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari to be present during the special session of Congress.

Duterte, who hails from Mindanao, earlier agreed to certify as urgent the proposed law during the third Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting.

The previous bill was bypassed by the 16th Congress in the wake of claims that some of its provisions were unconstitutional.

The measure was effectively derailed by the deadly Mamasapano clash, which left 44 police commandos dead in 2015.

‘BBL before federalism’ – MILF

MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim wants the BBL passed ahead of the government’s plan to shift to a federal system, which also has the support of the rebel group.

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF implementing panel and chairman on media affairs of the MILF Central Committee, announced this during the Bangsamoro Assembly. He claimed the event gathered a million participants.

“We support the Federalism. But the sequence has to be followed meaning the BBL has to be implemented first because it is part of the commitment,” Iqbal said.

The Bangsamoro Assembly, Iqbal explained, was one of the mandates of the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission. The assembly is a consultative body to discuss the BBL, he said.

Political leaders of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao headed by Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman and Muslim members of the House of Representatives attended the Bangsamoro Assembly.

MNLF representative Yusoph Jikiri was introduced as MNLF chairman. Founding MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari nor his followers were nowhere to be found.

WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL

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