Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has given a key role to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
Under Senate Bill 2894, a substitute bill to the Malacañang- proposed SB 2408 commonly known as BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law), the MNLF will be part of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which shall be the interim government or governing body in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region during the transition period.
Marcos on Wednesday formally presented the bill to the Senate, which he said in his sponsorship speech “would guarantee the protection of our national interest and reserves to the national government its powers enshrined under [the]Constitution”.
The MNLF had been totally left out in the ongoing peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF), the senator said in a statement sent to The Manila Times.
Section 196 of Article 15 (Transition Period) of SB 2894 provides that a representative of the MNLF will be appointed by the President as a member of the BTA.
“The MNLF was not given any participation under the original BBL version, that’s why I included them in the BTA in my substitute bill. In fact, in the public hearings which I had conducted, I had invited them and all the other stakeholders because I consider them as partners in this endeavor of finally bringing peace to Mindanao,” Marcos said.
The BTA will be composed of 60 members, which include all the incumbent members of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Legislative Assembly, and those who will be appointed by the President from the women sector, settler communities, non-Moro inhabitants, other essential stakeholders and the MNLF.
The MILF, being the principal party to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, shall enjoy preference in the appointment to the BTA, both in its leadership and membership.
Last Monday, Marcos, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, filed SB 2894, shortly titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” under Committee Report 200, which he described as all-inclusive because it contained applicable advocacies, positions and proposals from all the stakeholders that he had called during the period of public hearings.
If enacted into law, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) will be established, replacing the present ARMM, which will be abolished.
Other stakeholders called by Marcos to the public hearings were the Sultanate of Sulu, indigenous people, religious and youth groups, legal luminaries, labor and peasant groups, local government units and other concerned organizations.
Marcos had conducted a total of 12 public hearings and one briefing, which started on September 23, 2014, plus two separate hearings conducted by the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes headed by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. The last hearing was on June 9.
One hearing each was conducted in Cotabato City, Marawi City, Tawi-Tawi, Jolo and Zamboanga City.
“Our version of the basic law for the BAR fulfills the duty that we in this august chamber must fulfill, to protect the national interests of the Republic of the Philippines,” Marcos said in his sponsorship speech.
The basic law, according to him, addresses the most important prerequisite to peace, which is the definitive end to armed conflict by providing an efficient, verifiable program of disarmament and demobilization, overseen by an independent monitoring body and providing the needed financial and social assistance to former fighters to become peaceful and productive members of society.
“It renounces war as an instrument of policy, and instead provides the governing structures and dispute resolution mechanisms needed to create a peaceful society managed through means that are morally and practically superior to armed conflict,” Marcos stated.
In his speech, he also acknowledged widows of the 44 slain police commandos and their families who have shown grace by choosing the righteous path of peace and have not responded with violent revenge.
Marcos said they asked only that justice be served and chose the peaceful path despite knowing that the government failed to honor their fallen loved ones with decency, respect and honor befitting those who have given their lives for the country.
“They choose the path of peace. And so shall we. Our heroes died for peace, and we honor them because a country without heroes is a country without a soul,” he added.
Marcos said in accepting the challenge of crafting the law he made a commitment to correct the many flaws of the original BBL and come up with a version that is all-embracing, inclusive of all who have been tragically affected by the conflict as well as every Filipino.
From the very beginning, he added, the BBL and the “comprehensive” agreement from which it was derived were not inclusive.
The government, Marcos said, has resorted to secret meetings held in faraway places, disregarded the constitutional authority of the in deliberating treaties, granted hastily every demand of the MILF and excluded other stakeholders.
In rewriting the new basic law, he added, the committee considered several principles including the primacy of the Constitution, autonomy of the constituent local government units of the BAR, checks and balances and bravery and heroism of the 44 policemen, among others.
Marcos said his version of the bill fulfills the desires of the Bangsamoro people for meaningful autonomy.
While the committee recognized that substantial fund need to be pumped into the BAR for rehabilitation and development purposes, he added, they acknowledged too that other regions and local government units are equally in need of the same funding support.
Marcos said the Senate local government committee also deemed it essential, given the history of secessionist armed struggle in Mindanao, that the proposed basic law will never be a vehicle for the establishment of an independent state.
Last among these important guiding principles, according to him, is that peace in Muslim Mindanao cannot be achieved without an effective normalization process.
Marcos said the normalization process under SB 2894 follows the United Nations principles of “DDR”–or disarmament, demobilization and reintegration–to attune and peg the milestones of the normalization efforts to internationally acceptable standards.
An integral component of the normalization process, he added, is the decommissioning of forces.
Under SB 2894, the decommissioning shall continue to be implemented and supervised by the independent decommissioning body but with enhanced functions and auxiliary support from government.
“Peace is the first step on an endless golden road to the future. Peace leads to order, which leads to progress, which leads to prosperity and dignity for all. Peace is in the soul of our nation. It is what our heroes, the brave Special Action Force 44 and so many before them, fought and gave their last breath to achieve,” Marcos said.