AMID warnings that delay in the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to Congress may again lead to a bigger conflict in Mindanao, Malacanang on Tuesday gave assurances that the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels will be able to thresh out their differences “soon.”
Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. is hopeful that whatever snags that delayed the crafting of the final draft that will establish a Bangsamoro entity in areas now under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be smoothened out.
“We remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon,” Coloma said in a text message to The Manila Times.
He also expressed hope that ongoing negotiations will lead to formulation of the draft BBL that complies with the Constitution and the signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The government and MILF peace panels are in the thick of 10-day negotiations to iron out kinks in the draft. Malacañang had said it plans to submit the BBL draft to Congress within the month.
Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles said each meeting by the parties “is a breakthrough” that will eventually establish a common ground.
“Everyday that the parties are working hard together for a common goal is a breakthrough, right? Let’s wait for the panels to make the proper announcements at the time they deem appropriate,” she added, also in a text message.
But a political analyst warned that the government may again face another Muslim uprising in Mindanao unless the panels hammering out the final BBL draft finish the job soon and submit the measure for congressional approval by year-end.
Ramon Casiple also scored the “secrecy” of the discussions between the government and MILF panels, stressing that the issue on autonomy has again reemerged as a point of disagreement.
Casiple said the two sides have no choice but to succeed in forging the BBL, lest they push the country back to the brink of war.
“They both have no choice but to succeed. Failure means war, no MILF, and weakened Aquino administration,” he pointed out.
Casiple said the issue on autonomy and power sharing must also be discussed publicly to douse speculations that Malacanang may be attempting to wrest control of the autonomous region.
“The negotiations are confidential. But the real issue is on the question of autonomy. Is the Bangsamoro under the President?” he asked.
A Muslim leader who is close to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari echoed Casiple’s fear that war may again erupt not only with the MILF but also with other Muslim groups if the issues are not settled fast.
Speaking on condition that he would not be named, Misuari’s “emissary” said the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro itself “is truly unconstitutional and premature” from the very beginning because it violates a peace pact signed in 1996 between the MNLF and the Ramos administration.
The MILF sprang from the MNLF.
The source said they are of the belief that the peace deal with the MILF was unconstitutional because it violated the principle of “constitutional supremacy.”
Thus, he added, the government can work to “rectify” the Organic Act that created the ARMM.
“There is still a need to amend the Organic Act . . . but it can never be amended unless the 42 defective provisions of Republic Act 9054 are rectified because these are the provisions that the MNLF had insistently wanted the government to correct,” the MNLF leader said.
The “defects” of the act, he added, will be discussed in a coming review by the government and MNLF panels, among other stakeholders.
The MNLF leader said President Benigno Aquino 3rd cannot just expand the powers and territories covered by the ARMM unless the 1996 peace agreement has been fully implemented.
On Monday, an insider who is privy to the ongoing discussions between the peace panels said power-sharing and autonomy are the key issues that stand in the way of the final draft of the BBL.
He told The Times that although autonomy and power-sharing had been defined in previous agreements, the two sides continue to wrangle over the final terms that will go into the draft to be submitted to Congress.
“The bone of contention is that there should be flexibility in making the BBL conform with the Constitution. That’s what the MILF wants. The other side, however, disregarded this flexibility and now wants a very restrictive BBL,” the source, a lawyer, said.