Negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remained deadlocked on the thorny issues on power and wealth-sharing after 10 days of marathon talks, but chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer believes that prospects for the drafting of a final Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) are brighter now.
“Our job is not yet over,” Ferrer admitted in a telephone interview. “But we can now see light at the end of the tunnel.”
She noted that she and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal will have to go back to their “principals”–President Benigno Aquino 3rd and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim–to report problems that need solutions.
Ferrer said both panels agree on the structure of the Bangsamoro government that will be established in Mindanao but they clash on other provisions.
“We know that this government will be ministerial in form,” she added, but [t]here are some details that must be put in place and be agreed upon.”
According to her, the issue on wealth-sharing remains contentious even as the two panels tried to come up with a formula that is “just, practical and feasible.”
Under the wealth-sharing annex earlier signed by the government and the MILF, the national government is required to give the Bangsamoro government a block grant that is comparable to the internal revenue share given to local government units.
The grant, according to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, will be sourced from national revenue collections and released annually by the central government to the Bangsamoro government.
Coronel said they have “ironed out and cleaned up some of the provisions of the BBL” during their negotiations held in Davao City.
“We are only trying to resolve certain provisions,” she added. “Just give us some time and space to ensure that we will finish this immediately.”
Iqbal expressed hope that the two panels will be able to come up with an acceptable BBL draft.
“For the MILF, we are not thinking of any other option,” Iqbal told members of the Mindanao Peace Weavers, a group composed of peace advocates in Mindanao. “The only option is peace so that’s why we are pouring everything here so that peace would be possible.”
After 10 days of discussions, the government and MILF panels issued a joint statement on Sunday, saying they have reached agreement on substantial portions of the document “and have developed a shared understanding of the remaining challenges and unsettled issues.”
”We have agreed on major points but we are yet to find understanding on inter-government relations and some points that we believed can be agreed upon,” Ferrer said.
Her optimism was shared by the MILF head negotiator.
”We are doing our best to come to terms because we [went]through difficult days in the past 17 years and we are not backing off,” Iqbal said.
He added that “discussions took place in plenary as well as in small groups focused on addressing specific issues such as fiscal autonomy and administration of justice. There were also inputs provided by resource persons coming from the Bangsamoro Development Agency, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Ateneo School of Government on the matter of development planning and budget transfers to the Bangsamoro.”
Not this year
But Senate President Franklin Drilon also on Monday said that with the delays in the drafting of a final BBL measure, there is no way for Congress to pass the bill this year even if the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) managed to submit the draft to Congress at the end of the month.
“Assuming they [OPAPP] can come up with a final version by the end of the month, I think the first quarter of next year is a reasonable period within which to pass this law,” Drilon told the Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel news forum.
He noted that even if the Senate committees on local government and peace and unification gave assurances to make the proposed BBL law a priority, Congress had to make sure that the basic law does not go against the Constitution to avoid possible legal debates.
According to Drilon, OPAPP was supposed to submit to Congress the BBL draft law this week, but since the government and MILF panels failed to come up with a final draft, the submission of the document will again be delayed.
The Senate chief, however, expressed confidence that despite the delay, ratification of the basic law that will establish a Bangsamoro state in Mondanao can still be done in 2015 and a new Bangsamoro Juridical Entity can be in place by July 1, 2016.
“We need to pass this law in order to achieve peace in Mindanao. Peace and security [are]a basic foundation upon which progress can be achieved, and poverty can then be addressed,” Drilon said.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. agreed that Congress can pass the BBL by the first quarter of 2015 but doubted if the law can be ratified right after.
He said even if Congress passed the BBL early next year, chances are it would be challenged in court, further delaying the process.