Power sharing and autonomy are the key issues that stand in the way of a final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will be the basis for the creation of a Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
A source privy to the ongoing negotiations between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels told The Manila 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.
“More than being a legal issue, the peace process is a political agreement.
Therefore, there should be political will. The agreement comes first before anything else so that there should be flexibility to accommodate what were agreed upon in the first place. Right now, it’s the other way around. It’s like they (government negotiators) are saying that the agreement should strictly conform with each and every letter of the law. That is causing the delay,” the source said.
He lamented that the Office of the President (OP) “disregarded” much of the previously agreed and signed accords contained in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the more binding Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and opted to make the draft BBL “very restrictive.”
He said the OP, on instructions from President Benigno Aquino 3rd, “deleted” provisions in the draft bill that were only “copied” from the contents of the CAB.
“What the BTC [Bangsamoro Transition Commission] did was to just copy the CAB provisions and put them in the BBL. However, when the draft was returned by Malacanang, these copied provisions were no longer there and the language is already different,” said the source, who is on the side of the MILF.
The Times asked Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles to confirm or deny the lawyer’s claims. Deles said they also want the BBL to be compliant with the CAB.
“GPH [government of the Philippines]remains committed to full implementation of the [CAB], especially in the passage of the [BBL] that is fully compliant with the CAB. The fact that the two panels are now hard at work in Davao to come up with a mutually acceptable draft BBL to be submitted by the President for enactment by Congress by yearend speaks of the true state of the BBL and the serious commitment of the parties to see the process through to its just and peaceful conclusion,” she said.
According to her, the issues that are being threshed out by the panels are normal occurrences in the peace process.
“Peacemaking is not for the fainthearted. The parties choose to continue to forge ahead,” Quintos told The Times.
In an interview on DZRH on Monday, MILF Vice Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said the group is giving the government one month to submit the draft BBL to Congress. The Jaafar warned that failure to do so will have dire consequences.
According to him, many MILF field commanders are raring to go back to the armed struggle.
Asked to react on Jaafar’s pronouncements, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the MILF leader could be speaking on his own because not even MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad or MILF peace panel chairman Mohaqer Iqbal have spoken in the same manner.
“Mr. Jaafar is talking to his own crowd, his own audience—the MILF. But we are committed to pursuing and submitting a draft BBL to Congress. None of the personalities with the exception of Mr. Jaafar has spoken in such manner, not even the Chairman of the MILF peace panel, Chair Iqbal has spoken in that regard, neither did Chair Murad of MILF,” Lacierda said.
“So, both the MILF peace panel and the government peace panel are right now discussing and threshing our whatever differences they have ensuring that there will be a submission before Congress,” he pointed out.
On Sunday, a group of Muslims and Christians accused the President of mangling the draft BBL, an act they said showed his administration’s “insincerity” in pushing for lasting peace in Mindanao.
The Moro Christians People’s Alliance (MCPA) called the administration is “insincere, dishonest and deceptive.”
“[President] Aquino cannot flaunt in his fifth State of the Nation Address the success of the GPH-MILF peace talks,” the MCPA said in a statement posted on luwaran.com, the official MILF website.
But ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the supporters for the passage of the BBL outnumber those who are opposed to the peace deal.
“MCPA is identified as an ally organization of Bayan Muna, so it harps the same anti-President Noy sentiments. The [people on the ground]do not share their sentiment. For sure, them [people]on the ground is very much hopeful about the success of the BBL,” Hataman said in a text message.
“We respect their opinion, but that doesn’t reflect the situation on the ground.
Many are still positive on the ongoing process, especially in ARMM. Also, I believe that MCPA, from the start, has been expressing its opposition to the Mindanao peace process,” he said.
He noted that “workshops” between experts and stakeholders are ongoing “to ensure that the draft BBL is acceptable to all and that no possible or Constitutional issues may arise [from it].”
Hataman’s wife Sitti, who is also a member of Congress as an Anak Mindanao party-list Representative, also cautioned sectors against sowing intrigue and projecting the failure of the Bangsamoro law.
“I believe that the draft Bangsamoro Basic law remains to be a confidential document. Neither the Philippine Government nor the MILF have presented it to the public. Who can now say it was sabotaged? We must continue trusting each other and the process, if we are to achieve peace,” the lawmaker said.
“It will not do the peace process any good if we keep suspecting and preempting the actions of the government, the MILF and other parties involved,” she added.
Former Rep. Simeon Datumanong somehow shared the Hatamans’ sentiments, noting that ensuring the Constitutionality of the BBL is important in its successful implementation.
“There are mixed feelings on the delay in the submission of the proposed law to Congress, but I see this as a calculated one to ensure its Constitutionality and easier passage in Congress,” Datumanong, also a former Justice Secretary, said.
“I hope the review will not drastically alter the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro because it may result to further delay and disturb the timeframe,” he added.
With a report from Llanesca T. Panti