KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews / 23 August) – House Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong and two other Mindanawon representatives sent here by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to sit as observers in the GPH-MILF peace talks are hoping that the remaining annexes on power-sharing and normalization would be signed soon so that the Bangsamoro Basic Law can be “finished as soon as possible.”
“We will try to do our best to craft this law. We need this. We want peace as soon as possible,” Balindong, representative of the 2nd district of Lanao del Sur told MindaNews after the opening rites at the Palace of the Golden Horses on Thursday.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said they “want the two annexes finished this month or next month” so that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) can draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law and submit to Congress by December.
“We will have to fast-track this,” Rodriguez told MindaNews on Friday morning.
He said Congress can act on the draft law from January to March, before Congress goes on break.
“We want to have peace in Mindanao. We have to hurry up,” said Rodriguez.
He said Speaker Belmonte sent him, Deputy Speaker Balindong and North Cotabato Rep. Jesus Sacdalan to observe the talks.
Rodriguez said coming here is “very good” as it gave them an opportunity, among others, to see the basic text of the annexes, the positions of the parties, which issues “need more consensus” and whether the provisions conform with the Constitution.
The government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels are continuing negotiations on power-sharing and normalization, the last two annexes that would complete the comprehensive peace agreement. Two other annexes had been signed – Transitional Arrangements and Modalities on February 27 and Power-sharing on July 13.
Negotiations on power-sharing began through the panels’ technical working groups in August 2012 and in November 2012 for normalization.
Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15 last year, the parties agreed that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro” to replace the then 22-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The parties also agreed to complete the annexes by end of 2012.
In December last year, President Aquino created through Executive Order the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the 15-member body that would draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and named its members on February 25.
The BTC has met for preliminaries, has set up its internal rules and committees but according to MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, who also sits as BTC chair, they “cannot write the Bangsamoro Basic Law in its wholeness” unless the annexes and the comprehensive peace pact are signed.
Balindong said the Bangsamoro Basic Law “has to be finished as soon as possible, not in the latter part of the President’s term.”
He said he hopes the law is passed by 2014.
In his State of the Nation Address on July 22, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III urged Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014 so “we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government come 2016.”
According to the roadmap set by the two parties under the FAB, after the BTC submits the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to Congress, the President will certify it as urgent. As soon as Congress passes the law, a plebiscite will be conducted in the proposed core territory. Once ratified, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is created, “ARMM is deemed abolished” and “all devolved authorities are vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.”
The roadmap also provides that the “Ministerial form and Cabinet system of government will commence once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place.” The BTA will be “replaced upon the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government.”
Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez had earlier told MindaNews they would need six months to prepare for the plebiscite, inclusive of the period for information campaign.
Former Ambassador Akmad Sakkam, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission who also sat as observer, told MindaNews their coming here as observers gave them the opportunity to “feel the process” and appreciate the intrinsic value of negotiation and the sincerity of both parties.
“It’s nice to understand the efforts and determination of the negotiators, both of the MILF and GPH,” Sakkam said, adding there is ”a lot of stake at hand and shared responsibilities.”
Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao People’s Caucus and one of three representatives from the Mindanao civil society attending the talks as observers said the presence of the legislators “demonstrates the interest and commitment of Congress to cooperate with the parties and the Transition Commission for the passage of the BBL.”
“Indeed, everyone shares the sense of urgency and we are all waiting with much anticipation and eagerness to support the signing of the annexes and comprehensive compact,” Arnado said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)