GPH, MILF peace panels return to KL to discuss Bangsamoro Basic Law  

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 07 July) – The Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels are returning to Kuala Lumpur today to discuss the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), particularly on how to ensure that what would be submitted to Congress when it reopens on July 28 is a draft that President Aquino says “both sides will fully support and endorse.”

The 97-page draft submitted by the 15-member MILF-led, joint GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) appointed by President Aquino is apparently not acceptable in its present form to Malacanang while the reviewed draft with Malacanang’s proposed revisions is not acceptable to the MILF, the other party that negotiated and signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014 after 17 years of peace negotiations, four of them under the Aquino administration.

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told MindaNews Monday morning that the talks would be “mainly on the BBL” and that the “BTC will be there.”

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent chair of the BTC, had convened the now 14-member Commission on July 3 in Cotabato City to brief them on the revised draft. The BTC passed a resolution expressing “serious concerns over some major revisions, modifications and alterations that deviated from the significant contents of the (CAB)” and elevated these to the panels for “clarification, discussion and resolution” of the issues affected by the proposed revisions “… in the higher interest of finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Mindanao.”

Threshing out

In a press statement on Monday, Ferrer said the GPH panel “readily accepted the task” and together with the MILF peace panel, the Malaysian facilitator and the members of the International Contact Group, would be meeting in Kuala Lumpur for a “workshop that would thresh out the various substantive matters that have arisen from the BTC submission and the subsequent OP review.”

She said the members of the BTC will also be present, “thereby ensuring close coordination and processing.”

Ferrer stressed that “neither the BTC draft nor the OP-reviewed text is so complete and perfect to leave no more room for discussion, or no other option but to choose between one or the other.”

Acknowledging they are “going through this difficulty now,” Ferrer said this is because “we want the next stages to be less difficult not only between the government and the MILF, but among all the institutions and actors that will be or have been playing a role in the process.”

“A well-processed bill that goes through the legislative mill, with the certification of the President as urgent, will stand much better chances of smooth-sailing passage in both the Senate and the House of Representatives,” she said.

Serious concerns

Serious concerns over the Malacanang-proposed revisions on the draft that the BTC submitted on April 22, were brought to President Aquino’s attention by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Iqbal in their meeting at the Sheraton Hiroshima Hotel in Hiroshima, Japan a few minutes before the President delivered his keynote address at The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6) seminar on June 24.

Murad told MindaNews that in their “15 to 20 minutes” meeting, the President said he could not answer them then but promised he would check with the people who reviewed the draft.

Acceptable to both

Three days later, in Iloilo City, President Aquino told reporters that efforts were being done to ensure that the draft that would be submitted to Congress would be one that “both sides will fully support and endorse.”

“We will be exerting all efforts to ensure that this measure is passed in a timely manner because the dream still is to give the new Bangsamoro government time to demonstrate its abilities… We’re hoping that all the steps will be done that they can sit in office by January 2015,” the President said.

The BTC submitted the draft BBL to Malacanang on April 22, expecting it would be submitted to Congress when it resumes session on May 5. Congress went on sine die adjournment on June 11 without receiving the draft Basic Law.

The MILF received a copy of the draft with the comments and proposed revisions from, among others, the Office of the President and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on June 21. Murad and Iqbal were briefed about it by their legal team evening of June 22 in Hiroshima.

“Worse than 9054”

In a forum in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26 which Ferrer also attended, Iqbal said the Malacanang-proposed revisions had “heavily diluted” the draft they submitted, that when enacted into law would be “worse than RA 9054” (the law governing the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) and that the revised draft would render the envisioned Bangsamoro ministerial form of government less autonomous than the ARMM, the “failed experiment” that it is supposed to replace.

Iqbal said the MILF has a “very simple and straightforward” position on the BBL: “All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the Parties. If reasons and consistency prevail, there is no way this controversy cannot be settled.”

He lamented that, “instead of defending the essence of this historic document (CAB) or at least inhibited itself out of delicadeza,” OPAPP, “the very government office tasked to oversee the conduct of the peace process…. virtually led the review team of the OP to overhaul almost the entire proposal of the BTC.”

Review team

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told MindaNews Monday morning that the review of the draft BBL “falls under the direct oversight of the Executive Secretary and utilized all the legal resources that could be tapped by the Office of the President, both internally and in the agencies tasked with upholding public legal mandates.”

She said the Office of the President “consulted everyone need to provide not only legal readings but also a proper understanding of the full context and expressed intents of the CAB and draft BBL. It was, as always, a whole of government approach with the President having the final say on all recommendations.”

Deles added that the results of the review of the Office of the President “have been shared with the BTC even as these continue to be studied by the President.”

“There are mechanisms/procedures in place to settle any concerns/issues from either party,” Deles said, adding that these established processes “are being followed to ensure the timely passage of the best possible BBL by Congress.”

In letter and spirit

Iqbal declined to provide details on what provisions were “heavily diluted” but Robert Maulana Alonto, a member of the MILF peace panel and the BTC, has been providing details in his postings on Facebook about what he refers to as a “mongrelized” Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Alonto cited the qualification of the Chief Minister which the draft BBL said must be a “Bangsamoro” but which was stricken off in the Malacanang-reviewed draft.

MindaNews sources who read the reviewed draft but requested not to be named said the “Bangsamoro” was replaced with “citizen of the Philippines” provided the candidate meets the required residency rule, prompting Alonto to write that “any Tom, Dick and Harry who is not a Bangsamoro can become Chief Minister. This means even Joseph Estrada or Tingting Cojuangco or Janette Napoles can become Chief Minister!”

The same MindaNews sources said the Malacanang-proposed revisions have substantially changed the “letter and spirit” of the agreement, among them, that what had previously been agreed upon such as the delineation of powers as exclusive, concurrent and reserved, have been stricken out; that the “core territory” listed in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro can no longer be found in the revised version as the list is reportedly just for the purpose of determining where the plebiscite would be held; and that the term “asymmetric” to describe the relationship between the central or national government and the Bangsamoro government has also been stricken out.A public discussion or debate on the matter cannot be had because the text of the 97-page draft and the Malacanang-proposed revised draft have not been made public. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews) 

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/peace-process/2014/07/07/gph-milf-peace-panels-return-to-kl-to-discuss-bangsamoro-basic-law/

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