DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 July) – President Benigno Simeon Aquino III met with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in Malacanang for nearly four hours on Thursday to discuss the still unresolved issues on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law four days before delivering his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The draft BBL was earlier expected to be submitted to Congress on or before the SONA, with the President certifying the bill as “urgent.” But the parties have yet to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft or what the President had earlier said would be a draft that “both sides will fully endorse and support.”
In his SONA on July 22 last year, Aquino urged Congress to pass the BBL before the end of 2014 to give enough time for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to take over and prepare for the May 2016 election of the Bangsamoro’s first set of officials.
“I want to be able to push this (Bangsamoro Basic Law) with conviction,” the OPAPP quoted Aquino as saying, adding that the President acknowledged this is his “obligation to the people who are yearning for peace in Mindanao.”
The meeting, according to the OPAPP, came on the heels of what government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer referred to as “significant points of differences” between government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Malacanang’s proposed revisions to the draft.
The OPAPP did not say that BTC chair and concurrent MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal did not attend the Malacanang meet. Iqbal told MindaNews he was in a meeting with the MILF Central Committee while Robert Maulana Alonto, a member of both the MNLF peace panel and BTC, did not attend, too, as he was not feeling well.
Iqbal had earlier said Malacanang’s proposed revisions had “heavily diluted” the draft submitted on April 22 by the 15-member MILF-led Joint GPH-MILF commission, the body tasked to draft the BBL.
He said Malacanang’s proposed revisions would render the Bangsamoro less autonomous than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it seeks to replace.
The BTC passed a resolution on July 3 expressing “serious concerns over some major revisions, modifications and alterations that deviated from the significant contents” of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the parties signed on March 27 in Malacanang.
The BTC, now with only 14 members, elevated the concerns 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.”
The panels met in Kuala Lumpur on July 8 to 11 and in Manila on July 18 to 21 but failed to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft.
While the KL meeting ended with “moderate progress,” a joint statement and a commitment to meet in Manila, the Manila meeting ended with no major issue resolved, no joint statement and no next meeting scheduled.
The panels, according to the OPAPP, “are set to resume discussions on the draft BBL today, July 25.”
The meeting is supposed to start Friday evening, after the iftar.
Thursday’s Malacanang meeting came a day after the MILF’s Committee on Information which Iqbal also heads, posted a strongly-worded editorial titled “MILF position on BBL’s delay.”
“ Obviously, the government peace panel line is to let the MILF accept a version of the BBL that may be constitutional but will not solve the Bangsamoro Question. On the other hand, the MILF overall objective is ‘to end tyranny, restore dignity and secure a bright and prosperous future for all in the Bangsamoro Homeland.’ The current government proposals will not restore dignity to a people who suffered tyranny and will not secure a peaceful and prosperous future.”
The editorial reiterated the MILF’s stand on the draft BBL: “All those issues that are settled in the FAB and its Annexes will not be subject for renegotiation;” and “Settled language in the FAB and its Annexes will not be subject for renegotiation.”
The OPAPP press release quoted the President as telling the BTC commissioners to approach the reviewed draft “with an open mind, see if everything is consistent with the CAB and limit the potential challenges.”
Iqbal had earlier said that the BTC’s draft “mainly copy-pasted the essential elements of the CAB.” He told MindaNews that the 97-page BTC draft did not even contain recommendations from the BTC’s Committee on Constitutional Amendments because they were repeatedly assured by government that the Bangsamoro can be entrenched “within the flexibility of the 1987 Constitution.”
The President’s meeting with the BTC was done in the presence of, among others, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles, GPH panel chair Ferrer.
According to OPAPP, the President asked the BTC members to “put ourselves in each other’s shoes” and for the parties to work together to bridge the differences. “Mula sa Kayo at Kami, ibalik natin sa Tayo,” Aquino was quoted as saying.
The OPAPP also said Aquino read a printout of MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim’s speech at the signing of the CAB on March 27, particularly this sentence, “After all, the CAB is not only for the MILF, but also for the MNLF, for all Muslim ethnic tribes, Christian settlers, and indigenous peoples.”
“Unacceptable status quo”
Under the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the parties agreed that the “status quo was unacceptable” and that they would set up a new autonomous political entity, the Bangsamoro, that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The BTC submitted the draft to Malacanang on April 22, the latter handing over a copy of the reviewed draft on June 21.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Iqbal aired their concerns about the Malacanang-proposed revisions to the President in Hiroshima, shortly before he delivered his keynote address at The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminar on June 24.
The OPAPP said “due diligence is necessary since President Aquino will certify the BBL as an urgent bill to fast-track its passage in Congress.”
“Due diligence” was also the reason cited by the government peace panel during the crafting of the FAB and its four annexes – Power-sharing, Wealth-Sharing, Normalization and Transitional Arrangements and Modalities – and the CAB.
The OPAPP said the President “urged the parties to finalize the draft bill soon, stressing that Congress is concerned about the timeframe for the bill’s enactment into law if it is not submitted soon.”
“We want the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to be put in place next year, as early as possible,” the President was quoted as saying.
The press release did not say how many days the panels’ meeting would be.
The government and MILF negotiated for 17 years before signing the CAB in March. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)