MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 27 July) — Amid the uncertainties brought about by the still unresolved issues hounding the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, Zahria Muti-Mapandi, executive director of the Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation is certain of one thing: “there is no other option but the peace process.”
Mapandi said everyone who has a stake for peace in Mindanao wants to know what President Benigno Simeon Aquino will say in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
She told MindaNews she is worried that further delay in the submission of the draft BBL to Congress will leave too little time for the transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro.
“Is there till time to implement the law?” she asked.
Mapandi’s organization, AMDF, is a Lanao-based women’s organization for social development promoting women’s rights, good governance and peace building.
The estimated 10,000 strong MILF is also eagerly awaiting what the President will say during his SONA.
Agakhan Magondato Sharif, president of the Philippine Muslim Teachers College, said the unresolved issues as well as reports that Malacanang wants to change some of the “key points” of the BBL have caused restlessness among MILF commanders in Lanao del Sur.
Sharif said emotions ran high among the commanders who attended a meeting with a member of the MILF negotiating panel in early July.
He said 50 MILF commanders gathered in a building here and listened to the peace panel member explain the unresolved issues of the draft basic law.
Sharif, who was among the civilians who attended the meeting, recalled how the commanders fell silent when told that Malacanang wants to change some key points in the proposed law..
“Then one by one, the guerilla commanders wept soon after they realized Malacanang had watered down the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law,” said Sharif who is also known here by his moniker “Bin Ladin.”
“The commanders came to realize nothing is coming out of their dream Bangsamoro homeland despite all the years of sacrifice. Malacanang failed to keep its side of the bargain,” Sharif added.
The “key points” in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that Malacanang reportedly wanted to change, according to Sharif, are the Sharia law; the budget; the form of regional government system; and the control of Lake Lanao, the major source of Mindanao’s electricity.
Peace panels meet anew
Sharif said the commanders opposed the revisions made by Malacanang especially on the control over Lake Lanao.
“The problem is that the MILF leadership pinned their hopes and trusted Malacanang yet Malacanang is changing what has been agreed upon,” he said.
President Aquino on Thursday met with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in Malacanang to discuss the still unresolved issues. The BTC, the body tasked to draft the Basic Law, had passed a resolution early this month elevating to the peace panels their concerns over the differences in the BTC draft and Malacanang’s proposed revisions.
The GPH and MILF peace panels met anew from Friday, July 25, to noon of Sunday, July 27, but no joint statement on the outcome of the meeting, their third this month, was released.
MindaNews sources said the panels are meeting again immediately after the SONA, to work on the draft law that President Aquino hopes “both sides will fully support and endorse.”
Copies of the draft BBL and Malacanang’s reviewed draft have not been made public.
Mapandi said civil society in Mindanao wants to know if the inputs they made during the consultations on the Basic Law were carried in the draft.
She noted that government and the MILF had been “excluding” civil society right after the two panels began meeting “secretly” on the unresolved issues.
“Can we see the draft of the law before it is passed to Congress? Can we still propose changes ?” Mapandi asked.
She reminded President Aquino of his promise to make the peace process transparent to Mindanao stakeholders.
The 17-year peace process, which eventually led to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27 this year, has not only reduced the number of armed encounters, it has also yielded economic benefits.
Col. Glen Macasero, commanding officer of the Army ‘s103rd Infantry Brigade said even the province of Lanao del Sur, which has been suffering from poor investments in the past, is slowing moving forward.
Macasero said small shops and stores are flourishing again in the downtown area.
“I even heard that some Maranao businessmen who fled during the 2000 war are planning to come back. Peace has became an attractive option for them,” he said.
He said only one encounter between his soldiers and the MILF was recorded in more than a year and that a possible escalation was prevented because the ongoing peace process has a mechanism to avert violence.
“I immediately called the MILF (ceasefire committee) when the incident happened and in less than 30 minutes they responded to rein in their ground forces. The crisis was over in less than an hour,” Macasero said.
To boost the chances of peace, Macasero said his troops and the MILF hold beach parties to foster friendship and understanding.
“Peace process here is giving good dividends, thanks to a working mechanism, “ he said. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)