DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 August) — The Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels have addressed more than half of the issues that need to be resolved to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but with only one day left and several contentious issues still unresolved, they may not be able to complete the task at the end of their 10-day “workshop” here on Sunday.
““We will try,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said early Saturday morning. “We are doing our best at this level,” GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said late Sunday evening.
Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process told MindaNews Saturday noon at the hotel’s Café Uno that both panels have made “substantial progress and will make an announcement tomorrow” (Sunday).
But Saturday afternoon turned out to be a bad time as the panels got stuck on a provision related to political autonomy that, according to MindaNews sources, was neither in the draft of the ‘Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to draft the BBL, nor in the Malacanang-reviewed draft. The provision is not also in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro or the Annex on Power-sharing.
Saturday was the 9th of their 10-day “workshop” here but the 20th in a 21-day series of four “workshops” since July 8.
MindaNews learned from very reliable sources who requested not to be named for now that the issues the panels would not be able to resolve here will be brought to the level of the principals – President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.
The panels have been meeting at the Waterfront Insular Hotel here since August 1, after 11 days of similar “workshops” in Kuala Lumpur and Manila last month that failed to yield a “mutually acceptable” draft.
The BTC, the 15-member MILF-led GPH-MILF body tasked to draft the BBL submitted its 97-page, 18-article draft to Malacanang (Office of the President) on April 22. Malacanang reviewed the draft and handed over to the MILF a copy of the review with its comments and proposed revisions on June 21.
Apparently, a substantial part of the BTC draft was not acceptable to Malacanang and a substantial part of Malacanang’s proposed revisions was not also acceptable to the MILF.
Among the most contentious issues that have yet to be resolved involves the delineation of powers under the categories exclusive, reserved and concurrent, as provided for under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Annex on Power-Sharing.
MindaNews learned from sources who have read the BTC draft and the Malacanang-reviewed draft that the Malacanang-proposed revisions removed these categories as well as the term “asymmetrical relationship” between the central government and the Bangsamoro government.
Iqbal said without the categories and the provision on “asymmetrical relationship,” the future Bangsamoro political entity would be less autonomous than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that it seeks to replace.
Iqbal added that delineation ‘is the heart of the agreement.”
Ferrer told MindaNews on August 1 that saying the future Bangsamoro would be less autonomous than the ARMM is “really an emotional reading of the comments.”
“How can it be worse than the ARMM when all the key features that were stated in the CAB and that would make the major difference than the ARMM are all intact?” Ferrer told MindaNews.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, also the BTC chair, aired their concerns over the proposed revisions in a meeting with President Aquino at the Sheraton Hotel in Hiroshima on June 24, minutes before the President delivered his keynote address at The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminar.
Aquino and Murad have met at least five times – on August 4, 2011 when Aquno sought a meeting with Murad in Tokyo, Japan to “fast-track the peace process;” during the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, both held in Malcanang; the launching of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro at the Bangsamoro Development Agency’s office in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on February 11, 2013; and at the Sheraton Hotel in Hiroshima on June 24, 2014.
Both leaders agreed in the August 2011 meeting to fast-track the peace process so that an agreement would be reached in the first half of the Aquino administration (2010 to 2013) and implementation would be done in the second half (2013 to 2016).
In his keynote address in Hiroshima on Jun24, Aquino spoke of his historic meeting with Murad, describing it as “the turning point in our narrative to secure a just and lasting peace. Trust was established between brothers, and genuine dialogue was possible.”
“I sometimes wonder: If that meeting did not take place, where would we be today? Fortunately, that meeting, my first face-to-face encounter with my brother Chairman Murad, was a breakthrough,” Aquino said.
The series of “workshops” – July 8 to 11 in Kuala Lumpur; 18 to 21 and 25 to 27 in Manila; and August 1 to 10 in Davao City – was triggered by the July 3 BTC resolution elevating to the GPH and MILF peace panels its concerns over Malacanang’s proposed revisions to its draft.
The draft Basic Law was expected to have been submitted and certified “urgent” by the President on or before he delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the reopening of Congress on July 28.
In last year’s SONA, he urged Congress to pass the Basic Law before yearend 2014 to allow the Bangsamoro Transition Authority enough time to run the ministerial form of government until the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro Government elected in May 2016 would take over on June 30, 2016.
The President also met with the BTC in Malacanang on July 24 even as the BTC had elevated the issue to the peace panels by then. BTC chair Iqbal was a no show in Malacanang. He said he was in a meeting with the MILF Central Committee.
At the end of the session on Day 6, MindaNews asked the chairs separately in a text message if they were already on the same page on where to bring the “workshop” results when it ends Sunday.
Ferrer replied “cross the bridge when we get there” while Iqbal said “pag-uusapan pa” (we’ll talk about it).
Ferrer told MindaNews on Day One that since it was the BTC that gave the panels the mandate when it passed a resolution elevating its concerns on the draft to the panels, whatever they would finish “should go back to the BTC” for the BTC to endorse the final draft to Malacanang.
Iqbal on Day One said the panels should return to Kuala Lumpur to formally adopt what has been agreed upon here.
Joining the panels in their meetings since Day 1 are the Pool of Independent Lawyers (PIL), representatives from the International Contact Group (ICG) and the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT).
Two lawyers from the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel arrived on August 4 but left midweek. Other members of the BTC arrived afternoon of August 6 and joined the sessions starting Thursday, as observers.
Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace process, arrived Friday afternoon. Tengku is not here to facilitate but he met with the two panel chairs last Friday.
“I’m just an observer here,” Tengku told MindaNews inside Kalaw Room, the meeting venue, at 2 p.m. Saturday, shortly before the Mindanao Peaceweavers serenaded the peace panels with five songs: “Love Story,” “I will survive,” “The long and winding road,” “Mag-Peace Talk ay hindi biro” (to the tune of “Planting rice is never fun”) and “It’s now or never.”
On Thursday morning, the panels listened to a presentation of Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on the budgeting process and details of the breakdown of the budget of the regional government.
On Friday morning, the panels listened to Windel Diangcalan’s presentation on the Bangsamoro Development Plan.
Benedicto Bacani, representing the Pool of Independent Lawyers, gave a presentation on the recommendations of the collegial body on the issues that were referred to them by the panels.
On Saturday morning, the panels listened to the presentation of the Ateneo School of Government which did the study on the annual block grant.
“Hopefully we will be able to agree on the just , reasonable, implementable and defensible formula for the annual block grant and the amounts for the Special Develpment Fund and transition fund that we need to put in the draft BBL,” Ferrer said.
On Saturday afternoon, after the peace groups’ serenade, the panels resumed sessions with the ICG, BTC and PIL.
Tengku and members of the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) — Dr. Steven Rood of The Asia Foundation, Karen Tanada of the Gazton Ortigas Peace Institute and Rahib Kudto of the United Youth for Peace and Development, Inc. – met in the garden area just outside the Vinta Bar. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)