DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 August) – After a month’s unsuccessful attempts by the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the Office of the President, particularly the Executive Secretary, has taken over the finalization of the draft with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body that drafted the BBL.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa took over noon of August 10, the last of the 10-day “workshop” of the GPH and MILF panels at the Waterfront Insular Hotel here, meeting separately with the government and MILF peace panel chairs, averting what would have been yet another unsuccessful fourth workshop after the unsuccessful three workshops totaling 11 days in July in Kuala Lumpur and Manila.
Early evening of August 10, the GPH and MILF peace panels met with the press and although they sounded uncomfortable when asked about specifics, announced a date – “August 18, 2014, in sha Allah” — for them to “finish an agreed draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
The peace panels got involved in the crafting of a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL when the MILF-chaired BTC (composed of eight commissioners from the MILF and seven from the GPH), passed a resolution on July 3 elevating to the panels its concerns over the Malacanang-proposed revisions to the 97-page draft BBL it submitted to the Palace on April 22.
At the start of the 10-day Davao “workshop” on August 1, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer had told MindaNews that the panel believes the outcome of the “workshop” should be returned to the BTC because it was the BTC that gave them the panels the mandate to work on the draft.
No panel-to-panel meet
There was no formal announcement from both panels that the draft was out of their hands. But after the August 10 announcement that they would “finish an agreed draft” by August 18, there was no panel-to-panel meeting anymore even as both panels were in the same venues — Malagos Garden Resort on August 13 and Marco Polo Hotel on August 14 and 15.
Ochoa and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Alfredo Benjamin Sabater Caguioa met with MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent BTC chair, in those three days of exchanges of position papers and conversations that ended Friday noon, August 15 with a two-paragraph, nine-line Joint Statement signed by Ochoa and Iqbal as BTC chair.
The Statement announced that they had “concluded discussions on the various issues” involving the draft BBL “originally drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and submitted to the President last April” and that the parties agreed that “resolutions arrived at by both parties will be incorporated into the final draft Basic Bangsamoro Law that will be prepared and submitted to President Benigno S. Aquino III.”
Following this statement, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told MindaNews that the final draft BBL would be submitted to the President “before end of next week” and to Congress “before end of the month.”
The Ochoa-Iqbal statement of August 15 was not their first. Two months earlier, Ochoa and Iqbal also issued a statement – a longer one — a seven paragraph, 23-line “Press Statement on the status of the Draft Bangsamoro Law” in an attempt to address the restlessness of those awaiting news on the submission of the draft law to Congress.
“Thorough process of review”
The BTC submitted its draft to Malacanang on April 22, expecting Malacanang would submit the same to Congress when it resumed sessions on May 5 after the Holy Week break. But as June 11, the schedule for Congress to adjourn sine die was fast approaching, it was also getting clearer that Congress would adjourn without receiving the draft.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles had hinted in her opening remarks at the International Conference of Cotabato at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City on June 6 that the draft BBL would not be transmitted before Congress adjourned on June 11.
She said it was still undergoing a “thorough process of review” by the Office of the President to ensure Congress gets a “more refined and strengthened” draft.
The Ochoa-Iqbal statement was dated June 7 but was e-mailed to the media by Deles’ office afternoon of June 10.
The statement noted that since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on March 27, BTC members had been working on the BBL, “consulting with experts and various stakeholders, and building consensus among its members” and that the President expects a law that is “equitable, practical, and empowering, and which serves the interests of the entire nation.”
The statement acknowledged that the BTC had submitted its draft to Malacanang and that they acknowledge the “urgency behind the immediate passage of the BBL,” that a thorough review of the provisions was necessary “to ensure that these are consistent with what the parties agreed upon in the 17 years of peace negotiation.”
“At present, efforts have already been made to coordinate with the Senate and House leadership to ensure that the draft BBL is submitted to Congress when sessions resume in July,” the June 7 statement read.
“We believe that investing time in this process will redound to the benefit of all, laying the foundations for peace, prosperity, and progress in Mindanao––a precious legacy that will be cherished by generations of Filipinos, especially our Muslim brothers and sisters in Mindanao, for years to come,” it added.
Iqbal had earlier said that there was supposed to have been a “four-tiered” engagement with the Office of the President on the draft BBL before its submission to Congress.
The first level was supposed to have been between Ochoa and the BTC, hence that joint press statement on June 7. The fourth and last level would have been between President Aquino and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. Only the fourth level-engagement happened, the MILF said in an editorial posted on its website on July 23.
The Malacanang-reviewed draft was handed over to the MILF on June 21. Iqbal and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim were shown a copy of the reviewed draft with Malacanang’s proposed revisions, in Hiroshima evening of June 22.
Murad and Iqbal were in Hiroshima to address The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP 6) on June 23 and met with President Aquino on June 24, shortly before the President addressed the same seminar, where they raised “concerns” over Malacanang’s proposed revisions.
Murad and Iqbal gave no details about what transpired during the meeting with the President that day but two days later, on June 26, Iqbal in a speech in Istanbul, Turkey, said Malacanang’s proposed revisions, if followed, would render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that it seeks to replace. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)