Duterte to MILF: what cannot be included in the BBL, add them via federalism

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 17 June) — Reiterating his camapign for federalism, President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday night urged leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to wait for the passage of the final version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and whatever is not included there can be “added in the federal scheme of things.”

At the start of his 36-minute speech, Duterte told a predominantly Muslim audience gathered at the SMX Convention Center for the Eid’l Fitr celebration marking the end of Ramadan: “The time for federalism has come to our country. We have to move away from the style of unitary form of government.”

President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the predominantly Muslim audience at the EId’l Fitr celebration on Saturday night, 16 June 2018 at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

In the latter part of his speech, he said: “I am for federalism. I am for peace. Kayo Chairman Murad (MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim), yung ano ninyo,” apparently referring to the creation of a new autonomous region under the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), “we can do it now, I said, we’ll just wait for the passage of the law. And we can have the draft already, there existing, to be added in the federal scheme of things,” he said.

It is not clear what “draft” Duterte was referring to. Did he mean the significant provisions that the two houses of Congress deleted or amended be “added in the federal scheme of things” or was he referring to the draft Bangsamoro State Constitution (BSC) for the future Federal Philippines which was handed over to him earlier in the program by Datu Michael Mastura, President of the All Moro Convention?

Mastura, a senior member of the MILF peace panel that negotiated the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in 2012, headed the team of volunteers that drafted the BSC in partnership and collaboration with the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) as part of the latter’s mandate to provide strategic direction for Mindanao, which under the Duterte administration, includes the shift to federalism.

On June 13, Duterte told a crowd of state university and college presidents during a memorandum of agreement signing with the Commission on Higher Education in Malacanang that he hopes the BBL, “however fractured it may be to the others, will see the light of day and just maybe reserve the portion that are with issues, during the constitutional convention” to amend the1987 Constitution to pave the way for the shift to a federal form of government.

He cited “constitutional convention” as mode of amending, amid reports convening Congress into a constituent assembly may be abandoned as there is not enough numbers in the Senate to agree to the House of Representatives’ stand that the two houses should vote together, not separately.

As early as July 22, 2016, Duterte declared in Buluan, Maguindanao, that he wanted the BBL passed and implemented  “bukas kaagad” (literally: immediately, tomorrow), but minus the provisions where constitutionality issues are being raised.

“Then maybe someday, if we go federal, eh yun na idagdag, ibalik doon sa Constitution ng federal, ibalik na natin yung .. ayaw ng gobyerno tapos yung gusto ninyo (let’s add those, let’s incorporate them into the Federal Constitution, let’s restore what government does not like but what you like (into the new Constitution), he said nearly two years ago.

“We will try to pass the BBL”

In the earlier part of Duterte’s speech on Saturday night, he acknowledged the historical injustices committed against the Moro people and the need to address these peacefully.

“Allow me to ask this question: are we ready to fight just like in the Middle East,” he asked, adding a “communal war is more cruel” and an internecine war “really very deadly.”

“We will try to pass the BBL,” he vowed, describing it as “the very least” that the MILF is asking for.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) delegation that attended the Eid’l Fitr celebration Saturday night, 16 June 2018 at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City was led by chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (center), 1st vice chair Ghazali Jaafar, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (L) and Mohagher Iqbal (R), chair of the peace implementing panel. MIndaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

“As I was about to greet Chairman Murad — I reserved this moment for you, Sir — we will try to pass the BBL,” Duterte said. But he quickly added, “I hope Chairman (Nur) Misuari (founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front) can be convinced to join the talks so that if there are corrections or maybe additions or provisions that do not sit well with the Taosug and the rest of the southern part of Mindanao, then maybe we can realize altogether the friction of the MI, MN and the rest of Mindanao.”

“Pero … if we kind of adopt an intransigen(t) behavior – magpatigasan – it will result in war. Kindly, if you want, do not do it on my term,” the President said, adding he would find it difficult to be in the middle. “Sinong barilin ko? Sundalo ng Republika or sundalo ng MI(LF) pati MN (LF) and the rest of the revolutionary forces?” (Who will I shoot? Soldiers of the republic or soldiers of the MILF, MNLF and the rest of the revolutionary forces?)

The Moro revolutionary forces were all represented Saturday night although MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari was conspicuously absent. His faction, however, was represented by his vice chair, his son Abdulkarim and Rolando Olamit, city state chair of the MNLF in Davao City, among others.

Various factions of the Moro National Liberation Front were “reunited,” albeit briefly, onstage with President Rodrigo Duterte for a souvenir photo at the end of the Eid’l Fitr celebration at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City on 16 June 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

The MNLF under Jikiri was represented by Muslimin Sema and Hatimil Hassan, among others.

The MILF was represented by Murad, 1st vice chair and BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar, information chief Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace implementing panel, and other members of the Central Committee.

Duterte said it is important to “get together” to thwart attempts of the Islamic State (IS) to take over “because if we allow the ISIS to take over, my God, it’s going to be bloody and for the Christians and Muslims who are already here established, there will be chaos and total dysfunction.”

Briefly, the faction-ridden MNLF “reunited” on stage during a photo opportunity with the President, as the emcee called on members of the MNLF to come to the stage. Also with them was MinDA chair, Secretary Abul Khayr Alonto, a forrmer vice chair of the MNLF who in March 2014, declared the MNLF had reorganized and that he had taken over from Misuari as chair.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman was in Basilan celebrating Eid’l Fitr with soldiers and Abu Sayyaf surrenderers. He told MindaNews the invitation to Davao reached him on Friday.

“No cuts”

In another part of his speech, Duterte said, “We will try to pass BBL with no cuts. I am sure the Speaker would agree with me,” referring to House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. who also attended the celebration.

Duterte is expected to have known how the BBL versions passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate on May 30 and 31 have been described to have “mangled,” “massacred,” “watered down” the BBL drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which based it on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by the governemnt adn MILF on March 27, 2014.

The BTC was expanded from 15 to 21 to be “more inclusive” and ensure participation of the MNLF factions. The 21-member body is composed of 11 nominees from the MILF and 10 from government, three of them from the MNLF faction under Yusoph Jikiri and Muslimin Sema. Misuari’s faction declined government’s invitation to nominate members to the BTC.

MILF chair Murad described the Senate and House versions of the BBL as “very diluted” although he hopes the provisions they lost on the floor of the two houses can still be restored in the Bicameral Conference Committee meeting on July 9 to 13. The bicam is composed of 18 members from the House and 10 from the Senate. The bicam will meet on July 9 to 13.

Duterte said it is important to “get together” to thwart attempts of the Islamic State (IS) to take over “because if we allow the ISIS to take over, my God, it’s going to be bloody and for the Christians and Muslims who are already here established, there will be chaos and total dysfunction.”

“Perchance, if nothing really works out dito sa BBL, then give us time because I do not want to fight. I do not want to wage war against my own countrymen,” he said before proceeding to his proposal to add to the “federal scheme of things”

Towards the end of the speech, he called on the Moro revolutionary fronts to look into the federalism option.

“Now for the Moro rebels, the main line, let us talk. Why don’t you just also go there and see how we are developing or crafting the system that you want if you want federalism,” he said, but noted he cannot talk about what the final form would be.

He repeated previous pronouncements of wanting to have a federal system with a strong President but reiterated he will step down even before his term ends on June 30, 2022 if the new Constitution would provide for that in the transition period.

The MILF and MNLF factions are supporting moves to shift to federalism although they have different approaches. The MILF has repeatedly said they prefer that the BBL be passed ahead of the shift to federalism. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

 

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