DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 April) – Two days after its supposed March 31 deadline, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) has yet to submit its draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
BTC chair and concurrent MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal has not been answering MindaNews’ queries since March 31, the day they were supposed to submit the draft BBL to the Office of the President.
Set up by Executive Order in December 2012 in accordance with the October 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), President Aquino named the 15-member Commission – eight from the MILF and seven from GPH – on February 25, 2013.
Chaired by Iqbal, the commissioners held their first meeting on April 3, 2013 in Pasig City and were supposed to end deliberations during sessions held at a luxury hotel in Pasay City after the March 27 signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in Malacañang. But the sessions, started on March 28, have not been finished.
Iqbal late last year announced they were targeting April 2014 for submission of the draft BBL to Congress. But in their courtesy call on President Aquino in Malacañang on January 30, Iqbal said they accepted the challenge to submit the draft sooner, on March 31.
Once submitted, the President, according to the agreement, will certify the bill as urgent.
“Pass my personal muster”
In his State of the Nation Address on July 22 last year, President Aquino urged the Liberal Party-dominated Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before yearend of 2014. Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte have repeatedly vowed to support the bill.
In his speech at the signing of the CAB on March 27, President Aquino said the BTC was “hard at work in drafting a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is equitable, practical, and empowering, and which serves the interests of the entire nation.”
“It is a law that will have to pass my personal muster as a President pledged to do justice to all, before it is submitted to Congress. My administration will go all out to forge a principled consensus for enduring security and prosperity,” he said.
He added that he expects the deliberations on the BBL in Congress to be characterized by a “sincere desire to improve on the Bangsamoro Basic Law—and not by self-interest that only aims to perpetuate an untenable status quo.”
Under the FAB, the GPH and MILF peace panels agreed that the status quo was unacceptable and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Murad meets BTC
A report posted on the MILF website, luwaran.com, on April 2 showed a photograph of MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim with 12 members of the BTC on March 29, two days after the March 27 signing in Malacañang and two days before the supposed March 31 deadline.
The meeting, reported to be the first between Murad and the BTC, was described as a two-hour “fellowship” in the Pasay City hotel where BTC sessions had been held since March 28.
Luwaran.com quoted Murad as telling the Commissioners: “Your mission is to make sure we would succeed …. by structuring the fruits of the negotiations.”
He said the work of the BTC “is no longer part of negotiation, but structuring the fruits of the negotiations” and that there should be “no more adversarial relationship as usually happens in negotiations.”
Murad was also quoted as saying that the MILF considers the GPH as a partner with whom they are “marching in a parallel line” towards development.
Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., head of the Presidential Communications Operations, told reporters in Malacañang on April 1 that the BTC is “on track” even if it missed the March 31 deadline.
“Dumadaloy ‘yung proseso ng pag-aaral na hahantong sa pagsusumite nung draft ang Bangsamoro Basic Law sa panahong nasa loob nung pinagkasunduan. Kaya’t panatag naman sila na umuusad ang prosesong ito sa tamang bilis” (The process is moving towards the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law within the time agreed upon. That’s why they are confident the process is moving at the right pace), Coloma was quoted in the PCOO website.
According to the PCOO report, Coloma said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles “released a statement from MILF Chief Negotiator Mohaquer Igbal (sic) that the MILF is doing what it can to finish the draft.”
“Mr. Iqbal (said) that everything that is needed to be done is being done and that the process is proceeding according to expectations,” Coloma said.
The websites of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the MILF’s Luwaran.com have kept mum over the non-submission of the draft BBL on March 31.
As of 11 a.m. on April 2, the OPAPP website’s headline, “Deles hopes peace deal with MILF will ‘find its way into people’s lives,” has not been replaced. That piece was posted on March 30.
The main story in Luwaran on the other hand is “MILF chief meets BTC Commissioners” but no mention at all about the non-submission of the draft.
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told MindaNews morning of April 2 that the BTC has “asked for an extension to enable them to consolidate the committee drafts and discuss these as a whole.”
Asked until when the extension is, Ferrer replied: “More than anyone else, they (BTC commissioners) know the importance of the time element here. Please cut them some slack.”
Congress on recess
As pointed out by MindaNews in an article on February 11, whether or not the BTC submits on March 31 or April, Congress will still be on recess by then.
According to its calendar, Congress is on recess from March 15 to May 4, will resume sessions on May 5 and will go on sine die adjournment from June 14 to July 27.
The President will deliver his SONA on July 28.