Lawmaker lauds MILF, hits gov’t negotiators

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 August) — A partylist lawmaker lauded the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for vowing to push for the peace process even if the Bangsamoro Basic Law is not passed before President Aquino’s term ends next year, but chided government negotiators for allegedly yielding to the MILF’s wishes.

Speaking in Monday’s Kapehan sa Dabaw at SM City, 1-BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello III said the MILF’s pronouncement should allay fears the peace process in Mindanao cannot move on.

“That’s a good position. Unang-una remember they are already committed to the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) and the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro), signatories sila eh,” he said.

The draft BBL submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission was based on the terms of the FAB and CAB signed by the government and MILF on October 15, 2012 and March 14, 2014, respectively.

However, the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on the BBL had made changes into the bill.

In the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the local government committee, wanted to introduce a bill that would supplant the BBL with his own version of the Bangsamoro political entity, arguing that the original draft bill contain unconstitutional provisions.

“When (Mohagher) Iqbal said they cannot accept a watered-down BBL, I told the other lawmakers not to react. He is just doing his job as chief peace negotiator of the MILF, and we have to understand them,” Bello said in Tagalog.

In a recent media forum, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said it would be ideal to pass the BBL before Aquino steps down.

But Murad assured that even if the BBL is not passed during the Aquino administration the MILF will continue pushing for the implementation of the other aspects of the agreements and their annexes.

As part of the agreement, 145 MILF fighters and 75 high-powered firearms and crew-served weapons were decommissioned in June. The weapons were turned over to the International Decommissioning Body led by Turkey.

The rest of the MILF forces and their weapons will be decommissioned based on the progress of the implementation of the peace agreement.

Murad asked Congress to fast-track the approval of the BBL to expedite the decommissioning process.

Also on Monday, Bello said the government peace negotiators were at fault for allegedly submitting to the demands of the MILF.

“I’ve been with the negotiation for 14 years. In every negotiation, it is part of your negotiation skill or strategy that when you ask for something, you ask for the maximum. If you cannot reach the maximum, you get the optimum,” he said.

He said Iqbal’s previous pronouncement that they could not accept a watered-down version of the BBL was part of his tack as negotiator to strengthen their position.

“When Iqbal said ‘we will not accept a watered-down version’, that’s part of his negotiating skill kasi alam nilang tatawad tayo (because he knew we will bargain). Yan ang mali ng (That’s the fault of the) negotiators,” he added.

Murad said the MILF was open to amendments in some provisions of the original draft if necessary, but the final draft should not be anything less than the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which Aquino himself has called a failed experiment.

An acceptable version of the BBL “means in accordance with the CAB and FAB and their annexes,” he said.

He said the passage of BBL will benefit not only the MILF but also the Bangsamoro people.

ARMM executive secretary Laisa Alamia said achieving peace in the war-torn region would not be a walk in the park and that the BBL could not solve all the problems.

But she emphasized that its passage will be a necessary first step.

“The only solution to the problem is to continue the peace process,” Murad said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)