In a public hearing jointly conducted by the House of Representatives’ Committees on Government Reorganization and Muslim Affairs held Thursday in this city, Muslim leaders including top religious scholars from Zamboanga Peninsula including the island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-tawi, expressed support for the immediate passage of the bill into law.
“This would be of great help to the Muslim populace in the country, settling the different issues we Muslims are facing,” said Sheikh Abdulwakil Tanjilil, the deputy Mufti representing Zamboanga Peninsula, Sulu, and Palawan.
“We would like to congratulate the members of the two committees for this laudable move,” added former DepEd superintendent Hadji Abdu Rahim Kenoh.
But former Maguindanao Rep. Datu Michael Mastura said there is a need to look into “what I call cycle of abolition.”
“It is a failed policy. It is a passé unitary colonial formula which keeps Muslims trapped,” he said.
Mastura, a lawyer and historian and a member of the peace negotiating panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said,” the issue is Bangsamoro homeland, not national commission.”
Rep. Erico Basilio Fabian, chair of the Committee on Muslim Reorganization and one of the sponsors of the bill said the hearing is the first public consultation held outside Metro Manila. Their group, he added, will still be conducting similar meetings in the cities of Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
The proposed bill, which is the consolidation of house bills numbers 823, 2347, and 2379, will take over the functions of the would-be abolished Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA).
The proposal states the office will have seven commissioners; five representing different Muslim tribes in the country and two from the women and ulama (religious leaders) sectors.
According to Rep. Pangalian M. Balindong, chair of the Committee on Muslim Affairs, the commission will ensure the “full representation of all the Muslim ethnic tribes as well as sectors in the country, thus ensuring equal services for all.”
The bill will also define respective powers, functions and responsibilities of the commission and appropriate funds.
He added the result of the public consultation will be considered to enhance the bill.
Among the points raised and approved by the body is the power of the commission to nominate and endorse to the President of the Republic of the Philippines highly qualified candidates for posts in the foreign service, especially in the Middle East countries. This will include the positions of ambassadors and other high ranking foreign servicemen.
The commission will also have its different bureaus, particularly focusing on economic affairs, Muslim cultural affairs, Muslim settlement, and pilgrimage and endowment. The committees are also adopting the inclusion of Bureau on Halal Certification.
Other salient features of the bill are the open airline choice for the pilgrims, unlike the present which only allows the use of one airline. The bill also proposes to have a Hajj Attache and Amirul Hajj, who will be helping thousands of Filipino Muslim pilgrims.
Cagayan de Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Technical Working Group working on this bill, said they are now working to fastback its passage into law.
“This bill has been long overdue as Muslims should have already their own commission looking after the Muslim issues and concerns,. This will elevate the present OMA into a national commission” he said, adding that the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) have already their own national commission.
The staff of the two committees said the results of the public consultation will be wrapped up in May or June for endorsement to Senate. The counterpart Senate Bill No. 930 authored by Senator Loren Legarda is also pending in the upper chamber of the Congress. (Nung Aljani/MindaNews)