COMMENT: BBL Concerns: Little, Nothing or Big?

I. What MILF Says

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, July 12, 2014 – The peace process between Government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has bogged down after the Office of the President (OP) legal team tinkered with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft to the displeasure of MILF. The GPH and MILF peace panels met in Kuala Lumpur, July 8 to 11, in order to thresh out the kinks.

The special meeting, not negotiation, is crucial to the peace process. If the controversy is not settled to the satisfaction of both parties, the BBL draft might not be submitted to the Congress on July 28. As a consequence, the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro will be adversely affected.

In their joint statement (July 11) from Kuala Lumpur, posted in website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the GPH and MILF Negotiating Panels said they have “ended the special meeting on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law on a positive note” with “modest progress”. They will “continue discussions on specific concerns in Manila within the next few days … in order to ensure that the draft law would be submitted to Congress at the soonest possible time”.

Concerns Raised

The BTC submitted to the OP last April 22 the complete BBL draft for the President to certify and submit as an urgent bill to the Congress on May 5. This was following the protocol or road map agreed by the GPH and MILF peace negotiating panels accompanying the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB).

The BTC is an all-Moro body of 15 headed by MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. Of the 14 members, seven were appointed by Government, the other seven by MILF. The BTC drafted BBL according to its mandate set in Executive No. 120 that had created it and in the FAB and the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities. Evidently, the BBL draft embodies the political settlement MILF has sought and it has the MILF imprimatur.

As known from media reports, the OP legal team would review the BBL draft then consult the BTC and MILF regarding necessary revisions before it would be submitted by the President to the Congress. The review and revisions took time – missing the May 5 submission date. Last June 21 [one report said June 22; Iqbal in his Istanbul speech, June 23], while in Heroshima, Japan attending the conference on peace for Mindanao, MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim and Iqbal received the revised BBL draft and OP lawyers briefed them about the revisions.

Murad and Iqbal were appalled. On June 24, minutes before President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III addressed the conference, they conveyed their concerns to him in a brief meeting. In their own talks at the conference, they alluded to their concerns. During the peace forum in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26, Iqbal bared the MILF concerns in general terms. However, Robert Maulana Marohombsar Alonto, a member of the MILF peace panel, was more forthright in expressing in his Facebook postings his misgivings.

Government must have been alarmed. The OP, the Peace Process secretary and the GPH peace panel chair explained the revisions as part of the strategy to hasten the enactment of the BBL in order to entrench the Bangsamoro on time. The BTC referred the revisions to the peace panels that agreed to meet in Kuala Lumpur, as stated above, to thresh out the concerns in a workshop.

In acknowledging the MILF concerns, Government seems to play down the concerns as a matter for understanding. While pressing its concerns, MILF believes that the problem can be settled if “reasons and consistency prevail”.

Are the concerns just a case of seeing the molehill as a mountain, seeing a molehill or a mountain where there is none, or seeing the mountain as a molehill?

I. What MILF Says

Citing confidential sources, Philippine Daily Inquirer (July 5, 2014: Palace overhauls draft of Bangsamoro basic law) said the BBL draft “was practically mangled by the revisions proposed by the Office of the President.” Iqbal, the report said, confirmed receiving “the draft after its review, with a thick file of comments” which “veer away from the four annexes that are the heart and soul of the two parties’ peace agreement”. Other reports, however, referred to the revised draft as “more refined and strengthened” and ” unifying and integrating”.

PDI was referring to draft copies given to Murad and Iqbal in Hiroshima, Japan a day or two before the international conference on peace (COP6) formally opened last June 23.

Murad’s Concerns

Chairman Murad told MindaNews ((June 24, 2014: PNoy, Murad meet on concerns over draft Bangsamoro Basic Law [1]) that he brought to the President’s attention their “concerns” on the proposed revisions “one by one”. While he declined to disclose details, in his keynote speech, he “hinted his stand” on the revised draft – as did Iqbal in his own speech later. (MindaNews, June 24, 2014: PNoy, Murad in Hiroshima for seminar on BMoro peace pact implementation[2])

These he said:

Peace agreements “by themselves produce no long-term impacts on conflicts. In fact, the experience in the world is that failure to implement an agreement almost always results in a relapse to violence. It is only the persistent and honest implementation of parties to an agreement that peace, development, and the practical benefits to the people are ensured.”

Recalling what he said during the March 27 CAB signing, “The Bangsamoro struggle did not end with the signing of the peace pact but will continue by ensuring that both parties comply with the terms of the agreement.” (Bold text ours)

“While trust is built at the outset of the bargaining process, we cannot discount the possibility of that trust being broken after all has been said and done, despite the shaking of the hands and the exchange of pulpy promises. In all honesty, it is when those promises are actually kept that the parties anticipate that the real and meaningful consequences will follow.”(Bold text ours)

Recalling what the President said of impact of CAB on the entire nation, “As such, the post-agreement implementation phase must endeavor to reflect and support an enduring relationship between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government, based on mutual respect and recognition and a profound commitment to honor the signed agreements of the parties.”

What are his concerns? Contrary to what the President has said at the signing, Government is not honestly complying with the agreements.

Iqbal Enigmatic

Chief Negotiator and BTC Chair Iqbal (MN-6-24-14 [2]), in his talk, “Challenges for the Bangsamoro Future: Post-CAB”, acknowledged that the challenges ahead are “complex and stunning” but parties must ensure that the agreement is implemented in letter and spirit.

He said:

The problem: “Many a good agreement fails to address a particular problem and halt the conflict, because in the end, there is that tendency especially of the powerful partner to dilute the content of the political document like the CAB when the legislated form takes place” – adding, as a consequence, “the other party, usually the insurgent side, will be forced to swallow the hook, line and sinker offered to it or reject it outright.(Bold types ours)

The consequences: “In both scenarios, the conflict will continue to exist, oftentimes with much fury, because in the first case (swallow), other armed groups, usually the more radical ones which do not believe in peace negotiation will condemn the perceived sell-out and will carry on the struggle. In the second scenario (reject), rejection of the watered down legislation would be the handiest recourse of the other party, say the MILF.”

Asked how he feels about the basic law still pending at the Office of the President, “I am not very upbeat about the chance of the GPH (Government of the Philippines) upholding the BBL (Bangsamoro basic law) we crafted.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 26, 2014; No details bared in Aquino-Murad meet)

Just like Murad, Iqbal is concerned that Government is not sincere and honest in complying with the agreements and that this can lead to the continuance of the conflict. But he has not lost hope.

Up to the President: But Iqbal quickly tempered the possible consequences of the “swallow” or “reject” scenarios: “Right now, I still have that faith (in) President Benigno Aquino III that he would not allow the impending full success story of the GPH-MILF peace process to just be waylaid by circumstances” because “real peace in Mindanao is truly befitting his legacy to the nation at large and the generations yet to come.”

He rationalized: “The possibility of a watered down BBL is perhaps more in the mind of people rather than what he intends to do, in partner with Congress. After all, it was he who said time and again that he will not sign an agreement that he cannot implement. The MILF is holding on to this commitment of the President.” (Bold text ours)

In GPH’s hands: Estimating that 60 percent of the draft has been revised – while Gadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs said “as much as possible we want to preserve the content” of the draft – Iqbal says the ball is in GPH’s hands: “The government can still meet its target of passing the law by next year. But there is also possibility it can’t make it on deadline.” (Inquirer Mindanao,, July 7, 2014: Gov’t, MILF to tackle Bangsamoro law in Malaysia)

Istanbul Revelations: But in a speech during a peace forum in Istanbul, Turkey last June 26, Iqbal bared much of his displeasure.

1. The GPH-MILF “peace negotiation is almost a success story”. The CAB signed last March 27, “provides for the negotiated political settlement of the armed conflict and Bangsamoro Question in Mindanao …”

2. The only task left “… is to translate the CAB, which is a political document, into a legal framework to be passed by the Philippine Congress.” The BTC had done this; it submitted the BBL draft to the Office of the President last April 22.

3. “Sad to note … after two months, to be exact 61 days, while I was in Hiroshima, Japan on June 23 … [I]received a copy of the proposed BBL bearing the remarks and comments from the OP, which heavily diluted the original proposal coming from the BTC.” The OP remarks “… on the BBL …” would make an organic law “… worse than the Republic Act No. 9054 …” of the ARMM …which in every bit is an administrative arrangement.” (Bold text ours)

4. He warned “…the challenges ahead appear daunting” and if “… the foreseeable collision of approaches of the two parties …” is not prevented on time, “bickering, blaming and shaming” will overshadow “… the much-heralded signing of the CAB … The direct consequence would be that the BBL will not be submitted to Congress on July 28, in time for the State-of-the Nation Address (SONA) in Congress of President Aquino, or the government would proceed to submit the BBL without the concurrence of the MILF.” (Bold type ours)

5. “The position of the MILF on the proposed BBL is very simple and straight forward. All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the Parties. If reasons and consistency prevail, there is no way this controversy cannot be settled.”

6. The coming of the President to Hiroshima to speak at the peace forum “…is a timely occurrence at the precise moment when many a member of the BTC and the MILF is irritated, if not infuriated, by the almost total disregard of the proposed BBL crafted by the BTC.”

Firing point blank at the OPAPP, “What is amazing is that the very government office tasked to oversee the conduct of the peace process, on the part of government, that led to the signing of the CAB, instead of defending the essence of this historic document or at least inhibited itself out of delicadeza, virtually led the review team of the OP to overhaul almost the entire proposal of the BTC, tasked by the two parties and by the President himself through his Executive Order No. 120 to craft the BBL. …” (Bold type ours)

7. The MILF position is at the same time a warning. Is this serious or just a posturing?

First: “Finally, let me state here that no matter what happens to the BBL, enacted or not by Congress, the MILF will remain focused on pursuing the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination at all cost.”

Second: “The MILF will also leave no stone unturned in exposing the true state of things surrounding the BBL, which must be faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB. Truth must be pursued and error must be shunned.”

Third: “More urgently, the MILF will continue to capacitate our people, including building of institutions, linkages, networks, and alliances, so that they will have greater clout and power in asserting their right to self-determination.”


Coming from its chairman and chief peace negotiator, concurrently BTC chair, what MILF has said is more than a mouthful. There is more.

(To Be Continued)

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. While in Cotabato City, he served as editor of Mindanao Cross and later Mindanao Kris. He is now based in General Santos City. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected].)