DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 August) – The Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will not meet their self-imposed deadline of “end of August” for the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic law to Congress but MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal is confident the submission will be “soon” as they are now “99.99% done” with the final text.
Notes are still being exchanged to resolve the remaining issue which Iqbal declined to name but which he told MindaNews is “no longer as problematic” as the other issues that were finally resolved between August 10 and 27 with Iqbal’s team and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
Iqbal declined to cite a date for submission to Congress. “It’s not good to give a fixed date. Even the President did not give a date (in his recent interview),” he said.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles on August 15 said the consolidated draft BBL would be submitted to President Aquino before end of the following week (August 22) and to Congress before end of the month.
Congress has less than 50 actual workdays until the end of the year. It goes on recess by September 27 and will resume sessions on October 19, will go on recess again from November 1 to 16 and resume sessions by November 17 until the Christmas break from December 20 to January 18.
President Aquino, in an exclusive interview with Bombo Radyo on August 27, expressed hope the draft BBL would be submitted to Congress at the soonest possible. He said the finalization of the draft has taken long because “talagang masusing inaaral bawat isang section at bahagi nitong Bangsamoro Basic Law dahil hinahabol nga natin isang panukalang batas na maibibigay sa ating mga kapatid sa Bangsamoro iyong kanilang inaasam-asam at binibigyan din naman ng kapanatagan ng loob iyong mga kapit-bahay nila na—sa maapektuhan nitong batas na ito” (Each section and provision of the Bangsamoro Basic Law are being carefully studied because we want a basic law that will give our siblings in the Bangsamoro what they aspire for and give assurance as well to the neighbors who will be affected by this law).
The President said there is no issue on the basic principles but transferring those basic principles into the specifications of the law, “iyon medyo nagkaroon ng konting mas matinding negosasyon” (that’s where the negotiation is intense).
But the President said he believes “malaki na ang na-resolve mula noong isang lingo” (so much has been resolved since the other week). He did not cite a date for submission to Congress but said “ang laki ng inabante” (there has been much progress).
The President said he is hopeful that “isang panukalang batas na sinasangayunan ng lahat ng stakeholders” (a basic law acceptable to all stakeholders) will be submitted to Congress at the soonest possible.
The President said he hopes a plebiscite can be conducted at the end of the year “kung pupwede” (if possible) but that would depend on the deliberations of Congress. He said they are working for a “one year and a half” period to allow the Bangsamoro Transition Authority enough time to prove that the kind of governance system (ministerial form) that they are proposing is more appropriate in running the Bangsamoro.”
Under the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, the plebiscite shall be held “not later than 120 days” from the enactment of the BBL.
The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the 15-member joint GPH-MILF body tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), submitted its 97-page draft to Malacanang (Office of the President) on April 22. Malacanang took two months to review the draft, handed over a copy of the reviewed draft with comments and proposed revisions on June 21.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Iqbal, the MILF peace panel chair and concurrent BTC chair raised their “concerns” on the Malacanang-proposed revisions in a “15 to 20 minutes” meeting with President Aquino in Hiroshima on June 24, shortly before the President delivered his keynote address at the 6th Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao Seminar (COP 6).
Murad in an interview with MindaNews said he told the President that they were “very disgusted” by the proposed revisions to the BTC draft because “almost everything was … reformulated” and “it was not only the provisions introduced in the BTC that were changed but even those provisions in the agreement itself were diluted.”
The MILF-led BTC passed a resolution on July 3, elevating its concerns over Malacnang’s proposed revisions to the peace panels. The panels held a total of 21 days of “workshops” in Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Davao but failed to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL. The President also met with the BTC on July 24, four days before delivering his State of the Nation Address on July 28, where he was expected to submit to Congress and certify as “urgent” the draft BBL.
The 10-day “workshop” in Davao ended on August 10. From a morning of “no direction,” it was transformed into an afternoon of action with the arrival of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa who met with the GPH peace panel and later with the MILF to discuss “immediate ways forward.”
Ochoa had since taken over the helm of the negotiations on the final draft BBL on behalf of the government, a process that was supposed to have been the first level of engagement between the OP and the BTC after the submission of the draft BTC on April 22.
After August 10, Ochoa returned to Davao City on August 13 to 15 for an exchange of papers and daily meetings that ended with a Joint Statement by Ochoa and Iqbal on August 15 that they had “concluded discussions” on the “various issues” involving the draft BBL and that the resolutions arrived at would be incorporated into the final draft “that will be prepared and submitted to President Benigno S. Aquino.”
Iqbal and Ochoa met again in Manila starting August 19 with the consolidated draft submitted to President Aquino through Ochoa at 8 p.m. on August 20. Several more meetings were held after the President’s review last week and the last remaining issue is expected to be resolved this week. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)