Murad to PNoy in recent meeting: passing BLBAR will throw away peace process

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 27 January) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) looks forward to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but not the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR), the substitute bills of the House of Representatives and the Senate, as doing so would throw away the gains of the 18-year old peace process with government (GPH), MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said.

“We are still hopeful na ma-push ng Presidente ‘yang original na BBL na maipasa.. we are sticking to the commitment of the President. We are holding on to that,” MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews on Tuesday.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim says the MILF is still hopeful that President Benigno Aquino III can still push for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). But he told MindaNews in an interview in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 26, 2016.  MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim says the MILF is still hopeful that President Benigno Aquino III can still push for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). But he told MindaNews in an interview in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 26, 2016. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO 

Murad said there has been no change in the President’s commitment and his “persistent assurance na maipasa ang original BBL” during their meeting in Malacanang on January 12.

Murad said that in the meeting that “took us more than one hour, almost two hours,” he reiterated to the President that they cannot accept the BLBAR, the substitute bills to the BBL — House Bill 5811 and Senate Bill 2894 — in their present form as these versions, both titled BLBAR, envision a Bangsamoro “less autonomous than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that they seek to replace.”

The GPH and MILF, after 17 years of peace negotiations, signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014 which provides for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, to replace the ARMM whose structural defects make it more of an administrative rather than autonomous region.

In July and September last year, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the 15-member joint GPH-MILF commission that drafted the BBL, sent Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte an initial list of 28 issues on HB 5811 and 87 issues on SB 2894 along with their comments on the changes on substantive provisions of the draft BBL, including the autonomy framework.

The draft BBL was vetted and finalized by the BTC with the Office of the President into what is now being referred to by Murad as “original BBL” or “agreed version,” before it was submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014, in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang. This “agreed version” became HB 4994 and SB 2408, later substituted by HB 5811 and SB 2894 after the committee hearings in both houses.

In the House of Representatives, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL and principal sponsor of HB 5811, has repeatedly said they cannot restore provisions they deleted from the draft BBL into the BLBAR and that they have deleted the controversial opt-in provisions which are provided for in the CAB.

Rodriguez was reported last week to have said they hope to pass the law by January 27.
The House finished its period of interpellation on December 16 and is still on the period of amendments. Between January 27 and February 5 are only four session days. The Senate is still on the period of interpellation.

Murad said that in his meeting with the President, “I clarified to him na hindi natin matatanggap ang BLBAR” (we cannot accept BLBAR).

He said the President “can decide which bill gusto nya tanggapin or hindi nya tanggapin” (which bill he wants to accept or not accept.”

Asked if the President hinted he would veto the BLBAR, Murad replied: “That is one option he has. He knows that if the bill passed is not acceptable to the MILF, then it will mean throwing out the peace process.”

He said there might be a repeat of history similar to what happened with the peace process with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) when Congress passed what is now RA 9054 in 2001.

The Final Peace Agreement between government and the MNLF in 1996 provided for an expanded and enhanced autonomy, much more than the ARMM whose creation in 1989 the MNLF objected to. In the deliberations of RA 9054 in Congress, however, the MNLF, chaired by Nur Misuari, repeatedly criticized the proposed law for envisioning an autonomous region that is less autonomous than the ARMM.

The President has three options on bills passed by Congress: sign it into law, let it lapse into law or veto it.

In the case of RA 9054, then newly-installed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, allowed it to lapse into law.

“We are maintaining our partnership with the Office of the President, so whatever action he will take we are hoping kokunsultahin kami kasi we are partners,” Murad said.

Murad had repeatedly said that they would rather have “no BBL” than a watered down basic law.

He said if the President signs a watered down law, “it basically closes the (peace) process… dahil once it becomes a law, then they will proceed with the implementation without the MILF. The MILF will not support its implementation process.”

The CAB provides that there should be no unilateral implementation of the agreement.

Asked if he and the President discussed what to do if the BBL is not passed by the time Congress adjourns next week for the election campaign, Murad replied: “Palagi nyang sinasabi ‘we have no Plan B.’ Sa amin din, we don’t explore Plan B because gagawin na lang natin anong Plan B when time dictates. Sa kanila .. ang tingin nya maipasa pa rin” (He always says ‘we have no Plan B.’ On our part, we don’t explore Plan B because we will do Plan B when time dictates. On their part, he thinks it can be passed.”.

But with a very limited time and the persistent problem of lack of quorum in the House, Murad said that if it is already conclusive that the BBL won’t pass, “then the two panels should sit down and plan what will happen to the peace process.”

The panels are meeting next month in Kuala Lumpur.

Murad said he does not see the MILF accepting the BLBAR if that is the law that will be passed.

“Definitely that will not happen because the peace agreement is a product of hard work so we cannot afford to barter the struggle of the Bangsamoro people, so hindi mangyayari yung ganon. If there are some people who will accept – pero until the MILF as an organization officially declares na yung bill is acceptable — the implementation of the CAB is not unilateral. It has to be agreed upon by the parties. So kahit na merong tatanggap, hindi pa rin binding sa MILF as an organization,” Murad said.

Murad had earlier said that if the BBL is not passed under the Aquino administration, they still have the CAB and they will continue to demand from government the implementation of the peace agreement. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)