Senators push for Bangsamoro law to “prevent another Marawi from happening”

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 27 January) — After seeing the destruction of this city, talking to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leadership and listening to the people in the public hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), senators said on Friday that they will push for the passage of the law before Congress goes on recess on March 24.

“Hindi ko ma-imagine ganoon pala pagkasira. Nakakalungkot (I did not imagine that was the extent of the damage. It was heartbreaking), Senator Cynthia Villar, member of the Senate Sub-Committee on the BBL said. “We have to pass a relevant BBL to prevent another Marawi from happening,” she said.

The senators were given a tour of the former “Ground Zero” or what is now referred to as the MAA or ‘main affected area’ where they saw the effects of the five-month fighting between government troops and ISIS-inspired Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf and their allies.

“No BBL, No Peace”
Various groups stage a rally outside the Dimaporo Gym at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City on Friday, January 26, 2018, while the Senate Sub-Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is conducting a public hearing on the Bangsamoro law inside the gym. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

The  Sub-Committee, chaired by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri held a public hearing at the Mindanao State University in Marawi on Friday, a day after holding a similar hearing in Cotabato City and meeting with the MILF leadership in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

Villar said the extent of damage in Marawi City has moved her to vote for the passage of the proposed BBL draft of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

She said she is confident that the Senate will pass the BBL before the Senate goes on recess on March 24.

“We must put a stop to violent extremism. Dahil sa ginagawa po nating status quo, lalong lumalakas ang violent extremism. Kasi sinasabi po ng mga taong ito, tignan ninyo napabayaan na ang peace process. Lahat ng ipinangako nila hindi natupad ng gobyerno. Kaya subukan po nating pigilan ito. And this is the best time to do it. Dahil ang ating Pangulo, tubong Mindanao” (The status quo is strengthening violent extremism. These peopel are saying, ‘look, the peace process has been ignored, what was promised to them were not fulfilled by government. That’s why we should try to prevent this), Zubiri said.

Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the Commitee on Local Governments, said: “I’d like to commit to Senator Zubiri. We will support the hard work of the chairman and assure that the proposed BBL be reflective and inclusive of all the ambitions and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.”

Enough votes

Senator Joseph Ejercito said he, too, is confident that the BBL draft submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commissionl will muster enough votes at the Senate.

Ejercito said the only obstacle for the passage are some “key constitutional questions” that he expects senators will ask before casting their votes.

“This might be the one instrument that could give lasting peace to Mindanao,” he said.

Ghazali Jaafar, 1st vice chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and concurrent chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsmoro Basic Law, discusses some points with Senator Joseph Ejercito (left) and Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino (center) before the start of the public hearing of the Senate Sub-Committee on BBL in Marawi City on Friday, Jan.26, 2018. Photo by Froilan Gallardo

Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st vice chair and concurrent chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL said they are confident that the senators will make good on their promise.

Jaafar said they think President Rodrigo Duterte has enough clout to persuade the Senate and House of Representatives to vote for the passage of the law.

“We have to trust them,” Jaafar said.

In his opening speech at the public hearing, Jaafar said what happened in Marawi City “was caused not because Muslims do not like Christians. What happened in Marawi City is what we are going to address through the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

He emphasized the BBL is a political solution to the Moro struggle.

“This problem is a political problem. So it cannot be solved by means of social solution or military solution. It can only be solved through a political solution,” he said, citing the need to pass the BBL.

Four versions, Eight versions

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted its draft BBL to President Duterte on July 17 last year, in ceremonial rites witnessed by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.

There are four bills on the Bangsamoro that are pending in the Senate, authored by Pimentel, Zubiri’s which he later withdrew and substituted with the BTC draft, Senator Bam Aquino and Senator Risa Hontiveros.

The Senate Sub-Committee’s task is to consolidate these bills.

At the House of Representatives, there are also four versions that the House Sub-Committee on BBL is consolidating — bills filed by Reps. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao; Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, and the BTC draft filed by Alvarez and co-authors.

The proposed Bangsamoro law is part of the political settlement agreed upon by the government and MILF in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The CAB provides for the creation of a new political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a regional entity that is “autonomous” in name but is dependent on the national government as the present structure has no fiscal autonomy.

BTC Commissioner Atty. Maisara Latiph said the new draft includes 18 new provisions that give more protection to the Lumads and Christian settlers. “The lumads and the settlers are better protected now,” she said.

Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo (1stdistrict), author of one of the four Bangsamoro bills pending at the House, vehemently opposed the inclusion of six Lanao del Norte towns—Baloi, Munai, Pantar, Nunungan, Tagoloan and Tangcal—into the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro territory without a new plebiscite.

But Munai town Mayor Casan Maquiling and Nunungan town Mayor Marcos Mamay pointed out their towns had already voted to be part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in a plebiscite in 2001.

“We should respect that vote,” Maquiling and Mamay told the senators.

The BBL hearings will continue on January 30 at the Senate. Other Mindanao hearings will be held on the second week of February in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Zamboanga. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)