PNoy urges Congress to pass Bangsamoro law before end of 2014

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 July) – President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has called on Congress to pass before the end of 2014 the law creating the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), as he assured in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday that whatever agreement the government will sign with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will be implemented.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal lauded the President’s call. “It’s a welcome development. It goes to show he is serious. We commend him!” he told MindaNews in a text message.

The President, who spoke in Filipino for 1 hour and 42 minutes, discussed the Bangsamoro peace process on the 40th minute.

“Abot-kamay na rin po ang kapayapaan sa rehiyong matagal nang pinupunit ng hidwaan” (Peace is also within reach in the region long torn apart by conflict), he said.

He cited the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in October and noted it has been only nine days since the signing of the second of four annexes to the FAB – the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing. He said he is confident these would be followed by more good news soon.

He said consensus-building is no easy task but both sides are “ready to listen, willing to compromise, and willing to reach a meeting of the minds,” aware as they are of the “consequences of impatience and haste.”

But what is clear, he said, is that “ang mga salitang ating bibitawan ay dapat magbunga ng mga kilos na positibong makakaapekto sa lahat. Ang bawat linya sa binubuo nating kasunduan ay dapat maaaring itaga sa bato, at hindi ililista lamang sa tubig upang anurin na naman ng kasaysayan” (every word we utter must result in an action that would benefit all. Every line that we craft in the agreement we are forging must be set in stone and not merely written on water, only to be forgotten by history).

Addressing specifically the Bangsamoro, the President said his father raised him to be true to his word so “anumang mapagkasunduan natin ay ipapatupad ng pambansang gobyerno” (whatever agreements we come to will be fulfilled by the national government).

He expressed hope that “every Filipino will contribute towards our goals for the Bangsamoro.”

Before yearend 2014

“We will prove that they did not make a mistake in choosing the path of peace; we are ready to lend the strength of the entire nation to lift up the provinces of Muslim Mindanao, who are among our poorest. What we aim for is the triumph of all; we will not allow any of our countrymen to be left behind, while others surpass them,” he said.

The MILF-led Transition Commission, also chaired by Iqbal and composed of eight members of the MILF and seven from the government, will draft the basic law in accordance with the principles set forth by the comprehensive peace pact, which will be signed after the completion of the four annexes to the FAB.

He called on Congress, “maipasa po sana ninyo ito bago matapos ang 2014. Sa gayong paraan, may sapat tayong panahon para makapaghanda sa paghalal ng bagong pamahalaang Bangsamoro sa 2016” (I ask you to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014. This way, we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government come 2016).

Hours earlier, in his inaugural speech as Senate President, Franklin Drilon reiterated the Senate’s support for the peace process in Mindanao and committed to “amend the Organic Act, to institute the necessary reforms called for,” as soon as the comprehensive peace agreement is signed between the government and the MILF.

Reelected House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, said nothing about Mindanao or the peace process in his inaugural speech. (See other story.)

The government and MILF had agreed under the FAB that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM by 2016.

Under the FAB, the parties agreed that upon the promulgation and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the ARMM is deemed abolished and all devolved authorities will be vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

“Very happy”

The President’s call on Congress was met with positive and negative reactions.

“We are behind him and from the very start of my term as regional governor, all of our efforts in ARMM (have been) geared towards a smooth transition to the proposed Bangsamoro entity,” ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman told MindaNews in a text message.

“We are very happy. It’s a marching order given to Congress. I’m glad that PNoy gave a time limit. What he said was really tantamount to Bangsamoro basic law a priority,” said Sr. Arnold Marie Noel of Balay Rehabilitation Center.

Gus Miclat, Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, said the President’s commitment has been consistent so far. “Congress should take heed. Call should tame but may not silence the doubters and those who are perpetually impatient. (It) deserves our collective support but also our redoubled effort, vigilance and accompaniment. At the end of the day, it will be PNoy’s bosses – we the people – who will make and ensure that peace in Mindanao, nay, in the entire land, (will) indeed, finally happen.”

Patricia Sarenas, chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs (Mincode), said “it can be done as long as he will remain ‘on top’ every step of the way! We must continue to keep the faith and help in broadening the constituency for the Bangsamoro.”

“That late?”

Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation and a member of the Council of Elders of the Coalition of Bangsamoro Civil Society, said of the President’s call: “That is worth remembering. Isali sa countdown.”

Maulana Alonto, a member of the MILF peace panel and the Transition Commission, described the President’s call as “good.” But he asked: “Does the call include Congressional support for amending the Constitution to entrench the Bangsamoro Basic Law that is yet be crafted by the Transition Commission?”

Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., of the Cotabato City-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said it is “a good call” but thinks end of 2014 is late.

“Would this mean that referendum will be first quarter of 2015? Then Bangsamoro Transition Authority assumes about mid-2015,” Mercado said, adding, “hopefully this call would not be too late – else by 2016 elections, the results would hardly change.”

The next election is on May 9, 2016.

The government and MILF are set to return to the negotiating table next month, after Ramadhan, to continue negotiations on the two remaining annexes: Power-sharing and Normalization.