DAVAO CITY – The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) should not be viewed as a perfect law that will solve all problems besetting the proposed political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the heads of the peace panels of both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said in a forum here Thursday.
Speaking during the media roundtable discussion on the BBL, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MLF peace panel cited that while the bill is a product of 17 years of negotiations, it is only one element that will help achieve lasting peace in Mindanao.
Iqbal stressed, for instance, that it requires good governance and leadership and good implementation of the law to make groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Abu Sayyaf irrelevant.
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the government peace panel said it would be unfair to pin all hopes on the BBL since there are other factors to consider, for example, how to deal with the splintered Moro National Liberation Front.
Ferrer added that while the process of legislating the BBL may appear slow it is much faster than the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and the Freedom of Information Bill, among others.
She commended both the House of Representatives and the Senate for having held several consultations on the BBL.
Iqbal, who also chairs the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), said they are hoping for a “resounding endorsement” of the BBL, citing their “trust in the collective wisdom to pass the BBL.”
“Let us not waste the opportunity to establish peace in Mindanao,” he said as he appealed to media to push Congress to do its job. He added that media, for sure, is interested in stories other than war.
Both panels are expecting Congress to pass the BBL within the quarter to achieve the timetable of having the Bangsamoro government set up by 2016.
On unity in the Bangsamoro, Ferrer said that would be the task of the regional government.
For his part, Iqbal said they “hope for the best” in reaching out to their constituents.
Ferrer said the feats achieved by the peace process in 2014 reflected the trust and confidence that was built, reciprocated and sustained through the years of negotiations.
“We want that trust and confidence should be stronger as we move along…and ensure that all the elements of the comprehensive agreement will be put in place,” she added, citing that such trust and confidence showed in the statements and actions of both panels in different aspects of the agreement.
Ferrer admitted however that based on the results of committee hearings conducted by Congress there is a need to fine-tune the BBL to ensure that it would pass judicial scrutiny.
She said both Houses of Congress have scheduled committee hearings and meetings with governors in affected areas within the month.
Among the issues raised in the roundtable discussion was the need to prolong the transition period. Lawyer Jesus Dureza, president of the Philippine Press Institute and formed chair of the government peace panel, said it should provide enough time for the MILF to “mature politically”.
The MILF last month organized the United Bangsamoro Justice Party in preparation for the first elections for the autonomous government.
Ferrer noted that the MILF decommissioning process has been hampered by the lack of guidelines.
Iqbal said the decommissioning process would follow the Irish Republican Army model, that is, MILF weapons will not be surrendered but merely deposited to a third party. He added the pace of the process will depend on the progress of implementation of political reforms and other terms of the peace agreement.
Lawyer Benedicto Bacani of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance said the process of pushing political and legal reforms is slow and must be viewed within the larger picture.
He said it must be put alongside the goals of attaining respect for identity, addressing instability, and the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination.
“We need to have faith and support the peace process and continue to push for reforms,” said Bacani, who is a member of the Panel of Independent Lawyers supporting the BTC.
Datu Al Abdulla Camlian, a BTC member and a military leader of the MILF, appealed for support to a good BBL that would prevent a resurgence of conflict.
Camlian said the MILF’s decision to enter into a peace agreement with government showed their interest to settle for autonomy not independence.
“We are not seeking independence. We remain citizens of the Philippines,” he added.
After the passage of the BBL it will be ratified in a plebiscite in the proposed Bangsamoro region. The outcome of the plebiscite will determine the geographical scope of the Bangsamoro.
After ratification of the BBL, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the BTC will be replaced by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority which will serve as the interim government in the run-up to the first regional election in 2016.
The forum was organized by MindaNews in partnership with the Embassy of Canada, BTC, Conciliation Resources, European Union and Philippine Information Agency.
MindaNews held a similar activity in September 2014 at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City.
Another roundtable discussion on the BBL with journalists will take place in Cagayan de Oro City next month. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)