CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 24 January) – The chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has appealed to Congress to give importance to peace by passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) because it is “very important, more important than the election.”
MILF chair Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim narrates some of the atrocities committed against the Bangsamoro people like the Jabiddah and Manili massacres during the peace summit at Camp Darapanan on Sunday (24 January 2016). Ebrahim reminds participants to call for justice to attain peace. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Murad told a press conference on Sunday afternoon after unveiling a peace marker inside the camp with Man Hee Lee, chair of the South Korea-based Heavenly Culture, World Peace Restoration of Light (HWPL), that what is at stake is the fate “not just of one politician but the entire Bangsamoro and the entire Filipino nation.”
In Manila, also on Sunday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said passing the BBL will not only improve the fate of the Bangsamoro region but also change the discourse on Mindanao as it will signal the closing of the armed conflict with the largest Moro rebel group in the country.
“What we need to see at this point in time is the big picture. The farsightedness… because, in reality, this law is not only for the present but it will also affect the future of the Bangsamoro,” the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) press release quoted her as saying.
Deles said the passage of the BBL should not be passed on to the next administration but “rests on the incumbent political leaders we have today.”
“We will keep on pushing and not give up hope on this,” she said.
She acknowledged that “it’s a very tight window but those who know the legislative process said that it is still possible.”
6 session days, or 3?
There are only six session days left starting Monday, January 25, until Congress adjourns for the election campaign. But Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL said the House agreed to vote on the bill on January 27 or on the third session day this week.
The House ended its period of interpellation on December 16 and is now on the period of amendments. Its attendance record last week, however, was dismal. It adjourned on Monday due to lack of quorum, started the turno en contra on Tuesday but Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat didn’t finish because there was no longer a quorum. The session was adjourned on Wednesday, again due to lack of quorum. Session days are Mondays to Wednesdays.
The Senate has yet to terminate its period of interpellation. No discussion on the BBL was made within the three-day sessions last week. On January 27, the target date of the House for passage of its version, the Senate will re-open investigation on the Mamasapano Tragedy that left 66 persons dead last year – 44 from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police, 17 from the MILF and five civilians.
The tragedy’s other casualty was the Bangsamoro peace process as it became the game changer in the 18-year old peace process, 17 of that in negotiations to reach an agreement, the rest in implementation.
The government and the MILF had earlier agreed that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, which would take on a parliamentary form of government.
What is being deliberated on in Congress, however, is no longer the BBL drafted by the joint government-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and finalized with the Office of the President, but the substitute bills – HB 5811 and SB 2894 – both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BLBAR).
Both substitute bills, however, have been criticized for envisioning a Bangsamoro that is ”less than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace.”
Rodriguez told MindaNews on Tuesday that the BTC proposal to have 28 substantive provisions that HB 5811 deleted from the BBL be restored into the BLBAR, will not happen.
“Not one of the 28 provisions will be restored,” Rodriguez said.
Asked to comment on Rodriguez’ declaration, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews last week: “OP (Office of the President) will answer for that,” he said, adding that as the MILF has repeatedly said, “a diluted BBL is unacceptable.”
In Sunday’s press conference, Murad said Rodriguez’ opinion is “not the totality of the opinion of Congress.”
“Di natin maaring sabihin na final na yun,” (We cannot say that is final), he said, adding “final” is “after the session of Congress.”
He said they will not entertain the opinion of an individual member of Congress.
Rodriguez is chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL and principal sponsor of the substitute bill, HB 5811 or BLBAR.
Murad acknowledged that the timeframe is now “really very, very short” but stressed that if legislators are decide to pass the “original BBL,” there is still a chance.
He said there is still time for the legislators to restore the important provisions of the BBL into the BLBAR.
At the Senate, Murad said the period of interpellation can be cut short so it can proceed to the period of amendments. He said this is “a matter of their political will kung ipasa or hindi (to pass or not to pass).
Beyond the Aquino administration
Murad said they will “continue our struggle” to achieve peace and will continue to push government to implement the CAB under the Aquino administration and beyond because it is government’s obligation to do so.
He explained that while the BBL is just one part of the implementation phase, “pero tio ito ang pinakaimportante” (but this is the most important) because the other processes that are tied up with the passage of the BBL like decommissioning of the MILF’s weapons and combatants, cannot move forward unless the BBL is passed.
He said there are other aspects in the Normalization process that will not be implemented unless the BBL is passed. “But we will continue to search for peace,” he said.
“We are not closing our struggle,” he added.
Aside from pushing government to implement the peace agreement, the MILF, Murad said, will continue to work with civil society and the internatio0nal community. He said the partnership with the HWPL is oen way of pushing for peace.
In his speech at the peace summit before the unveiling of the peace marker, Murad said “while peace is within sight, up to now it is still out of reach.” Peace, however, must be based on justice, he said.
“The Bangsamoro Question is a conflict whose resolution begs for justices so that there will be genuine peace. This is an axiom that is true not only for the Bangsmoaro alone but for all conflicts around the world,” Murad said.