Meeting between BTC and tribal leaders postponed

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 1 Sep) – The meeting between members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and tribal leaders of Mindanao was moved to another date from the original schedule of September 1, which falls on a nationwide holiday in observance of the Eid’l Adha (Islamic Feast of Sacrifice).

Lawyer Reuben Lingating, chair of the Government-Indigenous Peoples (GRP-IP) peace panel, said Thursday they have yet to determine the new schedule as they have yet to ask the 20-member BTC, a body tasked to create the draft of the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), “when at their convenience.”

He said the meeting with the BTC would take place supposedly at the last day of the three-day Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Legislative Assembly (MIPLA) at the Mergrande Ocean Resort, Talomo District here.

The MIPLA was aimed to discuss the lumads’ “four bundle of rights” that consist of right to govern their ancestral land, right to governance, right to economic development, and right to integrity and justice system within the context of the new BBL.

“In the legislative assembly, we want to put into words the things they want Congress to appreciate in the consideration of the BBL… and contribute to Congress the things that they want to be considered in the passage of the BBL. That would protect their rights, their interests, and their welfare,” Lingating said.

Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (PAPP) Secretary Jesus Dureza said the tribal leaders will discuss with some members of the BTC the expected output of the legislative assembly, “so that they can find ways how to harmonize” it.

The BTC submitted the draft of the new BBL to President Rodrigo R. Duterte on July 17, and on August 14, it was transmitted in Congress.

When asked what would be the steps to harmonize the new BBL with the concerns of the Lumads, Lingating said: “Let’s not preempt, let’s not prematurely speculate.”

“Just wait what will be the items of this engagement because this is something new, never done before,” he said.

Lingating added they want to contribute to Congress the “things to be considered in the passage of the BBL.”

But Dureza said the tribal leaders must decide for themselves on the next steps whether they will submit a legislative proposal or “how they will express to Congress on the BBL”, saying it should be them “who will make a final decision.”

He said IP leaders do no want to be adversarial with the new BBL but rather find ways and means in understanding each other.

“The purpose is not to inspire and even provoke IPs to do something that will probably be blocking the BBL. The purpose is for the Lumads to be heard by the BTC,” he said.

Dureza assured the BTC was enthusiastic in meeting with the tribal leaders.

Lingating added that Mindanao’s non-Moro IPs have expressed their desire “to join the proposed Bangsamoro government except that they want a Bangsamoro Law that is non-regressive in the recognition of their rights, in the protection of their interests, and in the promotion of their welfare.”

“By non-regressive, we should not in any way, through any act of legislation, diminish what the non-Moro IPs have right now. Otherwise, they will be unjustly differentiated from the rest of the Mindanao IPs who are enjoying their rights under the protection of existing laws,” he said.

Even if the new BBL is already in Congress, Lingating said both parties – representatives of the BTC and Tribal Legislative Assembly – can still confer with one another, and eventually, find a viable political settlement for all non-Moro IP-related concerns that need to be addressed and reconciled.

“In the Constitution, there is what we call the equal protection clause. This means that Congress cannot pass a law that treats a similarly situated group of people differently,” he said.

He said the MIPLA ensures non-IP related issues are not suppressed because they need to know the real issues and concerns to address the roots of “unpeace.”

“The President has, time and again, stressed his policy of inclusiveness. This is the reason why Sec. Dureza wants to hold conversations with the larger peace table, so that a broader spectrum of society is involved and can actively participate in the process of nation-building.,” Lingating said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)