Next step: Bangsamoro Law

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - After the signing of the four annexes of the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the next focus is on the crafting and enactment of a law that will establish a Bangsamoro political entity, a Palace official said yesterday.

Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Bangsamoro Basic Law is being drafted and will be submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to Congress in May.

The commission is a 15-member body created by the government and the MILF, and composed mostly of Muslim scholars.

“Once this bill is enacted into law, then it will be submitted to the people (of Mindanao) for a plebiscite,” Coloma said in his regular weekend interview over state-run dzRB.

On Saturday, the government and the MILF signed a deal on normalization, the last of the four annexes to the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro. Negotiators from both sides also inked the addendum on Bangsamoro waters, which outlines the delineation of territorial waters that will be governed by the Bangsamoro entity as well as arrangements outside the region’s maritime limits.

Signed last year were the three other annexes of the framework agreement – the annex on transitional arrangements and modalities, annex on revenue generation and wealth sharing, and annex on power sharing.

The framework agreement, signed in October 2012, envisioned the creation of the Bangsamoro government that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in June 2016, before President Aquino steps down from office.

Disbandment of armed groups

According to government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, part of the normalization process is the “disbandment” of private armed groups in Mindanao, particularly those attached to politicians.

A third party “independent body” will also be put up which will be in charge of “decommissioning” or will make a list and verify MILF forces who want to return to the fold of the law.

It is also in this normalization process where MILF rebels are expected to “lay down” their arms, and where government, in turn, will “reduce its military presence” in areas that will eventually be considered part of the Bangsamoro region.

If results of the plebiscite will be a resounding yes to a Bangsamoro region, then its officials can establish a political party which can join the presidential elections in May 2016.

Within bounds of Charter

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. yesterday said Congress will craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would ensure full implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF within the bounds of the Constitution.

Belmonte said the House of Representatives is keenly awaiting the proposed Basic Law being drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

“We strongly support initiatives for lasting peace and prosperity in Mindanao and this will surely be well-debated in the House. But there’s no doubt in the sincerity and eagerness of members of the House to do excellent work in crafting the Basic Law,” Belmonte said.

He said he dispatched at least six lawmakers to the signing in Kuala Lumpur of the Annex on Normalization on Saturday to act as observers and to show the chamber’s continued support for the peace process.

The House leader said he expects there would be no need to amend the Constitution in fully implementing the forthcoming final peace agreement.

Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman, chairman of the House committee on peace, reconciliation and unity, said he felt overwhelmed witnessing the signing of the last annex.

“It is historic in the sense that the substance of the agreement encompasses the most critical part, which is the ‘demobilization’ (of armed component) as a major component of the normalization, and it gives a very defined process on how to go about it,” Hataman said.

Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, who also witnessed the signing in Kuala Lumpur, said she was looking forward to the completion of the final peace agreement “so we can start working in Congress.”

“We will do our best to stick to the timeline of passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law, but without compromising the content, the essence and the spirit of the law,” she said. “It must be a law not just of the government, the MILF or any other entity, but a law of and for the people.”

Free for all

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday gave its blessing to the MILF’s plan to form a political party and participate in the 2016 elections.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said he sees no reason for the poll body to block the possible entry of the MILF into the political arena.

“Members of the MILF are also Filipinos, so why would we stop them if they want to form a political party and run in the next elections,” Brillantes said in an interview.

Gov’t warns spoilers

The military, for its part, vowed yesterday to continue operations aimed at preventing spoilers from disrupting the gains of the government’s peace talks with the MILF.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said they would also pursue programs that seek to promote development in the Bangsamoro communities.

“Rest assured that our focused military operations will continue, to ensure that the peace process is not hampered or disrupted by spoilers and other threats,” Zagala said in a statement.

“The AFP is optimistic that lasting peace and sustainable development for Mindanao are now in our reach as the government is in near realization of forging a final peace agreement with the MILF,” he added.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th division, said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the breakaway group of the MILF, is expected to oppose the peace agreement.

“If they launch attacks, our soldiers and policemen are ready,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso said the MILF is working with the government through the ceasefire mechanisms to prevent the BIFF from entering other communities.

- With Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Alexis Romero


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