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MILF to Congress: Be not afraid of Bangsamoro Law

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal assured members of the House of Representatives yesterday that the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would not break up the Republic.

Speaking at the House’s first public hearing on  the proposed law, Iqbal said its genuine intention is to create a Bangsamoro region and to recheck the centuries-old injustices committed against the Bangsamoro.

“Be not afraid,” he said, as he asked for the immediate passage of the BBL.

Iqbal said the proposed Bangsamoro region is the sum of the hopes and dreams of his people.

“It may mean nothing to you, but it is the whole world to us,” he said. “It is what we got. It is what we only have. We implore you then to step lightly on these dreams when you discuss the draft law. Do not trample them. Celebrate them. Welcome them.”

Iqbal said some groups will try to sow fear to stop the establishment of a Bangsamoro region.

“For this, they will take advantage of the deeply held biases and prejudices of the people,” he said. “They will use words like dismemberment of the Republic, sellout, violation of the Constitution, surrender, state within a state and even a ploy for eventual independence.” 

Iqbal said the creation of a new autonomous region in Mindanao will maintain Philippine sovereignty and further unite Filipinos.

“We only ask that we be allowed to govern ourselves,” he said. “You shall see the Philippine flag and hear the national anthem sung in our schools and offices. Be not afraid of the Constitution. There are enough flexibilities in it to solve this problem.”

Iqbal said the proposed BBL would protect and respect the rights and beliefs of the indigenous peoples and non-Muslims.

“We will never impose ourselves on communities that prefer to be not part of us,” he said.

Constitutional questions

Some lawmakers said the proposed BBL was riddled with possibly unconstitutional provisions.

Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Aurora Enerio Cerilles said the bill was drafted without thorough consultations and she questioned the MILF’s authority to represent the entire Bangsamoro.

An initial reading showed that the bill was in preparation for eventual secession, she said as she vowed to oppose its passage.

“It will be divisive and lead to another social volcano. It will also not address the problem of poverty, poor health and education, and joblessness in Mindanao,” she said.

Cerilles also questioned the haste by which Malacañang wants Congress to pass the bill.

Representatives Vicente Belmonte of Iligan City and Victor Yu of Zamboanga del Sur raised questions on some provisions of the bill setting a mechanism for areas contiguous to the proposed autonomous region to join it.

Provisions making the process of inclusion to the proposed Bangsamoro region appear vague and unconstitutional, and prone to abuse, they added.

‘Good for the nation’

Presidential adviser for the peace process Teresita Deles said it would be good for the nation to have a political settlement with the MILF.

“We all know the cost of war for the entire country,” she said. “Certainly political settlement is the way of civilized nations and we’re happy that we’re at this stage now.”

Deles said Congress represents the entire country and would be able to further expand the scope of its consultations.

Iqbal sees the proposed Bangsamoro basic law as a shield against radicalism and an insurance against aspirations for independence. 

Speaking at the Senate committee on local government on Tuesday, Iqbal told chairman Ferdinand Marcos Jr. the passage of the proposed law in Congress would be one of the four major changes in Mindanao.

“(The proposed law will) end the long-standing suffering of the Bangsamoro people; foster unity and harmony and bring in economic development in the South,” he said.

“The (BBL) is our best insurance against independence. If the Bangsamoro works to bring peace, development and security to the people, then independence becomes less attractive. People will only leave a relationship when they are treated badly. But if they are treated well, there will be no reason to aspire to be independent.” 

Marcos said the proposed Bangsamoro basic law’s success would benefit the people of Mindanao and the entire Filipino nation.

The public hearing on Tuesday is just the start, and he intends to hold more public hearings on the ground in the next few weeks, Marcos said.

‘Get OIC stand’

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) urged Congress yesterday to get the official stand of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the proposed BBL.

It believes the bill would overlap with its 1996 peace agreement with the government.

Speaking with The STAR over the phone, MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said the OIC secretary-general has called for the CAB’s synchronization with the 1976 Tripoli and 1996 final peace agreements with the MNLF for the Bangsamoro to obtain their most basic right.

“The OIC has brokered the 1996 peace agreement and the OIC has already issued a resolution during the 41st conference of foreign ministers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia expressing concern over the plight of the Bangsamoro Muslims in Mindanao,” he said.

The MNLF will participate in the drafting of the proposed law if the OIC would also be involved in deliberations, Fontanilla said.

The OIC secretariat has spared no effort in bringing the two groups together to establish the stand of the Islamic body towards that conflict, OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani said.

Fontanilla said they had relayed Misuari’s message to reject the CAB’s integration into the 1996 peace agreement.

“The MNLF is now back to its original political objective which is the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik,” he said.

Fontanilla said as the recognized permanent observer in the OIC since 1995, Misuari occupies a seat in the Islamic assembly.

During its annual assembly last year, the OIC passed a resolution urging the government and the MNLF to continue the tripartite review of the final implementation of 1996 peace agreement and to link the CAB  to previous agreements between the government and the MNLF.

MNLF-MILF meeting

Former Cotabato City mayor Muslimin Sema said the OIC will convene in Manila on Oct. 13 MNLF and MILF representatives in the Bangsamoro Coordinating Forum (BCF).

Syed El-Masry, a representative of the Egyptian government, will preside over the meeting, he added.

The chairman of the largest MNLF faction said the MILF is an indispensable component of the BCF.

“We look forward to a good meeting, where we in the MNLF and our brothers in the MILF can possibly ‘harmonize’ our diverse positions on how to solve this decades-old Mindanao Moro issue,” he said.

Sema said they are optimistic the MILF will participate in next month’s BCF meeting.

About 90 percent of the 42 “consensus points” reached in the review of the government-MNLF peace pact involving representatives of the OIC and Malacañang are stated in the CAB and the draft Bangsamoro basic law, he added.

The OIC organized the BCF last June as a venue for cooperation between the MNLF and the MILF  to push the Mindanao peace process forward. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, Perseus Echeminada, John Unson, Edith Regalado

BANGSAMORO FONTANILLA IQBAL LAW MILF MINDANAO MNLF OIC PROPOSED
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