New fighting in Mindanao feared with stalled BBL
Jim Gomez (Associated Press) - February 3, 2016 - 2:55am

MANILA, Philippines — Congress has run out of time to pass under the current president's term a Muslim autonomy bill that aims to peacefully settle a decades-long Muslim rebellion in the south, sparking concerns the setback may ignite new fighting, officials said.

Senators and members of the House of Representatives had until Wednesday to deliberate on the bill before they start a three-month break at the end of the week. The long-delayed bill is at the heart of a peace deal signed by the largest Muslim rebel group in the south and the government of President Benigno Aquino III, whose term ends in June.

The killing of 44 police commandos in fighting that involved some of the guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front early last year scuttled the early passage of the Muslim autonomy bill outlined in the 2014 peace deal. The separatist conflict in the southern Philippines has left 150,000 people dead and stunted development in the country's poorest region.

While the Malaysian-brokered peace deal remains effective, a new autonomy bill will have to be presented to the new Congress under Aquino's successor. The presidential election is May 9.

"This delays the final settlement," said Teresita Deles, a presidential adviser on the talks. "There will be elements that will completely lose hope that this can really be done."

Government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said hardline groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which opposed peace talks and vowed to continue fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation, could exploit the setback.

"They will be emboldened to renew their course in the hope that they will harvest the discontent," Ferrer said.

Mohagher Iqbal, a senior rebel leader, has said that delays in the passage of the autonomy bill and efforts to water it down have sparked "frustration" among guerrillas and Muslims in the south. Residents have staged rallies to protest the delays in the bill's passage in two predominantly Muslim cities.

The bill, which was submitted to Congress in 2014, aims to create a new autonomous region in the south for minority Muslims. It has to have its own powers over such areas as agriculture, trade, tourism and education.

BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS BILL HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES MIRIAM CORONEL-FERRER MOHAGHER IQBAL MORO ISLAMIC LIBERATION FRONT PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO QUOT ROMAN CATHOLIC TERESITA DELES WHILE THE MALAYSIAN
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