Congress buries Bangsamoro bill

Jose Rodel Clapano (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The nation was urged to keep calm yesterday as Congress went on recess without passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to create a Muslim homeland in Mindanao, raising the possibility of hostilities again breaking out.

“Let me state the fact: the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, in whatever shape or form, did not make it out of the 16th Congress,” chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said, blaming what she called “sheer indifference and chronic absenteeism” of legislators in the House of Representatives.

She said Filipinos, particularly Muslims, who had expected its movement forward were “grieving, hurting and once again dreading what tomorrow may bring.”

“However, the collective inaction of our legislators to complete the deliberation on the BBL did not, and will not, stop the momentum of the Bangsamoro peace process. At this low point, we call for sobriety and perseverance,” she said.

Earlier, Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao in the House of Representatives, effectively threw in the towel on the BBL, saying the inaction of legislators had killed the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and potentially usher in a new round of fighting in the south.

He blamed the “sheer tyranny of the majority” for shutting the door on the BBL, the final piece of the puzzle which would give a legal framework to the MILF’s quest for self-rule, encapsulate a wealth-sharing scheme and spell out how to “decommission” rebel firearms and reintegrate the combatants to mainstream society.

Ferrer said all the efforts they had put to make sure the BBL was passed “amounted to nothing, along with millions of pesos of taxpayers’ money used to finance these drawn out proceedings.”

However, Ferrer stressed that the peace pact was a binding document for both the government and the MILF that remains valid.

“We need to take away the fear and distrust of the Bangsamoro for our country to become whole. We therefore urge our politicians and fellow citizens to take the time to study the history of the conflict and the peace process so as to get a better understanding of the road map and our unflinching efforts to see it through,” she said.

The MILF has blamed hardline lawmakers for the failure to pass the BBL, and acknowledged that the Mamasapano incident was the main reason for the inaction.

“There are countless exceptions, but generally Filipinos are not ready for reconciliation. Congress had just shown it. They are making it very hard. They are still in the state of denial,” an editorial of the MILF on its website Luwaran.com said.

“Their thinking and what they say are still reminiscent of the bloody days of Spain in this country. They still see the Moro as sub-human, not deserving of equal treatment,” it said.

“The BBL is not the first agreement set aside by government. It seems it is already systemic,” it stressed.

It said the police commandos were the ones to blame for last year’s tragic incident at Mamasapano by deliberately ignoring the chain of command and a ceasefire agreement requiring “prior coordination in case of movement of troops or police actions.”

“They also tagged a partner in peace, the MILF, as ‘enemy,’ and the 6th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), a sister military organization, as ‘unreliable’,” it said.

The MILF editorial, however, acknowledged President Aquino did all he could, and put the blame squarely on congressional leaders.

It did not give any hint of how it would move forward, but rebel spokesmen have consistently raised fears of a possible disillusionment of young fighters who may join other armed, terrorist groups such as Islamic State.

Roadmap to peace

Despite the failure of Congress to pass the BBL, Ferrer said the road map for peace is still available for the next administration to continue the peace process that President Aquino has started with the MILF.

She said the next administration would not start from scratch if it decides to continue the peace process with the MILF.

“We have the road map. It is better that we continue that. Look on how to mobilize Congress again. We all know that Congress is a separate branch of government. So, what the president needs is to use the same muscle and strength of his alliance with Congress,” Ferrer said an interview with TV5 on Tuesday.

Ferrer admitted the dynamics in Congress have changed because of the coming May elections.

“The previous leverage and hold of the President in Congress is no longer available now. But we still see in the President that his appeal continues. The use of reason and explanation is why we need to implement the BBL. So, it is not easy to put blame on others. At the end of the day, where did the BBL die? It is really in the hands of Congress,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer cited the amendments in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were passed in February 2011 during the second Congress and were carried over.

“It was over three years before it was passed. It is also a very long process,” she said.

She added the death of the BBL saddened her because the next administration would inherit the problem and conflict in Mindanao instead of a peaceful and orderly situation in the region being eyed by the Aquino government.

“The next administration will face the same problem once they are already here. But, of course, we are expecting that it will not result to a heightened conflict should the government and the MILF stand by the peace agreement,” she said.

Ferrer lamented many who are misinformed are against the peace process without studying the situation.

“They are not checking if what was reported or what they are saying are right. So, that is included in the problem. The incident in Mamasapano was spinned. It has been the center of the effort on different political agenda and those people in the area were the ones being sacrificed,” she said.   – With Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude, Aurea Calica

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