MANILA: A law granting more autonomy to the Philippines’ Muslim minority became “collateral damage” to internal leadership issues in the country’s lower house of Congress, according to the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process, Secretary Jesus Dureza.
The historic signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was supposed to be the highlight of President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday, July 23. But to the dismay of many who have been expecting this, it did not happen.
Nonetheless Duterte, in his speech, vowed to sign the BOL within the next two days.
“I made the solemn commitment that this administration will never deny our Muslim brothers and sisters the basic legal tools to chart their own destiny within the constitutional framework of our country. When the approved version (of BOL) is transmitted and received by my office … give me 48 hours to sign it,” the president stressed.
The Senate earlier in the day adopted and ratified the bicameral conference committee version of the “Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” or the BOL, during its third regular session.
Expressing high hopes how the BOL will promote development to southern Philippines, Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri said: “I believe this is the dawn for the new beginning for Mindanao. A dawn of peace followed by unhampered prosperity for our region.”
Both houses of Congress were supposed to ratify the measure first before it is transmitted to the President for his signature.
However, an unexpected turn of events at the House of Representatives caused a setback to the signing of the new law that is deemed to end decades-long insurgency in southern Philippines. The lower chamber abruptly adjourned without ratifying the proposed bill.
Malacañang spokesperson Harry Roque said it was unfortunate that the BOL was not ratified at the lower house, but they consider this a temporary setback in the administration’s goal of laying the foundation for a more genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao.
“We, however, remain confident that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will sign the Bangsamoro Organic Law as soon as both houses of Congress finally ratify the bill,” he said.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Jesus Dureza, likewise said the failure to ratify was unfortunate but stressed that it had nothing to do with the BOL itself.
“It was due to some leadership issues internal to the House of Representatives. The BOL’s non-ratification came when the House suddenly adjourned and had nothing to do at all with some substantive issues of the proposed law,” he said.
“The ratification, which it deserves, will take place as a matter of course,” Dureza continued.
The BOL is part of the political track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) – a peace deal that was signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014. It is seen to strengthen the current autonomy set-up for the Moros in Mindanao, giving them more control over their resources and political power over the new Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
MILF chair Ibrahim Murad, who has been looking forward to the signing of the bill, said they consider the BOL 80 to 90 percent compliant to CAB.
“Maybe this is the best we can get for now. But anyway, there is still some room for us to get our other demands that were not included on the BOL, maybe through democratic process,” Murad said.
“At least we are thankful we have reached this stage after 17 years of peace negotiations with the government,” he continued, adding that they will need the support of the Bangsamoro people to ensure its success once the president signs the BOL into law.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman had earlier also welcomed the approval of the BOL by the bicameral committee, saying it moves the Bangsamoro people “closer to having a regional government that is reflective of our times and is responsive to the most urgent needs of the Bangsamoro.”
“(The law) is now a piece of our history — one that speaks of our struggle as we assert our rights as a people, and of the sacrifices we share together with the Filipino people who were unwavering in their belief and commitment to meaningful development, lasting peace and justice for all.”
Alih Aiyub, National Ulama Council of the Philippines Secretary General, said the organic law will usher in genuine autonomy for the attainment of lasting peace and sustainable development in Mindanao and the whole country
The League of Bangsamoro Organizations, for its part, said the organic law “could help build the trust of our people in fighting for their rights through a democratic and universally accepted solution of conflict instead of prolonging the war as an option.”
After the BOL becomes a law and is ratified in a plebiscite, the decommissioning of about 30,000 to 40,000 MILF combatants will begin. Murad said this will be done in three phases.
The MILF chair earlier told Arab News that was is not an option for them, when asked about their plan if the proposed Bangsamoro fails. He warned, though, that if this happens, it could further strengthen extremism in the southern Philippines.
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