MANILA, Philippines – Mohaqher Iqbal, the chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), asked Congress on Tuesday to “work around the flexibility of law” in tackling the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that is aimed at ending decades of rebellion and achieve lasting peace in the Mindanao region.
Malacañang has submitted to the House of Representatives the draft BBL, which will guide the chamber in crafting the bill.
Iqbal, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which is comprised of representatives from the government and the Moro rebels, exhorted the House to stick with the version of the BBL as submitted by the BTC that, he said, was “reflective of the true aspiration of the Bangsamoro people.
“For the sake of just and lasting peace and development, we urge our honorable legislators to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law submitted by the BTC,” he said in a message at the launch of the book “Beyond Peace Tables: Reflections on the GPH-MILF Peace Process” authored by Dato Tengku Abdul Ghafar.
He added: “Any other proposed bill, like or similar or lesser than RA 9054 that created the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), runs counter to the agreements of the parties and, more seriously, will only prolong the sufferings and agonies of the people.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to our esteemed legislators who are present today to look at the Bangsamoro problem as a political and not a purely legal issue,” he said, elaborating that some Philippine Constitution luminaries see the charter as a political document.
“So, the interpretation is not strictly legal but political,” he said.
He added that many, if not most, of the provisions in the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s submitted BBL are in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which is an agreement signed between the Government of the Philippines and the MILF.
“The bottom line is, as Congress goes through this legislative process concerning the proposed BBL of the BTC, we ask that our honorable legislators go by what will achieve justice, and what will achieve the purpose of justice. This means having to work around the flexibility of law,” he said.
The BBL is among the bills set by the House as a priority for passage. Several lawmakers have filed their own version of the measure.
In the recent 16th Congress, the bill was not passed for lack of time.
Passage of the bill will be seen as a major achievement for President Rodrigo Duterte, who was a mayor in a Mindanao city for 22 years and has made peace deals a priority for his government.
The submission of the bill comes at a critical time amid fears that rebel groups allied with Islamic State have been exploiting disillusionment over the failure of the previous Congress to pass the law, and have used it to recruit fighters.
The Mindanao region remains under martial law, which was declared in May 23 this year, and was extended until December 31, 2017, following clashes between government forces and the IS-inspired Maute group in Marawi City.