EVEN as Congress considers the Palace’s proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, President Benigno S. Aquino III yesterday called on “citizen leaders” to convene a national peace summit to review the measure that lawmakers have found to be replete with constitutional infirmities.
Aquino made the call in a national television address marking the first anniversary of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that the government signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“The Bangsamoro Basic Law is one of the most important proposed bills of our administration,” Aquino said in his address where he also warned lawmakers to pass the bill or start counting “body bags.”
He warned it would be difficult to restart peace talks if the current process failed and the MILF leadership lost its influence among its members to more radical elements.
Aquino said he is fully aware that the Mamasapano incident last January 25, where 44 Special Action Force troopers died, have sowed doubt in the minds of Filipinos and has supposedly pushed aside the objective evaluation of the BBL.
“To address this, I am inviting citizen leaders known for their wisdom and integrity to stand as independent convenors,” said Aquino.
He named those who will be convening the peace summit as Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Ambassador Howard Dee and peace advocate Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.
Aquino said they will gather other responsible and respected leaders to spearhead the national peace summit to “deliberate on and discuss the BBL” which is already being considered by legislators who have criticized many provisions as unconstitutional.
“If the proposed bill is lacking, it can be addressed by pushing through with the debates on it. With the continuation of hearings about the BBL in Congress, each one is given an opportunity to understand the proposed bill,” he said.
“We believe an initiative that arose out of good intentions can be fixed by those who likewise have good intentions towards their fellowmen,” said Aquino.
The citizen leaders, Aquino said, will “dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner that will not incite anger and hopelessness.”
“This way, the BBL can be improved. They will write a report that will be made public, so that everyone may be informed, and so that more of our countrymen may understand the matter. In this manner, we will be able to advance a reasonable decision as regards the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Aquino said.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the national peace summit was meant to “enrich the quality of the democratic dialogue and hopefully lead our representatives in Congress to a deeper understanding of the imperative of promoting the peace process in Mindanao.”
Coloma said the summit was envision to be “a private sector initiative that will be funded by them, too.”
But neither Aquino nor Coloma specified how the proposed national peace summit would affect the ongoing congressional deliberations on the measure.
Instead, Aquino said lawmakers should pass the bill or they would start counting “body bags”.
“I do not pursue peace just to add to my legacy. What we are pursuing is a genuine peace that truly addresses the roots of the problems that led to violence. At this point in our history, I say to all of you: The BBL will make this a reality,” Aquino said.
Aquino had wanted the bill, which would give autonomy to the majority Catholic nation’s Muslim minority in the south, passed this month.
But Congress suspended debates on the proposed law in the face of public outrage over the killings of 44 police commandoes by Muslim guerrillas in a botched anti-terror raid in January.
“This is the crossroads we face: we take pains to forge peace today, or we count body bags tomorrow,” Aquino said in a nationwide television address.
“Perhaps it is easy for you to push for all-out war,” he said, hitting out at critics who have condemned the peace deal with the MILF.
“But if the conflict grows, the number of Filipinos shooting at other Filipinos will grow, and it would not be out of the question that a friend or loved one be one of the people who will end up inside a body bag.” – With AFP
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