Cracks in peace pact

Govt panel raises issue on basic law, MILF on ouster of Abu backers

TWO government nominees to the 15-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission have refused to sign the final copy of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, while two other members signed the draft “with reservations,” the Mindanews news service reported Monday.

But government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer said the public should not read too much into the decision of Fatmawati Salapuddin and Johaira Wahab not to attend Sunday’s signing ceremony of the draft BBL.

“In a process like this, you cannot really expect a 100 percent consensus among the BTC members,” Ferrer said.

“But this is not the end of the road. The draft will be submitted to Malacañang (today, Tuesday), and it will undergo due diligence. The final Palace-approved draft which will be submitted to Congress is what the entire BTC will carry,” she added.

Ferrer acknowledged that the BTC commissioners who refused to sign the draft “may have reservations over some provisions of the BBL.”

“Perhaps they felt that some provisions went beyond the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro or maybe they had other interests in mind,” she said.

She said the draft BBL will be “refined” through the review process by a legal team under the Office of the President.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is aimed at ending a decades-long Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.

But MILF Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar on Monday asked Ferrer to explain what she meant when she reportedly asked the rebel group to expel members who have an alliance with the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Jaafar held out the possibility that Ferrer was misquoted, however.

“That kind of statement she is not supposed to [issue] because she will be misunderstood,” Jaafar said.

“But we think she may have been misquoted by the reporters who interviewed her. I think it’s better to verify what she meant by her statement,” he added.

Jaafar said he is also not sure if Ferrer was speaking on behalf of the Armed Forces, which has consistently accused the MILF of having an alliance with the Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang operating in Basilan and Sulu.

“Definitely, we don’t have an alliance with the Abu Sayyaf. Why should we enter into an alliance with the Abu Sayyaf... when we have signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro last March 27?” he said.

Ferrer played down Jaafar’s concern.

“We are not accusing the MILF of anything, especially not as an organization. We are asking their help,” Ferrer said in a phone interview.

“They are in the best position to discipline their own ranks,” she added.

Ferrer said if Jaafar felt she should not have made a public call on the MILF to expel members who have supported criminal elements such as the Abu Sayyaf, she respects his opinion.

Lawmakers on Monday rallied behind the government’s call for the MILF to get rid of members who support the Abu Sayyaf.

Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, a member of the independent minority bloc, said the government must enforce an iron fist policy against the bandits.

“Not just ask, but the government should demand the expulsion and cases to be brought versus these people, and if possible, jointly bring them to face justice. They should not let them get away,” De la Cruz told the Manila Standard.

House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption and Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III also supported Ferrer’s call and denounced the Abu Sayyaf.

“It is but right for the government to require the MILF to expel belligerent members because these are lawless people. They are breakers of the long awaited peace in Mindanao,” Tugna said.

Albano, a member of the House committee on national defense, said that bandits in any form have no place in a peace loving country like the Philippines.

“They are bandits. Whether they are MILF or MNLF, they should be arrested,” Albano said.

The government’s peace agreement with the MILF paves the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The leadership of both houses of Congress have committed to pass the BBL by December, after which a plebiscite will be held in the first quarter of 2015.

The plebiscite will cover the current provinces and cities in the ARMM, the cities of Isabela and Cotabato, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, and 39 barangays in six municipalities of Cotabato province.

After the plebiscite, the government aims to put the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in place by 2015 to serve as interim government until the elections in 2016.

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