All out for Moro law

Aquino asks Congress to pass it ASAP

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III asked lawmakers Wednesday to pass the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law “in the soonest possible time” even as they go through its provisions thoroughly.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said a reasonable timeframe for the passage into law of the BBL would be the end of the year at the earliest and the first quarter of 2015 at the latest.

Draft law. Mohager Iqbal, chief peace negotiator
of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, hands over
the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to House
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. in Malacañang as
President Benigno Aquino III and Senate
President Franklin Drilon look on.
“I fully believe that it is in accordance with our Constitution and with the principles of our framework agreement, and that it reflects our shared efforts towards growth that leaves no one behind,” Aquino said during the turnover ceremony at the Palace.

“If we are able to legislate this, we can give our Moro brothers enough time to prepare, thus enabling them to nurture the seeds of meaningful governance which were planted for the Bangsamoro,” the President said.

Deles said the measure has yet to be certified as urgent by the President because it has to be filed before the House of Representatives first.

“The President’s message is unmistakable--this is an urgent bill, and the leadership of both Houses have agreed,” she said.

The draft BBL seeks to establish a new political entity to be called the Bangsamoro that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Once Congress passes the BBL, the next step will be a plebiscite for the people of the Bangsamoro. The only appeal I make to our brothers and sisters who will vote in this plebiscite: Study well the provisions of the law. Your understanding and your participation will be the best defense against those who seek to sow doubt in our agenda of a just and lasting peace,” the President said.

Filipino Muslims sign a placard during a rally
in support of the BBL. AFP
He also appealed to those who doubt that the Bangsamoro will be successfully implemented to support the initiative instead.

“While we have no control over the future, I am confident, and I know that others present here today will join me in guaranteeing: it is through our full trust and our refusal to let go of hope that we will be able to realize our dreams,” Aquino said.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission will coordinate closely with lawmakers to ensure the smooth passage of the measure.

Government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer said the Bangsamoro “will enjoy significant powers over and above the powers granted to the ARMM today, all on the basis of the powers given to autonomous regions in our Constitution and the creative spaces or flexibilities found therein.”

“With more powers and resources come more responsibilities. This is the advantage as well as the duty of those who will be leading the Bangsamoro in the years to come. It is an opportunity that must be made available for the common good, but also one that must not be squandered,” Ferrer added.

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 to serve as interim government until the elections in 2016.

In a separate interview, Senate President Franklin Drilon said Congress will prioritize the passage of the 2015 General Appropriations Act first.

“Thereafter, we will have the BBL on plenary after the budget. We are confident that we will pass the measure. What we will look at with care is that the BBL should be within the four corners of the Constitution,” Drilon said.

“We are giving ourselves until the first quarter of next year. I don’t think we can pass this by the end of the year. We will give it our best shot but it’s extremely difficult because of the budget debates that come before that,” he added.

The President was scheduled to meet lawmakers from the ruling coalition Thursday to drum up support for the swift passage of the BBL.

House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the 10 a.m. meeting will include members of the ruling Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, National Unity Party, and the party-list bloc.

“The President will make a personal appeal for us to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law. There will be a larger ceremony on Friday after today’s (Wednesday) submission of the BBL to Congress leaders,” said Gonzales.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Drilon accepted the draft BBL during a ceremony at Malacañang Palace on Wednesday.

Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, wife of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Mujiv Hataman, said it was significant that the President submitted the draft law himself.

“The President displayed a rare show of support for this very special and important piece of legislation,” Turabin-Hataman said.

The party-list coalition in the House also rallied behind the immediate approval of the BBL law.

Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman, who chairs the House special committee on peace, reconciliation and unity, said President Aquino was hopeful that Congress will pass the draft law and schedule a plebiscite.

On Monday, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution creating the ad hoc committee with 75 members to review, evaluate and propose legislation relative to the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The ad hoc committee has six months to finish the work from its establishment.

Belmonte earlier said he would immediately order the officials and members of the ad hoc committee tasked to deliberate the proposed BBL to be led by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez after President Aquino submits the draft’s final version.

The World Bank welcomed the submission of the draft law Wednesday, and commended peace efforts on both sides.

“This is a crucial step in the road map to achieving peace and development in Mindanao,” the bank said in a statement.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate committee on local government, said the senators would study the draft law carefully to determine if it is really beneficial to the people of Mindanao and the rest of the country.

He urged everyone, especially stakeholders in Mindanao, to take part in consultations and hearings and ventilate their views and opinions about the BBL.

“We will study this proposal very carefully. We will not rush its submission to Congress. More important for us is the participation of stakeholders in Mindanao. We want to hear them speak. We will listen. Our committee plans to undertake consultative meetings with all sectors in major cities and towns in Mindanao,” he said.

Marcos also said his panel might propose a temporary suspension of the arrest warrant against Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) founder Nur Misuari to enable him to participate in the discussions about the BBL.

“Let us allow him in the process because clearly it will not succeed unless both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the MNLF are part of the process,” Marcos said.

Misuari has a standing arrest warrant for rebellion over last year’s Zamboanga siege that left 38 civilians and security personnel and at least 153 MNLF members dead.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate committee on peace, unity and reconciliation, said the submission of the BBL to Congress was a historic event, and a major step forward for the country.

“I share the elation of my fellow Mindanaoans as we move closer to the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic Law that addresses the aspirations of our people for peace and meaningful development,” he said.

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