PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he would be asking Congress to convene a special session just to discuss the long-awaited proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
In his speech before leaders of Moro separatist groups in Maguindanao, Duterte vowed to have an “inclusive” peace talks to resolve the Bangsamoro question, which has hounded the country’s often troubled south for decades.
“I will work very hard for it. I will ask Congress to [convene] a special session just to hear you talk about this,” Duterte said.
In related developments:
• In Sultan Kudarat, the country’s main Muslim guerrilla group staged a huge rally at its southern headquarters that attracted Christians and rival rebels, in a joint effort with the government to reignite a stalled peace process.
Duterte was scheduled to speak at the event at the main base of the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Monday afternoon, with both sides hoping peace will help quell the rising threat of the Islamic State group.
Muslims have been waging a rebellion since the 1970s seeking autonomy or independence in the southern areas of the mainly Catholic Philippines that they regard as their ancestral homeland.
The conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives.
Duterte also said the government was willing to grant the Moro people an inclusive self-governance where Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples’ Tribes could live in harmony, under one republic.
The President said he wanted to push the passage into law of the BBL, even by asking Congress to hold special session days to deliberate on the proposed charter of a Moro-led regional government.
Duterte said the government wanted in place a BBL in which no sector would be left out, be they Moros, Christians or the Lumads, and where they could “enjoy (the fruits of their) natural resources.”
But the President said “There must be one republic— the Republic of the Philippines for all—Moro and Christians.”
For his part, Chairman Murad Ibrajim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said in its quest for just peace, “the MILF has transformed into a social movement delivering its commitment of peace to our people in partnership with the government International community; non-government organizations; state universities and colleges, the media and peace advocates.”
The MILF, the biggest rebel group, signed a peace deal in 2014 that would give the nation’s Muslim minority self-rule over parts of the southern region of Mindanao, but a proposed law to implement the pact has not been able to get through Congress.
The immediate objective of Monday’s rally was to build support for the proposed law.
“There is no way that we can find peace forever if we do not give them back at least a part of their heritage,” Duterte said in a speech last week, referencing Filipino Muslims who consider the south their homeland.
“If we do not give them that, there will be trouble because they will open really to (join a) cabal with the other terroristic activities or the terrorists there.”
The MILF had said it wanted a million people to turn up on Monday at its sprawling Camp Darapanan base just outside of Cotabato city in Mindanao.
No firm crowd numbers were immediately available on Monday morning but an AFP journalist at Camp Darapanan reported seeing tens of thousands of people.
Among those in attendance were Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop of Cotabato and the highest Catholic Church official in Mindanao, as well as members of the MILF’s main rival, the Moro National Liberation Front.
The rally came about a month after Duterte declared the southern city of Marawi “liberated” from IS supporters who attacked it in May in a bid to put up a caliphate.
The President said he would be asking Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari to be there also so there would be a chance to reconcile the different versions of the BBL pending before Congress.
“I will ask Congress, I said, one day, one session. Nur … would be there to present their platform then we’ll work out. If it’s not in consonance with each other, then we work [it] out. But at least the Filipino people should be given a day [on] what we intend to do,” he said.
“Me? I support you. [But] do not ever, ever, question me. Delay? Of course it entails delay,” he added.
“It takes forever to move. [But] somebody has to push it, because there are thousands of concerns.”
Last July 17, the Bangsamoro Transmission Commission turned over their draft BBL to the President. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, filed the draft BBL submitted to Congress by Malacañang just last September.
In the same speech, Duterte, the first chief executive who hails from Mindanao, admitted the Bangsamoro issue, and the eventual shift to a federal set-up had become ”the hardest” among those he’s trying to face within his presidency.
“I plead to (sic) all Filipinos listening now to understand the problem and maybe, you know, just ponder on it and sleep on it tonight and maybe you’d be enlightened because of what we are now trying to solve is one of the hardest in my administration,” Duterte said.
He added what was at stake “is the preservation of the Filipino Republic and to correct historical injustices” for the Moro people.