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GPH, MILF panels call on Congress to prioritize BBL passage October 9, 2015

Posted by HERBERT CURIA in PEACE TALK UPDATES.
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From the Website of OPPAP
links: http://www.opapp.gov.ph/milf/news/gph-milf-panels-call-congress-prioritize-bbl-passage

GPH, MILF panels call on Congress to prioritize BBL passage

BATASAN, QUEZON CITY– The peace negotiating panels of the Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have called on lawmakers to prioritize the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) when Congress resumes by November.

“We realized that two important matters have taken the front seat at this time: number one is the budget which is also a very important annual bill that has to be passed before the end of the year. Number two is the filing of candidacies. But we see no reason why come November, when Congress returns for its next session from November 3 to December 16, the BBL can’t be prioritized by our Congress,”‎ government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a press conference at the House of Representatives yesterday, Oct. 7.

Ferrer was joined by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL vice chair Rep. Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao and Cotabato City first district, Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL member Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman of Anak Mindanao partylist and Dr. Jasmin Galace,  the executive director of the Center for Peace Education in Miriam College and national coordinator of the Women Engaged in Action (WEAct) on 1325.

“Pagpasok sana ng Nobyembre, ito talaga ang inaasahan natin: na mabigyan [ang BBL] ng pansin. (When November comes, this is really what we are expecting: that the BBL will be prioritized),” Ferrer added.

“It is important to have movement with regard the BBL. We hope that the basic law can be passed by the House of Representatives by early November in order for people, especially the Bangsamoro, to not lose hope in their government,” she added.

The House of Representatives and the Senate failed to pass the BBL during their plenary sessions between July and October. The leadership of both Houses agreed on a new deadline on December 16 this year for the bill’s passage.

However, Ferrer said that there was no reason to “wait for the bill’s natural deadline” especially that the country is expected to host the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) next month.

“This is going to be our message to the APEC community: that we will not squander the opportunity that is provided for in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) as well as in the passage of the law that will provide that kind of environment to really jumpstart peace, security, and development in the region,” Ferrer explained.

In 2014, the government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that served as the basis for the original draft of the BBL. Together with the CAB, the BBL aims to end the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao and provide the Bangsamoro with genuine autonomy as envisioned in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

“The world is watching this process. They are fully supportive of this. We can see that from all the support we have received internationally, aside from the domestic support.”

“Kung mangyari ang APEC at ang message na lumalabas sa buong mundo ay ‘Hindi natin masusulusyunan itong problema natin dito na nangyayari sa Mindanao (When APEC happens and it would appear that our message to the whole world is that ‘We can’t solve our problems in Mindanao’), it is not going to be a good sign for [the APEC community] who is really pushing for economic integration that is founded on very secure societies of the Asia Pacific that are able to address the security and economic challenges that the whole world is facing.”

Higher sense of responsibility

Maguindanao and Cotabato City 1st District Representative Bai Sandra Sema, who is serving as one of the vice chairs of the Ad hoc committee on the BBL, committed that Congress would prioritize the BBL once they return from recess. “We are here to show our support that the BBL will be tackled after budget deliberations and Congress recess.”

Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman of Anak Mindanao Party-list, for her part, urged the general public to not give up on the BBL. “We want the whole country to know that we should remain positive and hopeful on the BBL even though time is against us.”

She also commented that the quorum issues that have plagued the House since July couldn’t be attributed to the BBL alone as there are many other several factors. “What we can say is that hindi kami mapapagod na paalalahanan ang mga kasama namin tungkol sa kanilang tungkulin sa BBL (What we can say is that we will not tire of urging our colleagues in the House with regard their duty to the BBL).”

“We will do our best to convince our fellow lawmakers to finish the work on the BBL. Ayaw naman natin na ang kukumbinsi sa kanilang magtrabaho ay isa na namang malaking giyera sa Mindanao (We don’t want another war in Mindanao that will do the convincing for them),” Sema added.

Echoing the Bangsamoro legislators’ statements, Ferrer added that all they could do now was to continue appealing to lawmakers. “We can only appeal to our lawmakers’ higher sense of responsibility on quorum issues and filibustering. Again, we can only appeal to their higher sense of responsibility to finally pass the BBL.”

MILF supportive of peace process, President Aquino

MILF negotiating panel chair Mohagher Iqbal vowed that their group would stay the course of peace even though no BBL, or a not good enough BBL, would be passed. When asked to expound on what he meant as a good enough BBL, Iqbal mentioned the original provisions that didn’t make it in the substitute versions endorsed by the House ad hoc committee on the BBL and the Senate committee on local government respectively for plenary debates.

At least 28 provisions had been deleted by the House committee while the Senate version, according to peace advocates and stakeholders, will render the Bangsamoro government weaker than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). “We are hoping that the restoration of the deleted provisions will happen during the period of amendments,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal, who also serves as chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body that drafted the original version of the BBL, also urged President Benigno S. Aquino III to certify the draft bill as urgent. “Frankly speaking, we are having a hard time explaining to our constituents why the BBL remains not certified as urgent.”

According to legislative rules, the President only has the power to declare a bill as urgent once it has passed the first reading. Certifying a bill as urgent would mean collapsing the second and the third readings into one. As it stands now, the BBL has yet to pass the first reading in both Houses of Congress.

Despite the uncertainties and delays, Iqbal stressed that the MILF leadership trusts and supports President Aquino. “President Aquino has been very supportive of the Bangsamoro struggle. His clout remains intact as far as the MILF is concerned.” ###

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