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HomeCoverMILF wants Bangsamoro bill passed by May

MILF wants Bangsamoro bill passed by May

by Fil V. Elefante

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has expressed concern over the Bangsamoro Basic Law’s passage in Congress. This concern was acknowledged by President Rodrigo Duterte during his speech at an event in Sultan Kudarat last April 2.

“I am racing against time,” the President said. “The MILF is in a hurry and has placed on us the burden of a timeline. And I have agreed to that period.”

SPECIAL SESSION

MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, in a radio broadcast in Cotabato City last April 9, confirmed the President’s statement. The urgency was such that the President’s allies in the House of Representatives were considering holding a special session in an attempt to speed up the passage of the House version of the Bangsamoro bill.

“In the House of Representatives, the bill is still in the committee level,” the MILF chairman said. “The House committee still hasn’t completed its draft. We were informed that they might convene a special session this April to vote on the committee’s draft.”

As for the situation in the Senate, the leader of the MILF said the original timeline for the passage of the Bangsamaro bill was last March 20.

“In the Senate, the bill is in the plenary,” he explained. “Senator Zubiri’s original goal was to have the bill passed last March 20 before the adjournment of the Senate session. However, it didn’t happen because the interpellation was not completed.”

The goal was to have the President sign the Bangsamoro Basic Law before his State of the Nation Address this year, which is scheduled to take place on July 23.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS

However, the MILF leader acknowledged that the Bangsamoro bill was facing “potential problems.”

“Generally, we see some potential problems,” he explained. “In the Senate, the situation is generally more encouraging than in the House. In the House, several challenges still need to be tackled.”

“In the Senate, the committee’s draft, Senate Bill 1717, is acceptable to the MILF because the Senate committee worked with the technical working group of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC),” he added. “However, the main challenge is that there are a few senators who still want to amend the draft. We’re trying to engage with the senators.”

According to the peace deal the government signed with the MILF, the BTC was tasked with writing the draft bill of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“In the House of Representatives’ version of the bill, there were a lot of changes from the BTC’s draft,” he said. “There were a lot of issues that were touched. The changes were substantive. The MILF finds it hard to accept these changes because the changes makes the Bangsamoro government weaker than the government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). We will try to engage with the congressmen and the members of the committee to restore the BTC’s draft.”

LEVELS OF ENGAGEMENT

Al Haj Murad then explained how the MILF will go about convincing Congress to accept and pass the draft Bangsamoro bill.

“We have three levels of engagement,” he said. “First is the BTC level which is the official conduit because they are the ones who drafted the original bill. Second is the level of the implementing panel because this is part of the implementation of the peace process. Third level is the leadership of the MILF because the parties here are the government and the MILF.”

“These three levels then have engagements with the members of House of Representatives and the Senate,” he added.

The third level also involved the MILF leadership meeting with the President.

PRESIDENTS SUPPORT

“We’ve had several engagements with the President,” the MILF leader said. “One reason for meeting with the President was that we noticed that the BTC’s draft bill was not sponsored in the House of Representatives. That was one concern we brought to his attention.”

According to the MILF leader, the President immediately called up House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Al Haj Murad said the House Speaker then agreed to be the sponsor of the BTC’s draft Bangsamoro bill.

“That happened after we spoke with the President,” the MILF said. “Now that bill is in the committee level. Before the President intervened, the bill was not taken up in the House committee because it had no sponsor.”

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

“Then we met again with the President on Jan. 4 and Jan. 16. This time, our concern was about the Senate,” the MILF leader recalled. “What happened in the Senate was that there were two bills, the one authored by the Senate President and the one authored by Sen. Miguel Zubiri.”

“We brought to the President’s attention that the Senate was conducting hearings on a Bangsamoro bill that didn’t include the BTC draft because there was again no sponsor for the BTC draft,” he said.

“Upon learning that, the President called up Sen. Zubiri. They spoke over the phone. Basically, he requested Sen. Zubiri to sponsor the BTC draft bill,” the MILF leader narrated. “Sen. Zubiri agreed to withdraw his bill and replace it with the BTC draft. On Jan. 16, he withdrew his bill and replaced it with the BTC draft the next day.”

According to the Office of the Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process (OPAPP), there were several versions of the Bangsamoro bill in both Houses of Congress.

AP Photo/Aaron Favila

During a forum on the Bangsamoro bill at the OPAPP in Pasig recently, OPAPP and BTC officials said the government was pushing for the version drafted by the BTC, which is now in the House of Representatives as House Bill no. 6475. The Senate version of the bill was filed by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri as Senate Bill 1717.

URGENT MEETING

“We had another engagement with the President last March 27,” the MILF leader said. “We told the President about our concern over the slow pace of the legislative process on the Bangsamoro bill, especially in the House of Representatives. We briefed him on the status of the bill in the Senate and we also told him of our observations in the House.”

“He understood our concern and told us that he will meet with Speaker Alvarez and Senate President Koko Pimentel,” he added. “The understanding was that he will also invite us to that meeting. There’s a possibility of having a meeting with the President together with the Speaker of the House and the Senate President soon.”

The MILF chairman also claimed in that radio broadcast in Cotabato City that he spoke with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo about the Bangsamoro bill in the House.

According to the MILF chairman, Macapagal-Arroyo, who is now a representative of her district in Pampanga, agreed to withdraw her version of the Bangsamoro bill in favor of the BTC bill.

“This phone conversation occurred in the presence of Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process Jess Dureza and the President’s aide, Bong Go,” said the MILF leader.

Al Haj Murad believed that the former President will announce the withdrawal of her bill in favor the BTC version before the special session of the House committee, which he said will likely occur in the middle of April.

“We hope that she withdraws her bill before the special session so that the only thing that needs to be tackled during the special session is the BTC version of the bill,” he said.

The MILF leader emphasized that the President’s commitment to the Bangsamoro bill remained steadfast, adding that the President hoped that the Bangsamoro Law will be passed by May.

“We hope that after the meeting with the Speaker and the Senate President, the BTC’s version of the bill will be fast tracked,” the MILF leader said.

“We want to have a national identity. We don’t want to go back to tribalism. This is not a monopoly of mainlanders at the expense of the islanders,” he added. “We hope the bill will not be watered down because if it is watered down, it will fail to meet its objective. We hope that those with personal interest to set them aside and instead support what’s good for the people in the region and the entire country.”

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