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House passes Bangsamoro Organic Law

President Rodrigo Duterte (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Ratified at last!

These were the three words uttered by the Committee on Information of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Central Committee after learning that the House of Representatives had finally passed the much delayed organic law for establishing an autonomous Bangsamoro region.

“After a tense and emotion-filled moments that lasted almost a day, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was finally ratified by the House of Representatives: unanimously, no negative votes and no abstentions. It was one of its kind, fast, and without hassle,” the MILF panel wrote in the latest editorial for its official website, luwaran.com.

House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

It was right for the MILF to rejoice. This was a matter that had been stymied several times. Before this, the closest that the MILF claim to having its autonomous region was the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which the MILF signed with the government under the Arroyo administration in 2008.

Unfortunately for the MILF, this deal was struck down when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

It was a lesson that the MILF took to heart.

So, when the MILF itself rejoiced that the passage of their favored bill was without negative votes or abstentions, it was a significant event.

However, the event was supposed to be a spectacle with President Rodrigo Duterte supposed to be the one to formally make the announcement during his annual State of the Nation Address.

Political wrangling reared its ugly head and stole the thunder from the MILF.

“However, the sad part is that the big happening did not take place during the leadership of the one who babied it through to the end,” the MILF said. “In a sudden twist of luck (or power play), another person instantly assumed the speakership, thereby effectively but oddly stealing the limelight from where it belonged, and worse, it also hijacked the day solely reserved to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte alone. He was supposedly talking directly to members of Congress in a joint session and to the whole nation, who are waiting anxiously for what he is going to say. This did not happen precisely as it was fashioned out.”

“More seriously, the President, according reports, almost walked out of the SONA if the issue was not sorted out. He told those involved to fix it immediately,” said the MILF. “This was the reason why his address was delayed for more than one hour.”

Once more, the ghost of the lamented MOA-AD was in the minds of many MILF officials and members.

The delay evoked jitters within the MILF, according to the group’s information committee.

“They waited in baited breath whether or not the House would ever ratify it,” the MILF editorial said. “Playing in their mind was the ghost of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in March 2008 which was abandoned by the government during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”

Fortunately, such fears were unfounded.

Both the Senate and the House passed their respective versions of the Bangsamoro bill with the bicameral committee putting the final touches under the watchful eyes of MILF officials.

Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF panel overseeing the implementation of the peace pact with the government

That was another momentous historic moment. This was probably the first time that representatives from a rebel group was given that privilege. In fact, Mohagher Iqbal, along with the other members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, were among those who were with the bicameral committee when it was finalizing the Bangsamoro bill.

The MILF information committee reported that both Iqbal and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the chairman of the MILF, said that the Bangsamoro Organic Law was “80%-90% compliant to the 2014 peace deal signed by the government and the MILF peace panels.”

“Alhamdulillah, let us humble ourselves with utmost expression of heartfelt gratitude to all those who push persistently their limits for the approval of the BOL,” luwaran quoted Iqbal as saying. “Challenges ahead are greater with gargantuan tasks establishing and running a good and responsive governance in the Bangsamoro. Once again, please be with us in this journey to walk the talk towards establishing a governance where no one is left behind.”

However, even though the top MILF leadership welcomed the development, the MILF information panel reported that their organization would “need to consult first Civil Society Organizations and the Moro people before making a final decision.”

The MILF noted that it was “good” that despite the change in House leadership, the Bangsamoro bill was passed.

“In one way or the other, setting aside internal bickering, nay House dynamics, Speaker Arroyo and allies should also deserve our expression of thanks and gratitude,” the MILF committee said. “Without any hesitation, they ratified the Bangsamoro Organic Law. After all, here we are not playing politics. We are not trying to right one group and wrong another or wrong group and right another.”

Even though the MILF viewed the event as an “immense fulfillment,” the group’s top officials recognize that the “road remains bumpy and tortuous.”

“Challenges ahead are still great,” the MILF said. “Will someone go to the Supreme Court and challenge the constitutionality of the BOL, and similarly during the plebiscite, will the people in the affected provinces, cities, and barangays ratify or reject it?”

“These are some of the hard questions,” the MILF editorial pointed out. “We have no ready answers now. We will cross the bridge, so to speak, once we are there. Our view is to proceed and face every challenge head-on.”

“As a guide and lesson, when we started our struggle in 1970s we did not know we will ever reach this point,” the MILF panel said. “Our only weapon is that we believed in the correctness of our cause and in pursuit thereof, we believed in the power of struggle or jihad. Similarly, when we agreed to engage government in negotiation, dubbed by critics as ‘very local negotiations’ we did not know whether we reached or achieved what we have now. Faith and perseverance change the world.”

At the time of this writing, it was announced that the President had just signed the Bangsamoro bill into law .G

 

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