By TYRONE A. VELEZ
DAVAO CITY – Moro advocates are wary that the Aquino administration is watering down provisions on Moro autonomy in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) – and they are being secretive about it.
Suara national president Amirah Lidasan lamented that President Benigno Aquino III has been forcing the revisions on the table through his legal team instead of putting it for deliberation.
“It is disconcerting that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is being forced to accommodate all of Malacañang’s legal proposals or re-engineering of the BBL, which is not only confined to language but covers even the whole concept of territory, fiscal autonomy and other major issues agreed upon when the CAB was signed,” she said.
Last Tuesday, the government and MILF peace panels jointly announced that they need more time to come up with an “agreed and final” draft of the BBL after missing their August 18 deadline.
The draft law, which defines the new autonomous entity and its administrative and economic functions, would have been submitted by Aquino to Congress for approval before December. But the delay now means this target will not be met.
The delay came even after a series of workshops were launched by both panels and the Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC), the last one happened in Davao City from August 1 to 10, with the declared purpose of ironing out contentious and Constitutional issues regarding the draft.
The government and MILF signed a historic peace deal called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last March that will carve a Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao for the MILF to hold economic and political control in exchange for the “decommissioning” of its forces.
Lidasan blames the “secretive” approach of the workshops in its failure to involve the grassroots and the media.
“The secretive way of drafting and discussing the BBL drafts has alienated the peace process from the majority of the Moro people and the Mindanawons. This is ironic for an administration that prides itself for transparency yet suddenly covers up the peace process,” she said.
Lidasan said because of the secrecy of the talks such as the one held in Davao, peace groups and journalists had “to struggle just to get a copy in whatever way,” to inform the public about the revisions and points in the drafts.
“In doing this (secretive talks), the government can easily disregard comments and criticisms coming from the grassroots that the BBL is still non-conclusive,” she warned.
But another big concern for Lidasan is the fact that the peace talks seem to only push further the political agenda of Aquino and Liberal Party in Mindanao.
“Control over all resources within the Moro area is the objective of the Aquino administration in the peace negotiation through their ‘peace and development program,’” Lidasan said.
“One of the main contentious issues in the BBL is the assertion of the MILF on the ownership of natural resources and patrimony within the Bangsamoro. The government will never give in to provisions in the BBL that will give the Moro people the real autonomy by having control over its resources,” she said.
She also pointed out the government’s opening for investments in Moro areas such as the Exxon Mobil in Sulu and agro-industrial plantations for bananas, oil palm and coffee.
Lidasan cited the government’s strategy of pacifying MILF combatants by offering Conditional Cash Transfers, Philhealth and Pamana funds under the Sahajatra Bangsamoro program, which she attributed to the government’s counter-insurgency campaign.
“Its objective is for the MILF to lay down their arms without resolving the root causes of the problems of the Moro people. The ‘peace and development’ programs offered within the peace negotiation are no different with its palliative anti-poverty programs,” she said.
Bayan Muna partylist representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, who is based in Davao, also warned that the talks could turn one-sided and affect the quest for peace.
“One-sidedly revising the agreed contents of the BBL is an insincere and lopsided act by the Aquino government; it is not in accord with the quest for genuine peace in Mindanao. In the end, the Moro people’s continuing struggle for self-determination is what will truly facilitate genuine development and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro,” he said.
The MILF said on its website luwaran.com that they will take the process “one at a time”.
“One cannot fight several battles at a time. It has to be one battle after the other. This is the credo of the MILF in the face of several challenges before the BBL becomes a reality,” their editorial on Tuesday said.
Ochoa in, BTC out?
Jerome Aba, spokesman of Suara Bangsamoro Cotabato chapter, said the government has been overstepping the process and thereby causing more confusion as to who the MILF should discuss its questions on the draft.
He cited the instance when the President’s Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa arrived on the last day of the Davao workshop and talked directly to MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on how to resolve the impasse.
Later in the press conference, government peace panel chair Miriam Colonel-Ferrer, also a member of the BTC, declined to comment on Ochoa’s role in the talks.
“The BTC should have been the one ironing out the questions raised on the draft. But why did Ochoa enter the picture?” Aba asked.
He said Ochoa seemed to take over the BTC when he and presidential legal adviser Attorney Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa held a three-day meeting with Iqbal last week to iron out the legal impasse.
The BTC was formed with equal members from both government and MILF panels to thresh out the BBL and other mechanisms on the transition of the MILF to the Bangsamoro autonomous entity as agreed upon by both camps last March.
But the serious matter of this delay in finishing the BBL draft was the major revisions being entered by the government.
The MILF panel has accused the government of backtracking on its commitment to finalize the peace agreement. Iqbal was quoted in news reports as saying that Aquino’s lawyers revised nearly “70 percent” of the 100-page draft law.
The BTC resolved on July to hold a series of workshops to discuss the government’s revisions. The workshops were held on July 8 to 11 in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; 18 to 21 and later 25 to 27 in Manila, and finally in August 1 to 10 in Davao City.
In 21 days, both panels failed to resolve contentious issues.
“The deliberations on the Basic Law could result to a watered down version of the original draft by the MILF,” Aba noted.
Constitutional experts question provisions of the draft such as the relation and function of the new political entity to the national government. The entity would replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Zarate also pushed for the Moro people and other peace advocates to keep watch on the process.
“While we await the final outcome of the long delayed review process, it would be well for the Moro people to be critical and continuously be wary of the government’s double-speak as it pushes for a measure that will not actually solve the historical wrongs committed against the Bangsamoro,” Zarate said.Reposted by