“The treatment of the BBL is one such example that shows there are no serious efforts to achieve peace in the country today.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the Philippine government will be answering to the international community, if Congress fails to pass “a good Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).”
Speaking at a forum, Aug. 12, Iqbal said: “Ninety-nine percent of the international community is supporting the passage of a good BBL. If the MILF does not accept the BBL, the government will have to answer to the international community.”
The forum, “Peace at last?” was organized by the Moro Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) and the Pilgrims for Peace, held at the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) in Quezon City. It was a rare occasion that Iqbal appeared in a discussion with progressives after the 2012 signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).
Iqbal said the international community has “a deep involvement” in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF in the past 17 years.
“The international community would take the government to task if war breaks out,” Iqbal said. “We will have the moral ascendancy if the exit agreement is not signed…We will blame and shame the GPH for not complying with agreements signed by both parties.”
The exit agreement is the final document to be signed by the two parties, and to be validated by the third party monitoring team, lead by former European Commission envoy to the Philippines Alistair McDonald.
The BBL bills – House Bill 5811 and Senate Bill 2408 – are yet to be approved by Congress.
The MILF had said that they will not accept a BBL based on HB 5811, which they described as “50 percent bad” and “lower than the ARMM,” the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The ARMM was the result of the government’s peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The BBL will be the law to govern the Bangsamoro political entity to be established, as provided by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and the MILF in 2014.
“Very clear, we will not accept it, if it’s lower than ARMM,” Iqbal answered at the forum, to the question, “What will the MILF do if a diluted BBL is passed?”
The small crowd of progressive leaders and church workers loudly applauded and cheered.
The crowd was apparently critical of the BBL, many of them, of both the original and “diluted” versions. But the cheers were expression of support to the Moro people’s efforts to address the roots of conflict.
Other speakers at the forum were Suara Bangsamoro secretary general Amirah Ali Lidasan, who laid out criticisms on the original BBL, and Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares, who shared how the BBL was “watered down” during the congressional committee deliberations.
Control of natural resources
The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which drafted the original BBL, issued a July 29 resolution, criticizing 28 amendments made by HB 5811 in the original draft BBL.
Iqbal, who also heads the BTC, said that one of the “non-negotiable” provisions was the sharing of income from different natural resoures. The original BBL gives the Bangsamoro government 100-percent income for non-metallic resources; 75 percent-25 percent sharing, in favor of the Bangsamoro, for metallic resources; and equal sharing for Bangsamoro and the central government for fossil fuels such as gas, oil, coal, and uranium.
HB 5811 removed this provision on sharing, and defined “strategic minerals” to include natural gas, petroleum, coal, uranium, mineral oils, and all other potential sources of energy — all under the powers of the national government.
“If this is not restored, we will not accept the BBL,” Iqbal said.
Bayan Muna’s Colmenares and Suara Bangsamoro’s Lidasan both echoed Iqbal’s words that the dilution of the original BBL is “worse than the ARMM law.”
Lidasan acknowledged that the sharing of income from natural resources is an improvement from the ARMM law, but said that even the original BBL only gives limited power to the Bangsamoro government, and hardly reflects the Moro people’s right to self-determination.
Iqbal refused to comment on the Senate draft BBL, which Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. submitted to the Senate this week. He said the MILF “commended” him for finishing the draft.
Makabayan’s ‘no’ vote to BBL
“We voted ‘no,’ because aside from not addressing the roots of conflict, it implements existing anti-people laws, exploitative and repressive laws,” Colmenares said, sharing the deliberations in Congress on HB 5811, which President Aquino’s allies rushed to approve in May.
But Colmenares said they had completely different reasons from others who also voted ‘no.’
He called the bill “bigay-bawi law” because of the dilutions of the limited powers given under the CAB, such as the “exclusive powers” of the Bangsamoro government on the utilization and development of certain natural resources.
“The roots of conflict is poverty, why don’t we let them exploit their own resources?” said Colmenares.
HB 5811 also provides that the Bangsamoro government will implement plans “consistent with the national goals. ” These are deregulation, liberalization, privatization,” Colmenares said, the same policies which perpetuates exploitation and oppression in the country.
“This government is not ready to recognize the right of the Bangsamoro people, would rather give preference to TNCs [transnational companies], the landed elite, but has no recognition of the rights of the Bangsamoro people, and the Filipino people in general. In this sense, the diluted BBL is no different from ARMM, and will not deliver just and lasting peace,” Colmenares said.
The legislator also cited that they tried, but failed to retain the provision on the Wali, which was to serve as ceremonial head of the Bangsamoro government. Colmenares said other lawmakers wanted it deleted because “it’s a different culture.”
“The moment you don’t recognize the differences in culture, no way you can achieve peace,” he said.
While other legislators reasoned that the amendments were necessary because the draft BBL goes against the Philippine Constitution, Colmenares said the end result emphasized “chauvinism and discrimination” against the Bangsamoro people.
“The treatment of the BBL is one such example that shows there are no serious efforts to achieve peace in the country today,” said Colmenares.
“If the BBL is unacceptable, are you joining the plebiscite, or the 2016 elections?” asked one of the audience at the forum. In the timeline of the peace process, the BBL will be voted upon in a referendum, and if passed, elections for the Bangsamoro government will follow.
Iqbal said, “That’s easy to answer: no.”
“What will MILF do if a diluted BBL is passed? Will it remain a belligerent force and continue the struggle?” asked another.
“I will not answer anymore because the question has been answered,” Iqbal said, which garnered smiles all around. One church worker interpreted Iqbal’s “enigmatic” answer, as “the question is the answer.”
A long way to go
There is still much to be done to attain peace in the Bangsamoro lands, said some of those in the forum.
Benedictine nun Sr. Theody Bilocura said the forum cleared many things which people do not know about the BBL and its “dilution.” The prospect for peace in the Bangsamoro people is under the same context as the rest of the Filipino nation, she said.
“I have the same stand as Iqbal and Colmenares, that we have to address the roots of armed conflict,” she told Bulatlat.com.
Antonio Flores, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) commented on the original BBL, which is “wanting” in the aspect of the peasants’ right to land. He added that the MILF should learn from the lessons of the MNLF integration, which only pushed fighters into joining the MILF.
Colmenares, stressing that the diluted BBL will not lead to long-lasting peace, said: “The struggle for self-determination of the Bangsamoro will continue in the same manner that the struggle for freedom and democracy of the Filipiono people will continue.”