Normalization starts in May

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 29 2014 08:31 AM | Updated as of Jan 29 2014 04:31 PM

MANILA - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could start “decommissioning” or dismantling its armed forces as early as May this year, government peace negotiators said yesterday.

Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles said under the normalization annex the government signed with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, the decommissioning of MILF forces would begin once the transition commission submits the draft Bangsamoro law to Congress.

“We intend to submit the draft to Congress in May,” she told the House committee on peace and reconciliation chaired by Basilan Rep. Hajiman Hataman-Saliman.

The panel drafting the law that would carry out the peace agreement is composed of government and MILF representatives.

“There will be decommissioning of certain forces once the draft law is submitted. There will be decommissioning of some forces once Congress approves the law. Every step of the way, decommissioning will happen until the agreement is fully implemented,” she said.

Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said they envision that the MILF would have fully dismantled its forces by mid-2016.

She said there would be joint security teams composed of MILF, Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel that would be in charge of regional security.

“Their MILF components would be the last to be decommissioned prior to the AFP-PNP taking charge of regional security again,” she said.

Deles and Ferrer also assured congressmen that the peace agreement and its four annexes “are all compliant with the Constitution.”

“We strictly adhered to President Aquino’s instruction that we follow and comply with the Constitution. We were always in consultation with constitutional lawyers,” Deles said.

She said there is no plan to ask Congress to work on amending the Charter for the purpose of implementing the peace agreement.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a former law dean, said he has read all the documents submitted to the committee by the government panel.

“I can assure our colleagues that I have not read any provision that is in conflict with the Constitution,” he said.

He said if the draft Bangsamoro law to be submitted to Congress would contain any unconstitutional provision, “I would join my colleague from Zamboanga City (Mayor Celso Lobregat) in moving that it be deleted.”

Rodriguez also urged the peace panel and the Transition Commission to submit the draft Bangsamoro law to Congress before the legislature goes on its next recess on March 15.

“We are already anxious about working on this law and about peace finally reigning in Mindanao,” he said.

Minutes earlier, Lobregat expressed fears that the agreement might not hurdle a constitutional challenge.

Responding to questions from committee members, Deles said the government won’t talk peace with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an MILF breakaway group that has clashed with the military in the Maguindanao-Cotabato area.

“We cannot talk to any group advocating independence from the Republic,” she said.

On the issue of taxation, Ferrer said the envisioned Bangsamoro region would have the power to impose local taxes.

“Local taxation like business permit fees would be devolved to them. But they cannot touch three national taxes – corporate income tax, individual income tax and customs duties and tariff,” she said.

She said the region could offer incentives in terms of reduced local taxes to attract investors.

Deputy Speaker and Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong said it would be premature to discuss constitutional issues that may arise in the drafting of the Basic Law but there are no indications that amendments are necessary.

“Our summation is there’s no problem of constitutionality, because the basis is the Constitution, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law is only to strengthen the setup,” Balindong told reporters.

Saliman said he expects the draft Basic Law would be simple and not require constitutional amendments.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said if both sides were able to agree on contentious issues on wealth sharing, security, and normalization, “there’s no reason why we can’t draft a Basic Law that would not be in conflict with the Constitution.”

Urgent bill

Malacañang hinted yesterday that President Aquino is likely to certify as urgent the draft measure of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will pave the way for the establishment of a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao, a Palace spokesman said.

“All indications point to urgency, this is because our timetable is quite tight, or the timeframe by which we should pass this on time,” Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said.

He said that a plebiscite should be held in 2015 and the election of the regional officials could be held simultaneously with the presidential polls in May 2016. With Delon Porcalla, Roel Pareño, John Unson