Palace to get Bangsamoro law draft by March 31

by Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 28 2014 10:41 PM | Updated as of Mar 29 2014 06:41 AM

MANILA - With the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is now looking forward to the submission of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to President Benigno Aquino III.

The BTC has until March 31, 2014 to submit the BBL to Malacanang so that the President can review the draft before its eventual submission to Congress as an urgent bill.

MILF chief negotiator and concurrent BTC chairman Mohagher Iqbal said they have finished the first draft of the BBL.

He said they are reviewing the document before handing it over to the Palace.

Iqbal said on Friday that they are trying to work with the timeline.

That's the reason why even with the CAB signed, Iqbal will stay in Manila to expedite the BBL.

"With the closeness of the timeline, we're still trying to work on the schedule. When the moment comes, maybe we can ask for consideration on the timeline" said Iqbal at the joint press conference of the government and the MILF held at the Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel.

Iqbal was joined at the press conference by Secretary Ging Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP); Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government chief negotiator to the MILF talks; and Professor Ahboud Syed Lingga, a member of the MILF negotiating panel.

Deles came in late and tongue-in-cheek said "I'm sorry I'm late, I thought I'll have a day-off."

Most of the questions asked during the press conference focused on how the MILF will transform from being and armed group into what the MILF panel calls as a social system.

Iqbal compared their situation to a person buying a good watch and having to pay a lot for the timepiece.

That is how the MILF will move, according to Iqbal, as the MILF and the Philippine government implement the Annex on Normalization signed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last in January.

The annex deals with the decommissioning of arms of the MILF that requires the weapons to be "put beyond use."

Ferrer said that as agreed by both parties, the decommissioning will be handled by an Independent Decommissioning Body, whose composition will be discussed further.

Iqbal said decommissioning is similar to a car that will be put in stock in a garage and will no longer be used.

But Iqbal explained that with the decommissioning of MILF weapons, they were able to achieve five gains.

These include the redeployment of troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines from Bangsamoro areas, the disbandment of private armed groups, the establishment of Bangsamoro police, and socio-economic intervention and transitional justice and reconciliation, which were embodied in the annexes signed by both parties.

"When everything is in place, who needs firearms?" Iqbal said in trying to explain how the MILF was convinced to agree on the decommissioning of weapons.

But Iqbal clarified that there is no surrender on the part of the MILF. He called himself as an "unarmed rebel".

To the skeptics of the peace process between the government and MILF, both panels tried to explain that the title itself, Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro, defines that it does not seek to address only the problems of the MILF but for the whole of Bangsamoro.

Lingga told reporters that issues not included in the 1996 peace agreement entered by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with the government can be found in the CAB.

Lingga said even the MNLF can benefit from the gains of the CAB because they can also join in the expected elections of the Bangsamoro leaders by 2016.

"There is still an opportunity for the MNLF to lead," said Lingga.