MANILA, Philippines - The government hopes to sign a comprehensive peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by March.
Senators, for their part, said the provisions of the framework agreement need to be scrutinized, while the House of Representatives vowed to speed up passage of the proposed Bangsamoro law.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Senate committee on national defense and security chairman, said the agreement must be studied very well to avoid any problems later.
“We should approach this with caution because we need to study very carefully the provisions of the peace agreement to make sure that this won’t create bigger problems later on,” he said.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II told reporters yesterday he expects Malacañang to propose a draft bill that would implement the peace agreement once it is finally signed next month or in March.
“Whatever it is that is required, we will act on it with dispatch,” he said. “If it is just the passage of a bill that is required, then we will approve it without delay. The process will be longer if the agreement will entail an amendment of the Constitution.”
Speaking to reporters in Malacañang yesterday, presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles said the government has reached an “irreversible point” and “armed spoilers” would be dealt with by law enforcement agencies.
It was the best agreement possible, and they were confident it could stand legal scrutiny all the way to the Supreme Court, she added.
Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the comprehensive agreement would be made up of the framework agreement, the four signed annexes and two addenda.
“Very soon, we hope to be able to also work on the specific preparations that will be needed for a ceremonial signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” she said.
In interview over ANC television, Ferrer said the government peace panel had consulted every step of the way the stakeholders in Mindanao, including Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat when he was mayor.
“We visited Zamboanga City several times and met with Lobregat,” she said.
“That provision pertaining to the 10 percent has always been misunderstood. That provisions says by a petition of 10 percent of registered voters in a local government unit (LGU), it may be considered to be part of the plebiscite if submitted two months before the actual plebiscite. “Therefore, the plebiscite will have to be done in that locality and they still need to get a majority vote. So, it is not as if 10 percent will allow them to join. It is just a step to be included in the plebiscite.”
Ferrer said the counting of the votes in the plebiscite, whether per province, city or municipality, will also be within the processes defined by the Constitution.
“It is still under study. What is important is that it can be done. It will depend on what the people want. The (Bangsamoro basic) law will define that. The actual procedure will be actually provided by the law.”
Ferrer said the Transition Commission, which was convened last year, is already drafting the contents of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will be submitted to Congress for approval.
“The draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is expected to be done by May this year,” she said.
Congress not a rubber stamp
Ferrer assured the public that Congress will not be a rubber stamp.
“We are not in a position to take away powers of Congress as constitutionally mandated,” she said.
“It is their prerogative to pass the law, but we appeal for understanding for the provision, the wisdom and hopefully the spirit will be sustained by Congress.”
Ferrer said once Congress approves the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a plebiscite will be held to ratify it. The coverage of the Bangsamoro political entity will be defined, and a Bangsamoro Transitory Authority will step in until regular elections are held in 2016.
“Hopefully, by May the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be submitted in Congress,” she said.
“The panels will continue to exist until we sign the exit agreement. All these aspects are already completed and both parties will sit down again and say we have completed all that we have to do. The bill goes to Congress, Congress passes it into law. There is a plebiscite to ratify the law, to define the coverage. If it happens in 2015, the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) is abolished and the transition authority takes over.”
Ferrer said the annex on normalization means that there will be “decommissioning” of the arms of the MILF. “It is going to be a gradual phaseout,” she said.
“We agreed to have a decommissioning body that will conduct that. The decommissioning body will be responsible for the inventory of the MILF’s arms, verification of the list and upon verification, we will proceed to the other programs like socioeconomic components of the program. A program that will ensure that the communities long affected by the conflict will go to the mainstream and can be a productive undertaking.”
Ferrer said they are not going to use the word “surrender” in the decommissioning of the arms of the MILF.
“If they have a desire to join the PNP and AFP, that is very much welcome. We are encouraging them, but they have to go through the process,” she said.
“If they lack some of the requirements, we can assist them, we can provide them the necessary assistance, such as college degree program which is one of the requirement to join the PNP force. Otherwise, we don’t have programs of what you would call integration like what we did with the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front).”
Ferrer said there will also be no “Balik Baril” program where the government will buy guns from the MILF.
“We don’t use surrender. This is different with the MNLF because this is a negotiated political process. We are very sensitive with words. We used the words ‘turn in the weapon to an independent decommissioning body’ until our political agreement is put in place.”
Ferrer said the independent decommissioning body will have seven members, three of them foreign experts and the rest local experts.
All can join peace process
Ferrer and Deles said the MNLF led by Nur Misuari and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) led by Al-Ustaj Umbra Kato, which had broken away from the MILF, are welcome to be part of the peace process.
Deles said the door would remain open to non-members of the Transition Commission.
Ferrer said the government’s final peace agreement with the MNLF has been fully implemented for the past years.
“The items that they fear did not go to the Organic Act can now be introduced to the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” she said.
The power-sharing annex states that this was not an abrogation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the MNLF, she added.
Deles said the accord with the MILF would take all the best features of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, Republic Act No. 9054 to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
MNLF leaders had commended the signing and they would like to continue the tripartite process with the MNLF as well, she added.
Deles said talks should not be “a matter of attribution of who-got-what” because the important thing to think about was what would be best for the Bangsamoro. “And the call that we consistently hear from the ground is that they would like their leaders to unite, and government stands ready to support that process,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said that the agreement involves major security and political issues, the constitutionality of which could be questioned later on.
“It involves the territory of the country and it involves the subdivision of the country. Second, there is already a previous agreement between the MNLF and the government, then what’s the effect of this agreement with that agreement? There’s so many ifs here,” he said.
Sen. Vicente Sotto III said the agreement must be reviewed to ensure the impact is fair to a greater sector of the population.
Gonzales said the House, once it receives the peace accord, its annexes and the draft bill, would determine whether it would require Charter change (Cha-cha).
“If Cha-cha is what is needed, then we will also have to do it. Otherwise, the MILF will accuse us of being insincere in talking peace with them,“ he said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) praised yesterday the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF.
Speaking at the conclusion of the 108th Plenary Assembly, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Socrates Villegas said: “Any step towards peace is a positive step. The Church exists so there may be peace among men and women. And any step towards peace is blessed by God and is blessed by the Church.” – Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz, Roel Pareño, Evelyn Macairan