Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 17) — President Rodrigo Duterte received the new draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Monday, as part of efforts to end the conflict in Mindanao.
“This moment is a significant step forward in our quest to end centuries of hatred, mistrust and injustice that caused and affected the lives of millions of Filipinos,” Duterte said in the ceremonial turnover.
Duterte promised he will support the lobbying of the draft in Congress.
The 21-member BTC, with representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) finished the draft on June 6, but the turnover has been delayed four times.
BTC Chairman Ghazali Jaafar dubbed the new proposed BBL is the “best antidote to violent extremism”.
MILF Chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim said the group has also put its trust and confidence in the President to support the BBL’s passage.
The BBL aims to establish a new region for the Bangsamoro, a collective term for Filipino Muslims, to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Duterte, the first President from Mindanao, promised during the 2016 presidential campaign to pass the BBL if he were elected.
The BBL was first submitted to the Aquino administration in 2014, but its passage was stalled after the killing of 44 members of an elite unit of police by rebels belonging to the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in January 2015.
Joint communications plan
Earlier Monday, the government and the MILF also signed a joint communications plan to sustain public positive support for the passage of the BBL.
Government panel chair Irene Santiago hopes the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the interim government under the proposed BBL, will be in place by July 2018. This means the law should be approved by the end of this year, followed by a plebiscite, and then by the dissolution of the ARMM.
“Have we had 12 months so full of opportunity and so fraught with danger, it’s a very critical time in our history,” Santiago said.
Santiago expects the President to certify it as urgent to both houses of Congress.
Mohager Iqbal, a member of the BTC, said only 20 to 30 percent of the original provisions in the BBL were changed in the draft submitted to the President.
Among the changes, Iqbal said, was the creation of an office for Christian communities.
But Iqbal also said some controversial provisions from the old draft were retained, such as the creation of constitutional bodies like the Commission on Elections, Commission on Audit and the Civil Service Commission, a provision on having their own police units, as well as a parliamentary form of government for the Bangsamoro entity.
These amendments were made to accommodate the Moro National Liberation Front’s proposals drawn from the unimplemented provisions of the group’s 1996 peace deal.
However, Iqbal said the new law is still in line with the Constitution.
“Halos lahat (ng commissioners) may abogado, so ang daming abogado dyan, kaya ang pananaw namin walang unconstitutional provision,” Iqbal said.
[Translation: Almost all of the commissioners have lawyers, so we think that there are no unconstitutional provisions.]
CNN Philippines’ Senior Correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.