Another chance for a Bangsamoro
Barring hitches, the latest version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will be in the legislative agenda when Congress resumes its session on July 24.
Earlier, President Duterte said the Moro homeland envisioned in the BBL forms part of his election promise to adopt a federal system of government for the Philippines.
The new BBL draft was prepared by a multisectoral commission whose members were appointed by Mr. Duterte. According to reports, the commission took into consideration the objections raised by various sectors on the first proposed BBL submitted to Congress by the Aquino administration.
The discussions on the BBL today assume greater significance in the wake of the Maute terrorist group’s aborted attempt to establish an Islamic-State-inspired enclave in Mindanao.
Although many lawmakers have expressed support for Moro autonomy, there is no assurance that the second attempt to enact a BBL would fare better than the first. The representatives of the areas proposed to be covered by the BBL are expected to object to any provision that would diminish their political influence over their districts or make them subordinate to the Bangsamoro government.
If the President is serious about his plan to make the Bangsamoro a reality during his term of office, he has to certify as urgent the BBL bill and crack the whip on his legislative allies to achieve that goal.
It is hoped that while Congress is deliberating on the bill, no incident similar to what happened in Mamasapano in 2015 will adversely affect the lawmakers’ opinion on the wisdom of creating a Bangsamoro.
Recall that public sentiment on establishing a Moro homeland under the guidance of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was generally favorable until 44 policemen from the Special Action Force were killed by members of the MILF and other groups in a bungled operation to arrest a Malaysian terrorist in Maguindanao.
The incident raised serious doubts among many lawmakers about the MILF’s sincerity in entering into a peace agreement with the government and its true intentions on the proposed Bangsamoro. As a result, the draft BBL was not reported out by a Senate committee and remained pending until Congress adjourned in 2016.
While the prospects of getting the BBL enacted this time may be high, the road to its passage may be blocked by the Moro National Liberation Front headed by Nur Misuari, who believes that his group, and not the MILF, has the authority to deal with the government on the Bangsamoro issue.
Although an MNLF faction participated in the drafting of the latest BBL version, that action was not formally sanctioned by Misuari. So, from his point of view, the MNLF had no role in its crafting and therefore does not bind him and his men.
Apparently, Misuari refuses to accept the fact that his days as leader of the Moro struggle for autonomy are over, and that a new set of leaders, headed by MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal, has assumed the leadership of the Bangsamoro.
And here lies the problem, Misuari with his bruised ego may not look kindly on being upstaged by Iqbal if the MILF-sponsored BBL bill shows prospects of sailing smoothly in Congress. He can do a reprise of the siege of Zamboanga City in 2013, when 200 MNLF fighters took over several coastal villages to show to the government that he remains a power to reckon with and demand that his ideas on the creation of a Bangsamoro be seriously considered.
If that happens, the deliberations in Congress on the BBL bill may be stalled and result in its removal from the priority list of the legislative agenda. This development would be fodder for the Moro groups that advocate independence or want Mindanao to be the seat of the IS caliphate in the Philippines.
There’s a long road ahead for the Moro people’s aspiration for a Bangsamoro in their own turf. If the BBL fails to pass muster in Congress during President Duterte’s term, they may be forced to go to the hills again to claim their birthright.
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Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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