Philippine Congress urged to pass law on Muslim South

President Aquino is to submit a draft law on the Muslim south to Congress after reaching an agreement with the former rebel group MILF.

Philippine Congress urged to pass law on Muslim South

World Bulletin / News Desk

After the Philippines’ president and one-time largest rebel group reached an agreement on a proposed law aimed at ending decades of fighting in the country’s Muslim south, community leaders urged Congress Tuesday to fast-track its passage.

Five months after its initial drafting, presidential peace advisor Teresita Deles announced Monday that President Benigno Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had approved a draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) after a secret two-hour meeting last week.

The draft - delivered to the Presidential Office on August 20 - is expected to be submitted to Congress on Wednesday.

“I hope Congress will approve it immediately,” Vincent T. Lao, chair of the regional Mindanao Business Council, told the Anadolu Agency.

He called on Congress members to put the country’s wellbeing - as well as that of the people of Mindanao, the second largest and southernmost major island in the Philippines - ahead of their own political and personal interests.

Even leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a rebel group who laid siege last year to a predominantly Christian city in the area to protest a March 27 peace deal between its breakaway group the MILF, has backed the BBL – so long as it leads to genuine autonomy for the Bangsamoro people in their ancestral lands.

The MNLF had claimed the new deal -- named the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro -- is a betrayal of a 1996 agreement between the government and MNLF and granted Muslims in the region lesser autonomy.

The siege, whose anniversary was commemorated Tuesday amid heightened security measures, left some 300 people dead and over 100,000 displaced. Nearly 10,000 homes were burnt to the ground with the damage estimated at over $4.5 million (P200 million).

“Let's hope it [the BBL] shall usher in a better autonomy for Bangsamoro. Otherwise, it becomes a mere exercise in futility, another experiment,” Kong Sahrin, MNLF central committee secretary-general, told AA. “Anything new must prove itself better than the old.”

Religious organizations also expressed anticipation for the expected submission of the law to Congress.

Prof. Alih S. Aiyub - secretary-general of the Bishop-Ulama Conference, an interfaith group consisting of Muslims, Catholics and indigenous Animist tribes – said, “We welcome the good news and enthusiasm to help in peace building and are hopeful that sustainable peace [can] be achieved.”

Meanwhile, Professor Alrashid Jama, a member of the Golden Crescent Consortium of Peace Builders organization composed of Muslim professionals, stressed that Congress must ensure that the law is inclusive.

“Hopefully the last version they made truly reflects the sentiments, aspirations of the Mindanaoan,” he told AA, adding, “the last revision was away from the public eye. Hopefully, [there’s] no secret deal just to rush the law.”

Zamboanga City Council Representative Ismael I. Musa expressed his gratefulness over the agreement by exclaiming the Arabic term for “Praise be to God”: “Alhamdulillah! The submission of BBL is a welcome development and I enjoin the Zamboanga City Muslim communities to be hopeful for the finality of the issue.”

However, he stressed the need for tolerance toward all the region’s people by telling AA, “let us also be reminded that Zamboanga City’s multi-ethnicity and its diversity are unique, and this the MILF should respect.”

On March 27, the government and the MILF signed a peace deal that brought to a close 17 years of negotiations and ended a decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao – which has claimed at least 120,000 lives - while granting Muslim areas greater political autonomy.

The deal committed Aquino and the MILF to pass a law creating the Bangsamoro Region -- which will supplant the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao once the law is passed and ratified -- before the 2016 elections.

Last Mod: 09 Eylül 2014, 14:01
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