Negotiators from the Philippines’ one-time largest rebel group and the government have began a new round of talks to settle key differences as they push for the passage of a law that would pave the way for the establishment of an autonomous region led by the south’s indigenous Muslim community. Chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a televised interview Friday that the panels aimed to submit the proposed law to Congress within this month. “This August, the draft BBL [Bangsamoro Basic Law] should be submitted to Congress because if it takes longer, Congress will also have a hard time to fast-track its passage," she said. "We know that a plebiscite will be conducted first prior to the transition to the Bangsamoro." President Benigno Aquino had wanted the Bangsamoro Basic Law to be submitted to Congress in time for the opening of its second regular session on Monday, but with the panels' failure to arrive at a compromise during a recent workshop in the capital Manila, the submission was delayed. Former rebel outfit the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has since suggested that the government is seeking to renege on its commitments by diluting the wording of the law. 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 the southern area of Mindanao - the second largest and southernmost major island in the Philippines - while granting Muslim areas greater political autonomy. The deal committed President 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 presidential elections.
Peace adviser Teresita Quintos Deles said Friday that the list of priority measures submitted by the Office of the President to Congress shows that the Aquino administration will still go all-out to pass the law in Congress.
In a press statement emailed to Anadolu Agency, she said the law topped the list of 26 proposed priority measures that was submitted for enactment by the 16th Congress.
"This demonstrates the government intends to see through the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro'," she said.
On Friday, a group of youths impatient with the passage of the law hung banners and streamers at a major crossroads in Cotabato City in Mindanao.
Several organizations then expressed frustration with what they perceived as the dilution of the law by the president's office, calling on the government to comply with the peace deal.
The group singled out the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process as the “source of the problem,” referring to the delay in submitting the law on Bangsamoro to Congress when it resumed session Monday.
In its manifesto, the Sulong Bangsamoro Movement said that civil society organizations are “deeply worried of the possible negative consequences if the major issues in the agreement are not resolved in due time and that the review will reduce significantly the substance of the agreement.”
It added that their hopes and expectations were dampened when President Benigno Aquino III only mentioned the law in a few lines in his 44-page State of the Nation Address on Monday.