Philippines poised to give Muslim minority self-rule

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was quoted as saying that if the law doesn’t pass, he might resign from the presidency. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2018
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Philippines poised to give Muslim minority self-rule

  • A bill granting self-rule to the Philippines’ Muslim minority is set to be passed by Congress
  • When Duterte became president, he urged Congress to pass the bill

MANILA: After years of delays and controversy, a bill granting self-rule to the Philippines’ Muslim minority is set to be passed by Congress before the end of this month.

“We cannot but be positive,” said President Rodrigo Duterte’s adviser on the peace process, Jesus Dureza, of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“My guess is that it will be passed by the time Congress goes on recess on June 1,” he said.

Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator, told Arab News that he is “more hopeful now that the BBL will finally get through Congress this May.”

Earlier, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on the BBL, gave assurances that the law will be passed by the end of the month.

“They assured us that on May 29, I think that’s the last session, they will be able to pass the BBL, both in the Upper House and the Lower House,” said Iqbal.

“This is also the statement of Speaker Alvarez when we met the other day. He said they would be able to finish it.”

Dureza said that a majority in the House of Representatives supports the bill. On Tuesday, all three committees working to finalize the proposed BBL approved a joint committee report on the consolidated BBL measure.

He said the BBL has the strong backing of Duterte, who had been quoted as saying that if the law doesn’t pass, “I might just resign from the presidency.”

“That sends the strong message that he really wants the BBL passed,” Dureza said.

The BBL was the result of a peace agreement between the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF to pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro region to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

However, passage of the bill stalled in 2015 following a clash between Philippine National Police commandos and MILF fighters in Maguindanao province that left 44 troopers and 18 MILF fighters dead.

When Duterte became president, he urged Congress to pass the bill, which is expected to address the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao that caused more than 120,000 deaths.

Asked how the BBL would change the economic and security landscape in southern Philippines, Dureza said that “if passed and entrenched, it will hopefully improve the situation of the Bangsamoro.

“But let’s manage our expectations. It will only be a start of more challenging times for just and sustainable peace,” he said.

 “It will not be as magical as some people expect.

“Government will only provide the framework and enabling environment, but everyone must all work to bring about the desired level of trust and development,” he said.

Iqbal said that while the BBL addresses the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people, “there are still many issues that remain to be ironed out and probably be resolved by the parties (involved).”

On the question of extremism, Iqbal said that once the BBL is in place, “radical elements will be left with no issues with government, so they will become irrelevant and the people will not support them.”


’We’ll come back for you’: US fires split families, pets

Updated 18 November 2018
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’We’ll come back for you’: US fires split families, pets

  • Many animals arrived at the shelters injured and burned
  • The animal shelters are working with dozens of volunteers responsible for feeding, caring for and walking the animals

CHICO, United States: Steve Cox pets and cuddles Ernie, his 10-year-old English bulldog, before leaving him at a shelter. Cox lost his home in California’s devastating wildfires, and now they have to part.
“Don’t you worry Ernie. I am not gonna let you down. We’ll come back for you,” Cox whispers.
He has been staying at a hotel but it doesn’t take pets. For a week, Cox tried to take care of Ernie in the back of his pickup truck.
But now, as Cox tries to get his life back on track, he thinks Ernie would get better care at one of three animal shelters in northern California’s Paradise area where the so-called Camp Fire has claimed 76 lives and left more than 1,000 unaccounted for.
In this rural area, which had many horses, one shelter is for large animals.
Then there are two small facilities where helpers are working with dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, turtles and even swans.
Ernie is walking with a bit of trouble after an operation on an abscess in one of his front legs. Cox says the dog is lazy, though, so he thinks Ernie will adapt quickly to the separation by sleeping a lot.
The main shelter was set up in the city of Chico’s airport, near Paradise, where rescue and firefighting operations have been based.
Animals saved by firefighters are dropped off there to be cared for.
One woman arrives desperate, her hands trembling. She pulls out an envelope of photos of her cats and dogs.
“Please, let me in and see. I might find them,” she begs in a tearful voice.
When the fire began to threaten Paradise, Cox was headed home from the doctor with his wife. He could have stopped but instead kept going, to rescue Ernie and two other smaller dogs he has.
“They are family. I couldn’t just leave them. We had 10 minutes to leave,” he recalls.
Cox, who lived there since 1973, said he lost two houses, and many pieces of furniture that his father had left him, in the blaze which virtually wiped the entire community from the map.
“I have a big question mark above my head. I don’t know what I’ll do,” he says, his face showing exhaustion.
The animal shelters are working with dozens of volunteers responsible for feeding, caring for and walking the animals.
They also have volunteer veterinary technicians, including Marshall Riddle, who are responsible for treating them.
Many animals arrived at the shelters injured and burned.
“It’s never easy, but we have to make sure every animal is safe,” he says.
The most worrying cases were sent along to specialized clinics.
Although these are not the first shelters of their kind in the state regularly ravaged by wildfires, the blazes have never been so deadly.
“Butte County is always on fire,” said Karen Falconer of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group, which runs another of the shelters, in an old hospital in the town of Oroville.
There are about 430 animals, separated into zones. The dog section is barking noisily but the cat zone is quieter.
“We’ll take care of them as long as necessary,” Falconer told AFP.
For Cox, the separation was just starting, while others were already rejoicing in reunion.
Little Eva’s face lit up when her six-month-old kitten Luke Skywalker — named for the “Star Wars” character — was handed over to her and her parents, Robert Pieper and his wife Brittany.
They had already searched in another shelter for their pet African tortoise named James Peterson.
The fire destroyed their house in Magalia, just outside Paradise.
Now, after days in a shelter and then a hotel, they were able to rent an apartment where they could be with their pets and try to start over the life the wildfires had burnt beyond recognition.