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.”