MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has given an “urgent” certification to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will give wider autonomy to the country’s Muslim minority.
The president’s decision on Tuesday came one day after he held separate meetings with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), led by its chairman, Murad Ibrahim, and leaders of Congress.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday said he had spoken to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who told him that Malacanang would send them the certification that the BBL is an urgent measure.
The office of the presidential liaison office later announced it had sent the BBL certification to Sotto.
Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, said that “after much deliberation, the president has decided to make the House and Senate versions of the BBL as urgent.”
Dureza said earlier that during their meeting with Duterte on Monday, leaders from the Senate and House of Representatives vowed to pass the proposed BBL “at the earliest possible time.”
“It was a good meeting with all leaders of the House and the Senate, including their members who expressed strongly on their views on the bill,” Dureza said.
He said that Duterte first met with the MILF leadership before organizing a separate meeting with government representatives.
“The president initially expressed his own personal views and initial assessments which resonated well to all,” Dureza said.
The meeting agreed that the two chambers would complete their work as soon as possible.
Following the commitment of leaders of both Houses to pass the BBL and iron out any disagreements in a bicameral conference, Duterte agreed to certify the bill as urgent.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas, who took part in the meeting with the president, said Duterte did not impose anything on Congress, but granted their request to certify the BBL bill to allow both houses of Congress to pass their respective versions of the measure before they adjourn on Wednesday.
“We will then have a bicameral conference committee during the break, which will resolve conflicting provisions of our bills in collaboration with the Executive Department and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission,” said Farinas. The bicam conference committee report will be submitted for ratification by the both chambers of Congress on July 23.
Once both chambers have finalized the version, Duterte is expected to sign the BBL in time for his “state of the nation” address on the same day.
Farinas on Monday said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission had agreed to most of the proposed amendments to the draft BBL, including naming the new entity that will be created by the law as the Autonomous Region of Bangsamoro (ARB).
The commission has also agreed that control of the defense, police and coast guard will be retained by the national government. “There will be a police region in the Bangsamoro, but it will still be under the PNP (Philippine National Police).”
Agreement has yet to be reached on two major proposed amendments — the opt-in clause and fiscal autonomy for the Bangsamoro. Once the BBL is passed and approved by the president, a plebiscite will be held within 150 days. The MILF chair told Arab News they are “optimistic that once the Bangsamoro (bill) will be in place, it will be supported by the majority of the people in the area.
“Then we can be assured that security issues will be improved and the economic activities of the people will be also increased as there will be peace in the area. So that is expected in the future,” Murad 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.
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 assumed presidency in 2016, 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.