Muslims, Christians warn against diluted law on Mindanao autonomy

    Botched anti-terrorism raid should not serve as excuse to ‘water down’ peace agreement

    Joe Torres and Eloisa Lopez, Manila |Philippines | May 11, 2015

    Legislators in the Philippines should not allow a bungled anti-terrorist operation in January, which resulted in the deaths of 44 policemen, to justify passing a “watered-down” law to implement a long-awaited peace deal in the troubled Mindanao region, civil society groups warned Monday.

    As legislators this week started final deliberations into the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which peace advocates hope will bring a formal end to four decades of war in the southern Philippines region of Mindanao, civil society groups urged lawmakers to uphold the spirit of a tenuous peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last year.

    “We will solidly oppose any move to dilute the agreed version of the proposed law,” said lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, chairwoman of the Mindanao Civil Society Organization Platform for Peace.

    She told that “a diluted law cannot bring into fruition the peace formula” agreed upon by the Philippine government and the MILF during 17 years of peace negotiations.

    “We hope that unfounded fears of some of our legislators do not put to waste the difficult negotiations that have resulted in the current draft of the BBL,” said Abdul Malik Cleofe of the Bawgbug Peace and Human Rights Center.

    He said many of the provisions of the proposed law have undergone “meticulous processes” and have been scrutinized by the government and rebel peace panels.

    Several legislators have been pressing for the deletion of eight provisions in the BBL that they deemed to be unconstitutional, including the establishment of separate constitutional bodies, as well as the establishment of a Bangsamoro police force in the proposed autonomous region.

    Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, head of the inter-religious group Friends of Peace, warned that deleting certain provisions of the law will make the proposed autonomous Moro region “less autonomous”.

    The prelate noted that the death of 44 policemen in a disastrous anti-terrorist operation in January “raised prejudices and biases” against the peace process.

    “You can hear people even in Mindanao saying ‘justice to our [Special Action Forces], reject BBL,” Quevedo told in an interview.

    “My prayer is that our legislators will transcend the incident and just look at the merits of the proposed law,” the cardinal said, adding that an autonomous Moro region in Mindanao “can be a very good basis for a just and lasting peace.”

    Teresita Quintos Deles, the Philippine government’s adviser on the peace process, expressed hope that the legislators “will wholeheartedly claim, and not deny nor squander, their key role in fulfilling this opportunity that may not come again within our lifetime.”

    Deles urged the legislators to fulfill their historic role in bringing good governance, peace, prosperity and security in Mindanao through the passage of the BBL.

    “We need a BBL that will embody our best hopes and not give in to our worst fears,” she said.

    On Monday, hundreds of Muslims and Christians in Manila held a peace march to call for the immediate passage of the BBL and for a “lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao”.

    “We rally here today to show wide support on the passage of the BBL, with groups coming from Luzon to Mindanao,” said Risa Hontiveros, a former member of Congress.

    Yoly Esguerra, national coordinator of the social justice group, Philippine Misereor Partnership, said support for the bill is necessary “as it embodies the spirit of a people longing for self-determination, social justice, and genuine development”.

    But Edilberto de Jesus, president of the Asian Institute of Management and a member of the National Peace Council tasked to review the proposed law, said “you cannot expect everything to be perfect”.

    “That’s looking for a silver bullet,” he said when asked if the BBL would address the concerns raised by various sectors. “This search for ‘the perfect’ will be an excuse to delay the process, to delay the passage of the law,” De Jesus told in an interview.

    Representative Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the ad hoc committee on the BBL in the House of Representatives, said he expects to endorse the proposed BBL for a final vote in Congress on Thursday.