November 21, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Take two for Bangsamoro peace course as battle for Marawi nears two months

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday formally received the new draft of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that is designed to lay the foundation for lasting peace in Mindanao, even as fighting in Marawi City between government troops and militants aligned with the Islamic State neared the end of its second month.

The draft -- approved by the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) on June 6 -- was turned over to Mr. Duterte in Malacañan Palace in the presence of House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez, Senate President Aquilino L. Pimentel III and some lawmakers from both chambers of Congress whom Mr. Duterte met yesterday to discuss the measure.

Messrs. Pimentel and Alvarez both hail from Mindanao like Mr. Duterte, who was mayor of Davao City for two decades before winning the race to Malacañang last year.

“May I say to you my brother Moros that I commit to support in front of everybody my covenant with you that I will support and husband this instrument as it goes in the legislator for its consideration,” the President said in his speech.

“The draft bill, jointly written by our Muslim, Christian and Lumad brothers and sisters, shall give rise to a genuine autonomous region as well as bring forth healing and reconciliation to the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.”

Mr. Duterte told reporters after the ceremony: “... I have requested both the Senate President and the Speaker to consider it immediately.”

In a forum in Manila yesterday morning, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said “20-30%” of the previous version of BBL under Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno S. C. Aquino III,  was revised, adding that other Muslim groups participated in the crafting of the bill.

Mr. Aquino had championed the earlier version after receiving its draft in September 2014, but the anti-terror raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015 that claimed the lives of 44 police commandos turned public opinion against the effort and doomed legislative action.

Previous peace processes suffered from the flaw of having dealt only with either the MILF or its rival, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). It will be different this time, Presidential Adviser for Peace Process Jesus G. Dureza said, noting that MNLF Chairman Nurulaji P. Misuari will meet today with Mr. Duterte.

If passed, Mr. Iqbal said the BBL will focus on developing Mindanao’s “agricultural potential” and its mining industry, which can be “mid-term or long-term activities” and will be “co-managed” by the national and future Bangsamoro government.

“We’re quite optimistic... The best time to pass BBL is now up to December 2018,” Mr. Iqbal said.

“Without sounding political, and I’m speaking on a personal note, President Aquino never doubted as far as commitment and sincerity are concerned. I see the same thing with President Duterte.”

“The only difference is that Aquino is from Luzon and President Duterte is from Mindanao.”

Originally consisting of 15 members, the “expanded” BTC under the Duterte administration has 21 members -- of whom 11, including the BTC chairperson, are from the MILF, and 10 are nominated by the government.

According to Mr. Dureza, Mr. Misuari will work on drafting an amendment to the 1996 final peace agreement his faction had forged with the government of former president Fidel V. Ramos. That peace deal paved the way for Mr. Misuari’s leadership of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao until the early 2000s.

“So Congress will have to look at both and then find out how they can harmonize, how they can converge both proposals,” Mr. Dureza said.

“We’re hoping that magkaabutan doon sa Kongreso (We’re hoping that both proposals will be harmonized in Congress).” -- with Mario M. Banzon