A MEMBER of the negotiating panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) denied Wednesday that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was a step toward secession as some critics fear, noting that separatists would not need a law to break away from the republic.
“If we wanted that (secession) we could always do that. We do not need a BBL in order to assert whatever form of self-determination that we would want. But clearly, the plan is to have an autonomous region that is allowed even within the framework,” said Raissa Jajurie, a member of the MILF peace panel, during yesterday’s first The Standard Talks forum at the Manila Golf and Country Club, in Makati City.
“Even self determination is a right already recognized for all people. Internationally, it is found in the international covenant of human rights, and also in the other covenants of economic, social and cultural rights, of indigenous peoples. So it’s not something extraordianry,” said Jajurie.
She described the draft law to create a Bangsamoro entity as a compromise.
“The BBL still states the Bangsamoro is still part of the Philippines. While the original position of the MNLF [Moro National Liberation Front] and the MILF was independence, we have agreed to a compromise position. And that compromise is less than independence. So what we find in the BBL is that compromise position,” Jajurie said.
Panelists during Wednesday’s forum were chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, peace panel member Senen Bacani, MILF peace panel member Abdullah Camlian; Jajurie, Abakada and party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz.
Camlian said as a founding member of the MNLF, they thought at that time they should separate the Moro nation from the Republic of the Philippines.
“At that time we were young, we felt that this country could not serve us, and this country could not take care of us,” he said.
The Bangsamoro Transition Commission was organized out of the negotiations in the past, he said.
“The BBL is not solely the product of the MILF but it is a joint undertaking of both of the MILF and [the government]. I cannot understand why the Mamasapano incident is equated with the BBL. There were so many lies. There were not only 44 persons who died in this struggle. There were thousands of people that died in the struggle,” said Camlian.
Ferrer said after the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed on March 27, 2014, it became crucial to pass the law that would carry it out.
“The most important matter is the legislating of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. It is the law that would make political institutions be able to govern and see through the process of building peace and development, and bringing to life as well the concept of autonomy as defined in the Constitution,” she said.
Ferrer said it is not only about legislating the BBL, but also about bringing about socio-economic development in the region that has been left behind.
She also said Palawan was not included in the Bangsamoro.
“Palawan is not in the list of the places, or provinces who would participate in the plebiscite. The MILF agreed to a much scaled down geographic area. That was a major compromise on the part of the MILF,” she said.
Bacani said the BBL was not aimed at taking power away from the national government.
“There is no intent whatsoever in any manner to take away power, duty, function or authority of Commission on Audit (COA), Civil Service, Comelec, Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman,” Bacani said in reaction to criticism that the BBL would give the Bangsamoro its own equivalent agencies.
Dela Cruz, on the other hand, said the public needed assurances on what would happen if the current peace talks fail.
Chito Avecilla, a university professor and lawyer, said the BBL as presented to Congress was unconstitutional.
“Even the Transition Commission’s creation is unconstitutional because the President does not have the power to create a public office. The creation of the Transition Commission is not by legislative fiat, but pure executive discretion. Therefore the creation from the very beginning is not only unlawful, but unconstituional,” said Avecilla.
“The creation of a territory is unconstitutional. So if part of the country is to be divided into certain areas, it must follow the concept of regions, not territory,” he added.
Ferrer said there were still many issues to discuss whtn the BBL is debated in Congress.
She acknowledged that this would not be easy, since the lawmakers were not in on the negotiations from the start.
“But at the end of the day, we do need a good law. We need a law that could not be interpreted a hundred different ways,” she said.
The MILF’s Camilian also rejected the notion that a rejection or watering down of the BBL would lead to war.
“Regardless of what form the BBL comes, we will always pursue peace,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, the Palace said the comprehensive peace agreement with the MILF remained valid despite the use by its chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal of an alias.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda disputed the opinion of some lawmakers and lawmakers that Iqbal’s use of a pseudonym to sign the document rendered it invalid.
“MILF has already stood by the agreements that Mr. Iqbal has signed specifically, the Framework on the Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the annexes, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda also maintained that those documents were signed before the public with members of the international community as witnesses.
Earlier, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is leading a review in the Senate of the BBL, questioned Iqbal’s use of an alias in signing the peace documents.
He said in other countries, once rebels come out in the open and they’re no longer fighting the government, they delare who they really are and sign peace agreements using their true names.
Marcos noted that Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari did not use an alias when he entered into peace talks with the Cory Aquino government, which led to the creation of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, on the other hand, confirmed that Iqbal was a Filipino, as shown by his Philippine passport.
But he admitted he was not certain what the real name of the chief negotiator was, since Iqbal uses two other aliases, Lubis Abas and Salah Jubair.
Iqbal has earlier admitted that the name he is using was a nom de guerre.
Del Rosario, in a television interview, said Iqbal carries a valid Philippine passport and presented valid personal records when he applied for it.
“I think that as long as your passport is valid and it appears valid, regardless of your public name, the authorities will have to honor that,” Del Rosario said.
Iqbal said his use of an alias was for security purposes and to protect his family.