MANILA, Philippines – In his State of the Nation Address in 2013, President Benigno Aquino III gave marching orders to Congress to pass the law creating a new autonomous government in Mindanao by the end of 2014.
A year later, Aquino appealed to Congress to understand the delay in the drafting of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
"Kasalukuyan na po nating pinapanday ang panukalang Bangsamoro Basic Law. Humihingi po tayo ng pang-unawa sa ating Kongreso ukol rito. Mahalaga pong maging masusi ang paghimay natin ng bawat probisyong ilalatag. Sa abot ng ating makakaya, isusulong natin ang isang panukalang batas na makatuwiran, makatarungan, at katanggap-tanggap sa lahat," Aquino said in his 5th State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 28.
(We are currently in the process of crafting the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. We are appealing for understanding from Congress regarding this. It is important that we scrutinize each provision. To the extent of our ability, we will push for a law that is just, fair, and acceptable to all.)
With only 5 months left from the target deadline while the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law has yet to be finalized, Aquino did not make any clear orders on when he wants the law passed this time around.
Instead, he sought to enlighten Congress about the possible impact of not passing the law by the end of 2014.
"Kung maisasabatas nga po ang Bangsamoro Basic Law bago matapos ang taon at maisasagawa ang kinakailangang plebesito, mabibigyan ng isa't kalahating taon ang Bangsamoro Transition Authority para ipakita ang positibong pagbabago. Kung maaantala naman ito, natural pong iikli rin ang panahon para mapatunayan na tama nga ang landas ng kapayapaang tinatahak natin," Aquino said.
(If the Bangsamoro Basic Law can be passed before the end of the year and the subsequent plebiscite can be done, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be given a year and a half to show positive changes. If it will be delayed, naturally the time to show that we are treading the right path to peace will also be become shorter.)
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority is a proposed body led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It will oversee the transition from the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) toward the Bangsamoro political entity, which is envisioned to have a parliamentary form of government with greater fiscal powers.
But months after the much-heralded signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF, the peace process has hit a roadblock.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who is also the chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, accused the government of "heavily diluting" the proposed law after it was sent to the Palace for review.
Asked for his reaction to Aquino's statement, Iqbal said: "It is not a perfect statement but it is still part of his focus." Iqbal was one of the guests during Aquino's SONA.
The MILF is of the position that the Constitution must be amended to entrench real autonomy in Mindanao. Malacañang, for its part, believes the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro can be implemented without charter change.
Ahead of the SONA, peace panels from both sides met to find a middle-ground on the draft law.
In his Eid al-Fitr message, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said the talks are "seemingly progressing."
Despite the hitches, Aquino gave his commitment that he will not break the trust that has enabled the peace process to move forward.
'Perhaps deadline needs to be moved'
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, chairman of the Senate local government committee, said he expected the Bangsamoro bill to be submitted to Congress by April. Marcos' committee will be the lead panel in overseeing the passage of the bill.
With the delay, Marcos said Congress might need to move the target deadline to the early part of 2015.
"That is the timetable, move it back, for all we know we can finish this by the end of 2014. My idea, I will let whoever wants to speak, pro or against, to speak. It’s not the job of the committee to make those determinations. It’s the job of the committee to examine all the issues around Bangsamoro, report all that’s been said and form the basis of the [bicameral conference report]," Marcos said.
Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate committee on peace, is, however, optimistic that the deadline at the end of 2014 can still be met.
"It’s a bit tight, but we can still make it," he said.
The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is expected to create a supercommittee joining all concerned committees, including the committee on Muslim affairs and local government, to fast-track discussions on the bill.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr has yet to announce who will lead the committee. – with reports from Ayee Macaraig/Rappler.com