By Ellson A. Quismorio & Edd K. Usman in Manila Bulletin


Continuous communication between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the true state of peace talks can help diffuse the reported tension in the south arising from the delay of the submission of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to Congress.


This was stressed yesterday by Representatives Leopoldo Bataoil (second district, Pangasinan), Samuel Pagdilao (ACT-CIS party-list), Gary Alejano and Ashley Acedillo (Magdalo party-list), and Romeo Acop (second district, Antipolo City) at a press conference at the House of Representatives.


The four congressmen comprise the so-called “Saturday Group” who all have backgrounds in law enforcement and are graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).


“I believe in continued talks [between the government and MILF]. The opening of communication lines at all levels will diffuse the tension,” Bataoil, a retired Philippine National Police (PNP) general, told reporters.


The lawmakers issued the statement in response to a query on how to allay the reported unrest among MILF members in Mindanao amid the uncertainty surrounding Malacañang’s submission of the BBL draft for Congress’ approval.


“There should be continuing talks from all levels…Communication from above should trickle down to these levels. If the talks stop and they grow impatient with what is happening and not happening, that will start friction that may cause actual hostility or the renewal of hostility, which is not good for the peace talks,” Pagdilao, another ex-PNP general, said.




Meanwhile, the MILF yesterday called on the Government of the Philippines (GPH) to hasten the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to Congress.


“Time is running out” on that very important legislation, said Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for Political Affairs, in an interview with the Manila Bulletin yesterday.


He said MILF troops on the ground are becoming “restless” because of the delay.




“We are not giving the government a timetable on the submission of the BBL to Congress. The time frame has already been broken,” Jaafar said, while adding they are not inclined to give GPH a warning either.


Asked what will happen if the BBL will not be submitted anymore, he said: “Let us wait and see. We will discuss that when the time comes.”




The MILF leader stressed that they “will not accept a renegotiation of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro),” saying it was already completed after 17 years of the peace process.




In the press conference yesterday, Rep. Gary Alejano said there is currently a “disconnect in information” in Mindanao which is leading to unrest.


“There is dissemination of wrong or varying information on the ground. This makes for different levels of expectations. Expectations on the ground are so high. That’s why, when they see a problem or a bit of delay like what we are having, they resort to violence,” said the Magdalo representative.


Rep. Acedillo said the MILF leadership ought to reveal what it has been telling its own people about the peace process.


“We’d like to ask them, what are they disseminating on the ground? The worst thing that we want to happen is for them to say something that is beyond what has been agreed between the MILF and the government. They might expect more than what the government can give them,” he said.


“So I think it is incumbent with MILF to continue communicating with the people on the ground because we need to preclude any incidents of misunderstanding,” he added.




Alejano said there is now a law enforcement issue in the areas covered by the MILF causing uneasiness between the Moro group and the PNP.


“[MILF members] are now enforcing the law, let’s say, arresting a drug addict in Lanao. This causes friction with the PNP. This makes it appear that their firearms are unlicensed. So the PNP arrests them too, but this won’t sit well with the MILF commander. The police end up being disarmed,” he said.


But Bataoil said this type of “citizens’ arrest” could work if only it is duly coordinated with the proper authorities, preventing friction.


“Under the citizens’ arrest doctrine, they can help our police and military in implementing our laws. It only needs to be coordinated, with open communication lines. Their respective roles should be understood,” he said.




Meanwhile, Pagdilao said he saw “hope and optimism” among Mindanaoans during a trip to the region last week.


This optimism could be sustained by feeding them the right information up until the time that the BBL progresses.


“I talked to both Christians and Muslims,” he said. “And they are actually very optimistic with the outcome of these peace talks and with the forthcoming BBL.”


“So it’s only really a matter of updating them on what’s really happening,” Pagdilao said.




The GPH and MILF signed the CAB on March 27 this year, a blending of the four annexes of the Oct. 15 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and other signed accords.


The BBL was crafted to serve as the charter of the new political entity (NPE) dubbed Bangsamoro to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).


The delays in the transmission of the BBL draft to the House—anticipated as early as April—have caused concerns that the Bangsamoro entity may not be fully established before President Aquino steps down from office  in 2016.




Meanwhile, Moro civil society organizations (CSOs) in Mindanao have asked President Benigno S. Aquino III to respect, not mangle, the now-contentious draft BBL. This appeal was reported in, a communication tool of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).


In the name of peace, Mr. President, we appeal to the GPH to implement faithfully its commitment embodied in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the CSO members pleaded during their peace rally timed with the post-Ramadan celebration of Eid’l Fitr on Monday in Cotabato City.


The Sulong Bangsamoro Movement (SBM) said they are readying more actions to fight for a BBL that is faithful to the CAB. SBM is a coalition of various CSOs based in Central Mindanao to respond in an organized manner to the problem facing GPH and the MILF about the BBL.


SBM chairman Mahdie Amelia, speaking for the group, asked Aquino to fulfill his father’s dream to establish “a meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro.” “We love you, Mr President, please don’t betray us,” said Amelia.


The Moro Women Development and Cultural Center (MWDECC) also called on the President and his legal team to respect the BBL drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).


“Mr. President, BBL is a result of the many consultations conducted by the BTC and CSOs, and it is copy-pasted from the agreement, therefore, your legal team has no authority to mangle it, and diluting it, Mr. President, is anti-peace,” she said.


Usop reminded the President that the Bangsamoro people are also his bosses.




“Amend the Philippine Constitution to accommodate the BBL rather than mangling it. Don’t let agreement adjust to the Constitution; it should be the Constitution to adjust to the agreement for the sake of peace. Submit and defend it to Congress,” she appealed.


The Bangsamoro people, she added, have the “right to have their own constitution, it should not be made for us.”




GPH chief negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer cited on Sunday what she called good progress about the BBL after the GPH meeting in Manila with the MILF panel led by Mohagher Iqbal.


I guarantee that we will have a good draft BBL and we commit to work with Congress in any way the legislators see fit,” she said.


Coronel-Ferrer asked the public to maintain their faith and to participate in the collective effort towards Mindanao’s peace and development.


Meanwhile, MILF leaders have been saying in the wake of the Palace legal team’s review of the BBL that they will not accept changes to the CAB and the BBL.


They said negotiations for the CAB that took 17 years long were already completed.


News reports said the two panels are set to meet again this week in Davao City.



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