MANILA, Philippines (PNA) – Amid threats to their rights over the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), non-Moro indigenous people (IP)’s groups from Mindanao will bring their issues to Manila starting Monday.


A six-member IP delegation led by Timuay Alim Bandara, a Teduray leader, will hold meetings with various non-government organizations, public officials, and concerned groups and individuals in the National Capital Region from May 19 to 21 to raise issues on the BBL that may gravely affect their right to identity, ancestral domains, and self-determination, among others.


According to Bandara, IP groups had long been raising these issues in different peace talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government but these were “not certainly reflected in the documents that came out” between the MILF-GPH pact that resulted in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the drafting of the BBL.


“We support -- as we have from the beginning -- the peace process and the agreement reached between the Philippine government and our brothers MILF. We congratulate them on this historic achievement,” said Bandara, a council member of the indigenous political structure Timuay Justice and Governance.


“However, as a community with our own customary practices and beliefs, culture, history, and identity and territory, my people, the Teduray, are appealing to the Philippine Government to take notice and to help us in our struggle to survive and live with dignity,” added Bandara, head claimant of the ancestral domain claims of the Teduray, Lambangian, and Dulangan Manobo IP groups in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 


Santos Unsad, another timuay from the Teduray community and former commissioner of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, said, “Let not our distinct identity as a people be ignored and erased from our history. Instead, let us continue to walk this road to justice and peace carrying our rights, our lands, our identities.” 


The IP delegation’s three-day activity in Manila will start with Kapihan sa Aristocrat in Malate on May 19 at 9 am. Among the confirmed attendees in the event are Sen. Grace Poe, human rights lawyer and professor Harry Roque, representatives from the Center for People Empowerment in Governance and North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco. It will be followed by a media briefing on May 20, the time and venue of the event will be announced soon.


Gov't assures legality of CAB

Meanwhile,  the government has assured critics on the legality of the CAB as its basis is the Philippine Constitution.


Government legal team headed by lawyer Anna Tarhata Basman affirmed that the 1987 Constitution has been the paramount basis of the CAB that is now translated into a BBL draft, which will be submitted to Congress this year.


"The CAB is legal," Basman said while reiterating that the government peace panel welcomes the concerns of everyone on the CAB.


"We are open to engaging and informing everyone on the different provisions on the CAB," Basman said.


According to Basman, Article X of the Philippine Constitution, which contains provisions on autonomous regions, served as the basis for the Bangsamoro's ministerial form of government. “The general guideline it provided for the structure of government of an autonomous region is that the executive and legislative branch of the autonomous government must be elective and representative of the constituent political units."


She said that the republican form of government is entrenched in the Constitution. However, the exact form and mechanism to derive citizen’s representation in the government is not specifically prescribed in the Supreme Law and so it does not exclude other structures of representative democracy.


On the devolution of powers to the Bangsamoro, Basman said that, “Section 20 of Article X is the constitutional basis for the listing of devolved powers.” She added that the signed CAB, which lists such power-sharing arrangements between the Central and Bangsamoro governments, has yet to be fleshed out in the Basic Law that will undergo national legislation. “It is therefore up to Congress to determine the extent of the legislative powers to be granted to the Bangsamoro legislative body and the relationship of this power vis-à-vis existing and future national legislations.”


As to the retention of the President’s general supervision over autonomous regions, Atty. Basman said this will continue in the Bangsamoro which respects the power of the national government and national sovereignty. She said that like what has been exercised by the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the future Bangsamoro government that will replace it will also have devolved powers to regulate its constituent Local Government Units (LGUs).


Basman also assured that the CAB respects the powers of constitutional bodies. She cited excerpts of the CAB that gives “due regard to the powers of the Supreme Court,” “without prejudice to the power, authority and duty of the national Commission on Audit,” and its continued mandate in autonomous regions like the future Bangsamoro.


Basman likewise clarified that the police force for the Bangsamoro will be under the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) as required by the Constitution. “Also, having a human rights body specifically catering to the Bangsamoro will not diminish the current powers of the national Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as in fact this arrangement already exists in the form of the Regional Human Rights Commission in the ARMM.”