Philippine president submits law on Muslim south to Congress
If ratified, will bring much needed wealth to Muslim region that is among the country’s most underdeveloped due to the decades-old conflict

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III personally submitted Wednesday a draft law on the Muslim south to Congress leaders during a ceremony at his office, the Malacanang Palace.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government peace panel’s chair in talks with the country’s one-time largest rebel group, said, "The submission of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law [BBL] to the leaders of the Philippine Congress brings us to the next, crucial stage in our roadmap to the Bangsamoro political entity: the formal legislative process."

On March 27, the government and the the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace deal – named the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro - that brought to a close 17 years of negotiations and ended a decades-old armed conflict in the southern area of Mindanao -- the second largest and southernmost major island in the Philippines -- while granting Muslim areas greater political autonomy.

The deal committed Aquino and the front to pass a law creating the Bangsamoro Region -- which will supplant the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) once the law is passed and ratified -- before the 2016 presidential elections.

In a statement issued to the Anadolu Agency, Ferrer said the BBL builds on the foundation of the region agreed upon earlier, but "has several distinct features that distinguish it from the ARMM,” including more of the powers granted to autonomous regions by the country’s constitution.

The proposed BBL entails a Bangsamoro government in parliamentary form, a broader base of political representation and participation in governance, and the formation of competitive and sustainable political parties in the region.

Ferrer welcomed MILF efforts to form a political party that would facilitate effective participation in electoral politics and "consequently assist in their transformation from combatants to full-time civilian life as active Filipino citizens in the Bangsamoro."

She urged other groups to also consider forming political parties that would equally enable them to participate in the Bangsamoro elections in 2016.

Touching on economics, she added, "the Bangsamoro shall enjoy fiscal autonomy through fiscal and other revenue-generating powers in its hands” and will be given annual grants similar to those received by other local governments.

If ratified, the law will bring much needed wealth to a region that is among the most underdeveloped in the country due to the decades-old conflict.

Under the new agreement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will get a 75 percent share of income derived from the exploitation of metallic minerals in the area -- reported to include gold and copper. It will also receive 75 percent of tax revenue, while any income derived from fossil fuels -- like petroleum, natural gas and coal -- will be split 50-50 with the central government in Manila.

The peace negotiator said the Bangsamoro government will be secular and democratic with institutions and policies serving the needs of the majority Muslim population.

"The basic rights of all inhabitants shall be guaranteed, and special rights accorded all indigenous peoples, women, children, and minorities shall be respected and promoted,” Ferrer stressed.

"With more powers and resources come more responsibilities. This is the advantage as well as the duty of those who will be leading the Bangsamoro in the years to come,” she adding - also calling on Congress members to deliberate on the historically significant draft law "with open hearts and minds.”

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Last Modified: 2014-09-10 08:31:23
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