The peace deal signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could soon collapse, as the draft law that would give autonomy to Muslims in the southern part of the country has yet to be submitted to Congress.
Aside from the delay, the MILF is accusing the government of reneging on its commitment to uphold the agreement that the two parties signed last March. The Muslim rebel group, which has been waging a war for independence since the 1970s in Mindanao, revealed that 70 percent of the proposed “Bangsamoro” law was deleted or substantially revised by government lawyers.
Mohagher Iqbal, the chief negotiator of the MILF, told Reuters in an interview that their group will reject the draft law, which needs to be approved by Congress. “We will lose face if we agree to this. Their version clearly departed from the letter and spirit of the peace agreement, which was the basis in crafting the proposed law.”
The MILF also noted that the government panel spent two months reviewing the signed peace deal, which caused the delay in submitting the document to Congress.
In an earlier statement, the MILF expressed frustration that the government is adopting “a very conservative interpretation of the Constitution,” which prevents it from fully supporting and implementing the signed peace agreements.
“The current government proposals will not restore dignity to a people who suffered tyranny and will not secure a peaceful and prosperous future,” the group said. It also asserted that “all those issues that are settled in the (past) will not be subject for renegotiation.”
Decades of conflict between the government and MILF’s forces have exacerbated poverty and economic hardships in Muslim Mindanao. There were previous peace and economic deals initiated by the government, but all of them had failed to improve the conditions of the Moro people. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is hoping that the MILF peace pact that his government signed last March will be among his enduring legacies after his term ends in 2016.
If passed by Congress, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law has to be approved in a referendum. Under the original plan, a transition authority would be created to oversee the election of officials in the new autonomous region. However, there are some experts who warn that the law could be declared unconstitutional, because it will give greater autonomy and taxation powers to the MILF. Some also believe the country’s constitution must be amended if the government is serious about securing a final peace deal.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda admitted that there will be a delay in the passage of the Bangsamoro Law, but denied that the peace process is in danger of collapse. “The panels are aware of the timeline. But the panels are also equally aware that the substance should be discussed mutually and agreed mutually.”
The two panels are meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week to finalize the proposed law. But since Congressional sessions have already underway, it will be difficult to approve the bill this year.
That the MILF panel publicly accused its government counterpart is a distressing sign that there is a serious rift between the two sides. With greater legal and political challenges to overcome in the next few months, this issue requires urgent attention.