By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – A stalled bill on the Philippines’ Muslim south may be overridden by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s plans to grant regions autonomy through federalism, his pick for House Speaker said Thursday.
Pantaleon Alvarez, the incoming representative for Davao del Norte province, told news broadcaster ANC that Duterte’s plan to amend the country’s constitution to allow expanded states right would also apply to the Bangsamoro region.
Referring to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) pushed by the outgoing government, he said, “the BBL will be absorbed by the federal form of government, because the concept of the proposed law is the same with the federal form of government.”
Duterte, a devout Catholic set to become the Philippines’ first leader from southern Mindanao island, has backed the peace process with the country’s one-time largest Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
In March 2014, the MILF signed a peace deal with the government that brought to a close 17 years of negotiations and ended a decades-old armed conflict in the country’s south.
However, the BBL -- which would have sealed the deal but critics claimed was unconstitutional -- was stalled earlier this year as Congress adjourned for campaigning for the May 9 election.
On Thursday, Alvarez said the outgoing administration of Benigno S. Aquino III had made the MILF “the unrealistic promise” of passing the BBL under the current charter, and insisted that the Supreme Court would have blocked it.
"How can you implement the provisions of the BBL without amending the constitution? You cannot do it because there are provisions in the BBL that [run] contrary to the provisions of the constitution," he said.
Alvarez told ANC that whereas provinces currently remit their incomes to the national government which controls its distribution, states under a federal system would only remit 25 percent for national defense and foreign affairs.
"It is the central government that determines the happiness and misery of the regions,” he underlined, warning of the irregularities and corrupt handlings witnessed under the domination of the central government.
The BBL would have created a new region to replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and bring much needed wealth to a region that is rich in resources but among the country’s most underdeveloped.
In late February, Duterte -- who has served 22 years as the mayor of Davao City, located in Mindanao but not its majority Muslim region -- visited the main MILF stronghold in Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province.
During the visit, he discussed the failure to pass the BBL with the MILF’s vice chair for political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, and his proposal for a federal system under which territories would be created for the country’s indigenous peoples.
Duterte has said his ties with local Muslims have been cemented through the marriage of his eldest son, Davao vice mayor Paolo, to a local Muslim girl.
“I have grandchildren who are either Muslim or Christian. Would I want to see a situation in the future where even my own grandchildren would be dragged into this conflict?” the Mindanao Times reported him as saying in January 2015.