By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - The outgoing government's chief negotiator in a deal that would seal peace with the largest rebel group in the Philippines' Muslim south has underlined that plans by an ally of the incoming president to introduce a federal system would not override a stalled autonomy bill key to the process.
In a statement issued Monday, negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that the choice does not have to be between the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and federalism.
"The next Congress can pass the draft law within 2016 and at the same time undertake the needed legal processes for charter change," she said.
"Any move to change the charter requires a lot of study and consultations. It will take several years since such a major change is not a mere amendment to the constitution and is best done through a constitutional convention."
On May 19, incoming Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon D. Alvarez -- president-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s candidate for House speaker -- was quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as saying that there is no more need for the BBL because it is moot already.
"There’s no point to it anymore in view of the plan to amend the 1987 Constitution to shift to a federal system."
Alvarez was quoted as saying the peace processes with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF] and the Moro National Liberation Front is “back to square one,” which appeared contrary to Duterte's campaign promise that he would honor peace agreements and correct the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro.
The BBL is the legal sign-off of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which was inked between the government and the MILF peace panels March 27, 2014.
The bill proposes to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), establish a more inclusive Bangsamoro autonomous region, and brings to a close 17 years of negotiations to end 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.
Ferrer underlined Monday that any further delay in completing the peace process would work against the stability of the next administration.
"Set up the Bangsamoro entity and let it exist. If we delay the road map, things might get worse. There are extremist ideologies existing around us recruiting among the Moro youth," she said.
Ferrer pointed to the advantages in pursuing the current roadmap laid out in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
“Passing the BBL as soon as possible will help stabilize the situation in the Bangsamoro. It will pave the way for the full-scale decommissioning of the MILF's weapons and combatants, the delivery of the socio-economic programs, and greatly enhance security cooperation between the government and the MILF," she added.
Ferrer underlined that the partnership is essential in fighting crime and terrorism in the region.
She added that Ferrer believes that Duterte understands the importance of passing the BBL, noting that during the last presidential debate, Duterte voiced his support for the BBL as a way to correct the historical injustices done to the Moros and the key to ending their armed insurgency.
"If you cannot talk it out in the peace talks, everything will fail. And I am telling now, the Republic of the Philippines, nothing will appease the Muslims, the Moro people if we do not give them the BBL.”