Both houses of the Philippine Congress have passed a proposed law that will eventually allow self-rule for Muslims in the southern Mindanao region, but the chambers have come under criticism for allegedly watering-down certain provisions of the legislation.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier certified as urgent the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which, his office said, he wanted to sign into law by July before delivering his annual State of the Nation address.
On Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday the BBL was “absolutely indispensable in the search for peace” in Mindanao, a mineral-rich region that has remained largely impoverished because of years of Muslim separatist insurgency.
“We are pleased that both houses of Congress agreed to come up with a final version of the bill during the break,” Roque said in a statement, adding that both houses would now have to fine-tune the document in a bicameral conference committee before submitting the final version for Duterte to sign.
Juan Miguel Zubiri, the Senate majority’s floor leader, said he was confident that the version it passed on Thursday complied with the country’s constitution and could withstand a judicial challenge at the Supreme Court. The House passed the proposed legislation a day earlier.
“We survived walking on a tightrope, balancing the search for peace, right to self-determination, governance and democracy and. And, we did it crossing party lines,” Zubiri said.
“Even at this early stage, the BBL is a legacy for all the efforts to bring about peace and progress in lands which most experienced poverty, inequity and war in the Philippines,” he said, adding he believed that “erstwhile rebels” would finally lay down their arms once the measure was signed into law.
But Mohagher Iqbal, the chief peace negotiator for the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and chairman of a special transition commission which struck an agreement with the Philippine government on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in 2014, told BenarNews that the final Senate bill was “quite far from our version.”
“I cannot give a specific description on that because I don’t want to preempt what will happen in the legislative track in the Senate, but I am hoping that, at the end of the day, it will be passed and, hopefully, capture the essence of the agreement of the parties,” he said.
Full story: BenarNews
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato City, Philippines
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