BY ROGER M. BALANZA
The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), seen as a final solution to the Mindanao Moro problem, is facing threats.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the first Moro rebel group to sign a peace agreement with the government, could still throw a monkey wrench into efforts to find lasting peace in Mindanao by questioning the legality of the BBL before the Supreme Court.
The MNLF, once the biggest armed Moro rebel group in Mindanao, also has a fighting force that sporadically engages in firefights with government soldiers and attack villages. It is suspected to have links with Mindanao terrorist groups. Nur Misuari, MNLF chairman, is in hiding over rebellion charges.
The MNLF does not respect the recently-signed peace agreement, that would give birth to the BBL, between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the biggest Moro rebel group in Mindanao today.
Under the BBL, there would be created a Bangsamoro political entity to be led by the MILF.
The MNLF creating trouble could be averted if the Nur Misuari-led group is given its own autonomous Bangsamoro government, according to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Mindanao’s foremost champion of peace talks with rebel groups as the answer to the island’s insurgency woes.
The MNLF mellowed down in 1976 on its decades-old violent path to seeking independence for Mindanao after its signing of the Tripoli Agreement, the first peace agreement by the government with a Moro rebel group.
There has to be a Bangsamoro nation for the MNLF. Otherwise, we are all lost, said Duterte.
Duterte insists there is an existing peace agreement between the MNLF and the government that must be respected. He adds though that he supports the BBL.
The final instrument of the agreement seen as the solution to the Mindanao Moro problem, the BBL is still to be approved by Congress. The MNLF does not recognize the peace agreement between the government and the MILF and the BBL.
The MILF, led by the late Hashim Salamat, is an offspring of the MNLF, formed in 1977, which pursued its own fight for independence a year after the signing of the Tripoli agreement.
Duterte said the Tripoli Agreement between the Philippine government and the MNLF has been sidelined in the current peace agreement between the government and the MILF.
The 1976 Tripoli Agreement was brokered by the Quadripartite Ministerial Commission of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and then Libyan strongman Muamar Khadafi, during the administration of the late former President Ferdinand Marcos.
Under the late President Corazon Aquino in 1987, a year after the ouster of Marcos by the People Power revolution, , the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created through Republic Act No. 6734. Misuari was appointed as the first regional governor of the Bangsamoro autonomous government.
Under the administration of President Fidel Ramos, the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement was signed.
In March this year, President Benigno Aquino and MILF chairman Ebrahim Al Haj Murad signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that laid down the legal foundations for the creation of a new autonomous Bangsamoro government in Muslim-dominated parts of Mindanao. Congress is now deliberation on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would establish a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace ARMM.
The MNLF asserts the Bangsamoro already has an agreement with the government in the Tripoli Agreement and the GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement and do not recognize the GRP-MILF peace pact. Misuari also said the MNLF was not consulted and did not participate in the negotiations.
“If at all we cannot renege on our promise in the Tripoli Agreement, we have to honor that and we have to talk to Misuari,” Duterte said in his Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa television program on ABS/CBN-Davao on Sunday, September 21.
Duterte spelled out two routes that Misuari may take to derail the quest for peace in Mindanao.
One, the MNLF could go to the Supreme Court to question the legality of the BBL. This move he said may also be taken by others who see unconstitutionality in the proposed Bangsamoro law.
Two, Misuari may resort anew to violence and honeymoon with the Mindanao terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
Do not forget Misuari, said Duterte, adding that the MNLF founder remains a force to reckon with in the search for peace in Mindanao.
We have to forget the Zamboanga incident and talk with Misuari if we want peace, he said.
Last year, MNLF fighters belonging to Misuari faction laid siege of Zamboanga City.
Before being driven away, the rebels held at bay responding government troops in a two-month stand-off in the western Mindanao capital city. The firefights cost about 100 lives lost and hundreds more injured and millions of pesos in damage to properties. Misuati is inhiding after government filed rebellion charges against him for the bloody incident. At this point in time, Duterte said the fate of Mindanao’s peace hinges on Congress which is now deliberating on the BBL.
He said Congress should move fast to pass the BBL, with its potential constitutional flaws cured, before Misuari and the MNLF and other critics of the BBL run to the High Court to question its constitutionality.
A lawyer, Duterte said certain provisions of the BBL run roughshod with the Constitution, pointing out the provisions on territory and establishment of an independent police force in the new autonomous government.
Duterte also said under the proposed BBL, the new Bangsamoro political entity would subsume traditional territories of the MNLF in western Mindanao. The MILF is based in Central Mindanao.
While MILF and MNLF are Muslim-dominated, their tribes have slight distinct customs and traditions that could spark conflict, said Duterte. Cetral Mindanao is peopled by the Maguindanao tribe while western Mindanao and Sulu have the Maranao and Tausug tribes.
But still, he expressed a prayerful optimism that the BBL would sail through the storm.
As a Mindanaoan hungry for peace, I hope and I pray it would pass Congress,” he said.
In the ABS/CBN-Davao television program co-hosted by lawyer-journalist Geraldine Tiu, Duterte ended his discourse on the peace efforts with a hint another bigger force, other than the BBL and separate Bangsamoro governments for both the MILF and MNLF, could achieve final and lasting peace in Mindanao.