Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL): Elections, Prejudice, Ignorance, Constitutionality, MNLF, Lumad and Women

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March 2 2016: The Philippines government is considering establishing a new political entity known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Peace Direct's Local Correspondent of the Philippines, Rey Ty, looks at the issue and highlights some key problems that need to be addressed.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is a bill currently under deliberation by the Congress of the Philippines. If passed it would establish a new political entity known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. But there are some key problems with it – and they need to be addressed. First, the law is seen as a partisan issue. Passing the BBL is considered a victory of current President Benigno Aquino III. In a year of presidential elections, different political parties do not want to give political mileage to President Aquino’s party, as it would be a feather in his cap.

Second, due to perceived Christian discrimination against Muslims in the Philippines, many Filipinos, most of whom are Christians, are automatically opposed to the BBL. Progressive church leaders such as Archbishop Cardinal Orlando Beltran Quevedo of Cotabato have corrected blanket stereotyping and bias, talking about correcting social injustice against Muslims in the Philippines and engaging in interfaith dialogue. Quevedo has stressed that “the root cause of insurgency in the South is injustice.” Framing the bill in religious terms will not help as the issues are deeply historical, economic and political and have marginalized Muslims and non-Christian indigenous peoples.

Third, many residents who are directly affected by the BBL do not know enough about it. An intensive education and public information drive is necessary so that they are informed and aware of how it will affect them.

Fourth, the BBL framework violates a 2008 decision of the Supreme Court. This prohibited the attempt of the Office of the President to set up a separate Bangsamoro political entity in Muslim Mindanao. If the bill goes ahead, it will violate this previous Supreme Court ruling and exacerbate tensions.

Fifth, senior leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) oppose the proposed Bangsamoro basic law. The MNLF is one of the two major Muslim-led rebel groups in Mindanao; however, only the MILF is involved in the BBL talks with the MNLF sidelined. MNLF Islamic Command Council (ICC) Chair Habib Mujahab Hashim said that “the BBL is a product of a conspiracy” between the government of the Philippines and the MILF” (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). He said it violates the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and the 1996 Tripoli Agreement which achieved autonomy for a Muslim Mindanao. Both the MILF and the MNLF are occupying the same territory. So there is now a conflict of governance and a conflict of territory.

Habib Mujahab Hashim says that for now there is no way for the MNLF and the MILF to resolve their differences with respect to the BBL: “If two previous agreements are abolished automatically with the passing of the BBL, then the MNLF will have no choice but to exercise our final option of independence for the Bangsamoro Republic,” he said.

This lack of commitment from key parties does not bode well for implementation of the law.

Sixth, Lumads, or the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, feel left behind. Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous peoples’ rights and a former activist of the Igorot minority group in the Philippines, has said that the amended draft BBL falls short. According to Tauli-Corpuz, it does not meet “The minimum international standards contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the survival, dignity, and wellbeing of the non-Moro indigenous peoples.”

Pro-Lumad organisations say the government betrays indigenous peoples in Mindanao. They say the law defines them as Bangsamoro people, which “diminishes the distinct identity of the non-Moro indigenous peoples.”

Indigenous peoples stress they have been in existence prior to the coming of Islam and Christianity. So they should not be subsumed under a Bangsamoro or religious identity. This tension means the future of 33 ethnic groups of indigenous peoples in Mindanao – around eight million Lumads – is uncertain under the BBL.

Seventh, there is a lack of gender focus. The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy reported that a small group of women, organised by the Women and Gender Institute and the Mindanao Commission for Women has said that had gathered and discussed recommendations for the BBL. Amina Rasul shared the following women’s recommendations:

  • Ensure women’s full political participation in all decision-making bodies of Bangsamoro;

  • Indigenous women should be able to enjoy indigenous rights recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and IPRA;

  • All laws and policies must conform to international human rights and humanitarian law;

  • Guaranteed women’s access to funding;

  • Sectoral representation for women and indigenous peoples;

  • “Equitable and inclusive and distributive justice for all regardless of class, creed, disability, gender and ethnicity”; among other recommendations.

It is crucial that women’s voices and perspectives are included in such an important bill.

Achieving peace in Mindanao – beyond the BBL

In a recent debate in the disputed region of Mindanao, presidential candidate Duterte argued that the solution to the problems in Mindanao goes way beyond the BBL. In a meeting with the central committee of the MILF, Duterte proposed federalism as a potential solution, with all provinces gaining control over local affairs.

Senator Grace Poe, another presidential candidate, said that the peace talks should be “transparent, inclusive, and sustainable.” Poe added that all groups in Mindanao must be included in any peace deal. Poe also noted the crucial relationship between peace and development, “Included in the discussion about peace is development,” said Poe. To attain peace in Mindanao: “We also need to invest more in the growth of Mindanao,” Poe argued.

To make any peace plan work and attain lasting peace in Mindanao, five things should be done:

  1. Engage in an intensive interfaith dialogue to promote mutual understanding between different faith traditions.

  2. Launch intensive education programs to residents affected by the BBL so they are aware of how it will affect them.

  3. As one of the two major Muslim-led rebel groups in Mindanao, include the MNLF in the peace process and the passage of the BBL.

  4. Recognize the Lumads as Lumads (not as Bangsamoro) and respect all the rights of indigenous peoples.

  5. Guarantee the full inclusive of women’s participation and recognition of women’s rights recognized under international law.

While the BBL is critical to peacebuilding in Mindanao, many loopholes in the bill threaten to restrict its effectiveness. Peacebuilding in Mindanao must involve all parties to the conflict, including all major factions of Muslim-led rebel groups, women and indigenous peoples. A mass public information drive and interfaith dialogue need to be implemented.