Groups score secrecy, watered down autonomy in delayed Moro peace agreement

Aug. 21, 2014

DAVAO CITY – Moro advocates are wary that the Aquino administration is watering down provisions regarding Moro autonomy in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)–and being secretive about it.

Suara national president Amirah Lidasan lamented that President Benigno Aquino III has been forcing the revisions on the table through its legal team instead of putting it for deliberation.

“It is disconcerting that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is being forced to accommodate all of Malacañang’s legal proposals or re-engineering of the BBL, which is not only confined with language but even with the whole concept of territory, fiscal autonomy and other major issues agreed when the CAB was signed,” she said.

Last Tuesday, both government and MILF peace panels jointly announced that they need more time to come up with an “agreed and final” draft of the BBL after missing their August 18 deadline.

The draft law, which defines the new autonomous entity and its administrative and economic functions, would have been submitted by Aquino to Congress for approval before December. But the delay now means this target is off.

The delay came even after a series of workshops were launched by both panels and the Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC), the last one in Davao City from August 1 to 10, to iron out contentious and Constitutional issues regarding the draft.

The government and MILF signed a historic peace deal called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last March that will carve a Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao for the MILF to hold economic and political control in exchange for “decommissioning” of its forces.

Lidasan blamed the “secretive” approach of the workshops that failed to involve the grassroots and the media.

“The secretive way of drafting and discussing the BBL drafts has alienated the peace process from the majority of the Moro people and the Mindanawons. This is ironic for an administration that prides itself for transparency but has suddenly covered up the peace process” she said.

Lidasan said because of the secrecy of the talks such as the one in Davao, peace groups and journalists had “to force to get a copy in whatever way” to inform the public on the revisions and points of the drafts.

“By doing this, the government can easily disregard comments and criticisms coming from the grassroots that the BBL is still non-conclusive,” she warned.

But the biggest concern for Lidasan was that the peace talks only further Aquino and the Liberal Party’s political agenda in Mindanao.

“Control over all resources within the Moro area is the objective of the Aquino administration with the peace negotiation through the peace and development program,” Lidasan said.

“One of the main contentious issues in the BBL is the assertion of the MILF on the ownership of natural resources and patrimony within the Bangsamoro.  The government will never give in to provisions in the BBL which will give the Moro people the real autonomy by having control over its resources,” she said.

She also pointed out the government’s opening for investments in Moro areas such as the Exxon Mobil in Sulu and agro-industrial plantations for bananas, oil palm and coffee.

Lidasan also cited the government’s strategy of pacifying MILF combatants by offering Conditional Cash Transfers, Philhealth and Pamana funds under the Sahajatra Bangsamoro program, which she attributed to the government’s counter-insurgency campaign.

“Its objective is for the MILF to lay down their arms without resolving the root causes of the problems of the Moro people. The ‘peace and development’ programs offered within the peace negotiation are no different with its palliative anti-poverty programs,” she pointed out.


Bayan Muna partylist representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, who is based in Davao, also warned that the talks could turn one-sided and affect the quest for peace.

“One-sidedly revising the agreed contents of the BBL is an insincere and lopsided act by the Aquino government; it is not in accord with the quest for genuine peace in Mindanao. In the end, the Moro people’s continuing struggle for self-determination is what will truly facilitate genuine development and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro,” he said.

The MILF said on its website that they will take the process “one at a time”.

“One cannot fight several battles at a time. It has to be one battle after the other. This is the credo of the MILF in the face of several challenges before the BBL becomes a reality,” their editorial on Tuesday said.

Ochoa in, BTC out?

Jerome Aba, spokesman of Suara Bangsamoro Cotabato chapter, said the government has been overstepping the process and thereby causing more confusion as to who the MILF should discuss questions on the draft.

He cited the instance when the President’s Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa arrived on the last day of the Davao workshop and talked directly to MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on how to resolve the impasse.

Government peace panel chair Miriam Colonel-Ferrer, also a member of the BTC, declined to comment on Ochoa’s role in the talks later in the press conference.

“The BTC should have been the one that has to iron out the questions raised on the draft. But why did Ochoa enter the picture?” Aba asked.

He said Ochoa seemed to take over the BTC when he and presidential legal adviser Attorney Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa held a three-day meeting with Iqbal last week to iron out the legal impasse.

The BTC was formed with equal members from both government and MILF panels to thresh out the BBL and other mechanisms on the transition of the MILF to the Bangsamoro autonomous entity as agreed by both camps last March.

But the serious matter on this delay was the major revisions made by the government.

The MILF panel accused the government of backing from its commitment to finalize the peace agreement.  Iqbal was quoted in news reports that Aquino’s lawyers revised nearly “70%” of the 100-page draft law.

The BTC resolved on July to hold a series of workshops to discuss the government’s revisions. The workshops were held on July 8 to 11 in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; 18 to 21 and later 25 to 27 in Manila, and finally in August 1 to 10 in Davao City.

In 21 days, both panels failed to resolve contentious issues.

“The deliberations on the Basic Law could result to a watered down version of the original draft by the MILF,” Aba noted.

Constitutional experts question provisions of the draft such as the relation and function of the new political entity to the national government.  The entity would replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Zarate also pushed for the Moro people and other peace advocates to keep watch on the process.

“While we await the final outcome of the long delayed review process, it would be well for the Moro people to be critical and continuously be wary of the government’s double-speak as it pushes for a measure that will not actually solve the historical wrongs committed against the Bangsamoro,” Zarate said.(

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