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Philippines: 2.8M Filipino Muslims to decide Bangsamoro Law fate

21st Jan 2019
Philippines: 2.8M Filipino Muslims to decide Bangsamoro Law fate

By Anna Tarhata Basman reporting from Manila for The Muslim News

Manila, Philippines (The Muslim News)  After a decades-long armed struggle in the Southern part of the Philippines – Mindanao – a law accepted by Muslim resistance groups such as Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and some factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is now being put to a vote for ratification.

Republic Act 11054, better known as Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and dubbed by many as the answer to the solution to the conflict in Mindanao, is a product of peace talks between the Government and the MILF, that culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014. Part of the terms of the peace pact is that only those areas which ratify the law will become part of a stronger autonomous government that will be formed under the BOL.

MILF Chairman, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, said, “We really believe that it is a step forward to attain lasting peace, progress, and at least to resolve the injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.”

Muslims have lived in the Philippines long before the establishment of the Philippine republic and have resisted foreign colonization since the coming of the Spaniards in the 16th century. The so-called Bangsamoro struggle has continued to oppose inclusion of their lands and communities in the Philippine republic, and has reached its peak with the formation of the MNLF in the 1960s.

“BOL represents the aspirations of the Bangsamoro for their right to self-determination. It has provisions that address the needs of the Moro people. As separate people we need our identity acknowledged,” Murad adds.

Section 1, Article II of RA 11054, states that “those who, at the advent of the Spanish colonization, were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands, whether of mixed or of full blood, shall have the right to identify themselves, their spouses and descendants, as Bangsamoro.”

Chairman Murad also mentions that BOL would provide opportunities for the Bangsamoro people to utilize their own natural resources. “It is a fact that the region is rich in natural resources. However, the poverty incidence here remains high,” he said. “BOL addresses these concerns since there are specific provisions for this issue,” he adds.

Section 8, Article XIII of RA 11054, allows the Bangsamoro Government “…the power, authority, and right to explore, develop, and utilize the natural resources, including surface and subsurface rights, inland waters, coastal waters, and renewable and nonrenewable resources in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte, in his speech during the Peace Assembly for the Ratification of the BOL, highlighted the reason why “all these things came about.”

“This is a repercussion actually of that problem when we were divided as a nation, simply because foreign powers took over – Spain, for almost 400 years, and the Americans for 50 years,” he said.

“We are trying really hard to figure out, craft a law,… amend the Constitution that can provide a fair and just governance for all,” he added.

Acknowledging that the Moro people should take control of their ancestral domain, President Duterte said, “Nobody would like to takeover lands that is not theirs, his. And we understand that. And we would like you to have the control of your territories before the Spaniards came and before the Americans came.”

“Your approval of this law will not only serve as an expression of your desire to end more than half a century of armed struggle in the region. It will also serve as a testament to your determination to bring genuine peace and development in Muslim Mindanao through an autonomous government that truly represents and understands the needs of the people,” President Duterte added.

As it pushes through its final stretch on January 21 and February 6 this year – the dates for the plebiscite – the ball is in the hands of 2.8M Filipinos living in some parts of Mindanao who will vote to either ratify or reject the law.

Anna Tarhata Basman is Independent Consultant on the Bangsamoro Peace Process and Other Concerns

[Photo: Moro Islamic Liberation Foundation (MILF) Chairman Al Hajj Murad Ibrahim casts his vote during the referendum in Cotabato, Philippines on January 21, 2019. Photographer: Ahmet Furkan Mercan/AA]

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