Peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer on the Bangsamoro Basic Law: ‘Let’s focus on the big picture’

Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim moderates community discussion with chief negotiator for the government panel Miriam Coronel Ferrer. Photo by Dante Ochoa

Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim moderates community discussion on peace talks in Mindanao with chief negotiator for the government panel Miriam Coronel Ferrer. Photo by Dante Ochoa

By Dante D. Ochoa

Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Philippine government panel on the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) told members of Filipino American community and local media at the Philippine Consulate-General in Los Angeles, Friday, April 17 that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) should not be held hostage by the Mamasapano investigations.

Coronel-Ferrer said that the country should rightly focus on the “big picture”: getting justice for all victims of the Mamasapano tragedy and placing accountability which is very important, and that this will take some time because of the many players involved.

“It will be unfortunate if this opportunity (the peace process) will slip away again,” Ferrer cautioned, as she noted that so far three months worth of important work on the ground has been replaced by time spent in legislative hearings.

Legislative deliberations on the BBL (House Bill 4994 and Senate Bill 2408) were suspended in the aftermath of the fateful police action to apprehend international terrorist Zulflikir Abdhir alias Marwan in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province on January 25, resulting in the death of 44 government police commandos from the brutal military response of the MILF to the government incursion into its (MILF) territory during the operations against Marwan. The hearings on the BBL has just resumed Monday, April 20 at the Philippine House of Representatives.

Outraged reactions in the country calling for outright scuttling of the peace agreement and demanding MILF be held responsible had fed speculation that the Mamasapano will put the entire peace process in jeopardy.

Consul-General Leo Herrera-Lim introduced Coronel-Ferrer to the Filipino American audience as the ultimate subject matter expert on the peace process, a highly accomplished academic and very well-qualified for her job as chief government negotiator. Herrera-Lim noted Ferrer as a “cool-headed” presence during the legislative hearings. “Her attention is now focused on convincing stakeholders and decision-makers as well as the citizenry, of the importance of passing the Bangsamoro bill,” said Herrera-Lim.

Coronel-Ferrer explained to her audience that the Bangsamoro legislation seeks to repeal Republic Act 6734 which established the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) and replace it with a “fortified” (‘mas maputi, mas magaling, just like in the commercials’) version which will create the Bangsamoro government.

“The BBL will have new features which aim to correct the weakness of the ARRM,” said Coronel-Ferrer. “These features are game-changers,” she added.

The first new feature is the structure of government, which will be a parliamentary form, more democratic with more sector representation because the legislative body will allot 50 percent of the seats to party-lists. It is hoped that it will help eliminate continuing political dynasties from traditional politicians we are all familiar with.

Ferrer also hopes that the political structure feature will promote a political party-driven process unlike the familiar dynamics of a personalities-driven-political process.

The second feature provides for better fiscal arrangements, which will allow the Bangsamoro government to find sources of revenues like levying of taxes and entitlement to an automatic appropriations (block grants) from the central government eliminating dependence on whoever is sitting in Malacañang.

The annex on normalization contains the commitment of thousands of firearms to be surrendered by the Bangsamoro army which will bring them back into the fold and be part of the communities. This was, however, affected by Mamasapano pushing back the start of the process. The socio-economic aspect of the normalization will transform MILF camps into normal communities. This normalization will foster reconciliation necessary to mend decades of mistrust between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

The audience was generally supportive and appreciative of the achievements of Coronel-Ferrer at the peace negotiations and of the BBL. Ferrer fielded questions ranging from the technical (Will the Bangsamoro areas overlap with the Philippine congressional districts and how would it work?) to the political (Are you lawyering for the Muslim side as alleged?).

The comments ranged from incredulity that there is opposition to the BBL at all to how can one question the BBL and not be for war? Not surprisingly, the devil, as usual, is in the details.

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