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MILF leader Iqbal hopes rejected BBL provision on territory, plebiscite can be restored

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By Xave Gregorio

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said he still has hopes that the key provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on the Bangsamoro territory and plebiscite could be restored in the final version of the measure.

Lawmakers, in the presence of key security officials and President Rodrigo Duterte, agreed to adopt the House’s provision on the Bangsamoro territory and plebiscite, which requires 39 North Cotabato barangays and six Lanao del Norte provinces to secure votes in favor of the BBL from their mother units.

This means municipalities where the barangays belong to and the entire province of Lanao del Norte would need to vote for the inclusion to the Bangsamoro region for these areas to join the region.

MILF leaders and the Bangsamoro Transition Commisison favored the Senate version, which allowed the 39 barangays and six municipalities to join the Bangsamoro without securing a vote in favor of the BBL from their respective municipalities and the entire province of Lanao del Norte.

But Iqbal said he still hopes that Congress would restore the Senate’s provision on the Bangsamoro territory and the plebiscite, which was strongly opposed by district representatives.

“Well, it’s part of the process,” he said Wednesday (July 11) in an interview at the sidelines of the bicameral conference committee meeting.

However, he added that even if the MILF expects that the final BBL would be compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and follows the BTC draft, they do not expect that nothing would be changed.

“We also recognize that Congress has that plenary power over legislation. So what we want to hope and expect that at the end of the day a good BBL would come out of this,” Iqbal said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas explained that they have decided to drop the Senate’s provision on the Bangsamoro territory and the plebiscite because it is unconstitutional.

Fariñas cited the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2014 Umali vs Comelec case, where it was ruled that Cabanatuan City cannot vote to become a chartered city on its own — it has to secure the vote of the entire province of Nueva Ecija.

Zubiri, who championed a BBL which complied with the CAB between the government and Moro rebels, relented.

“So as not to be struck down by the Supreme Court on that provision, the consensus was to adopt the House version on territory. As a good soldier, As that was the direction given then I submit,” he told Senate reporters through Viber.

In a separate interview here, Zubiri said the Senate provision was dropped so as not to lead Moros to “false hopes.”

“Habang maaga pa lang, masabihan na sila that this is the situation, this is constitutional and therefore you can manage their expectations,” he said.

But he added that the focus should not be on this “one little snag” but on the other provisions which the BTC favored which were retained by the bicameral panel.

Asked by Politiko for comment on the bicameral body’s decision to favor the House’s provision on territory and plebiscite, BTC chair Ghazali Jafaar said they “respect” it.

“We respect the decicision of the Bicameral Conference.This is a democratic process,” Jafaar said in a text message. On the other hand, Iqbal refused to comment.

Zubiri and Fariñas are eying to finish the bicameral conference committee’s work on the BBL tonight, but they may continue until Monday (July 16).

They plan to submit the final draft to Duterte for review on Tuesday (July 17) and for it to be ratified by both houses when the third regular session of Congress opens on the morning of July 23 and submitted to the President for his signature in the afternoon in time for his third State of the Nation Address.