GPH, MILF peace panels urge Congress to ‘not lose time’ in passing BBL

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
totalITemsFound:
maxPaginationLinks: 10
maxPossiblePages:
startIndex:
endIndex:

Children draw peace murals outside Malacañan Palace after the conclusion of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government and the MILF on March 27, 2014.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — There is little time left, but there is still time.

The chief negotiators of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are sending this message to Congress in an appeal for the immediate passage of the draft law on the Bangsamoro.

They said this will not only bring peace to Mindanao but also prevent Islamic extremists from gaining ground among Muslim Filipinos who may be radicalized by the failure of the peace process.

“Time is of the essence, and opportunity knocks only once,” Miriam Coronel Ferrer of the government and Mohagher Iqbal of the MILF said in an open letter to legislators.

The letter was posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on Thursday (November 26).

Coronel and Iqbal said the BBL will decommission thousands of weapons and MILF combatants, allowing them to participate in peaceful elections.

Related: Expert doubts MILF combatants will disarm completely

The Muslim guerrillas waged “pure armed struggle” from 1972 to 1997, and then engaged in “political struggle” during the peace negotiations, which was capped by the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Passing the law now will allow them to proceed to the “democratic struggle” for their rights and aspirations “through civilized and democratic means,” according to the peace negotiators.

Related: Decommissioning is first step to real peace, not surrender – MILF

They said the Bangsamoro law removes flaws in the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which would be replaced by a more representative and responsive regional government.

Related: The price of peace: Where will the Bangsamoro funds go?

They added that the proposed law will benefit the next administration because it will no longer have to deal with a stalled peace process. The next Congress will also be able to focus on other pressing legislation without being burdened by new rounds of hearings on another Bangsamoro bill.

“Some say that the next administration and Congress will have more time,” they say. “Our fear is that it would have lost precious time too — precious time that could have closed the door to extreme, violent movements that recruit followers by exploiting the alienation of segments of the population from government and society at large.”

House Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales has indicated that the 16th Congress might not be able to pass the bill, but suggested pursuing this after new representatives take office next year.

"It's important in so far as the aspiration of the government to have lasting peace in Mindanao," he told reporters on Wednesday (November 25).

He said that if the bill fails to get approval before the elections, it can still be pass in the 17th Congress "as long as the contracting parties have open minds" and the bill is certified urgent by the new president.

Citing statements last year from the National Security Council, the peace negotiators said that the peace settlement with the MILF would allow the country to shift the attention and resources of the military to external defense, mainly the protection of the national territory in the South China Sea.

The security council also said passing the BBL would help prevent the spread of extremism among Muslims, allow moderate Islamic leaders to counter radical ideology and steer Filipino Muslims away from influence of the Islamic State.

Related: Expert: 'Possibility of war' if Bangsamoro is derailed

“We are at the cusp of closing a major armed conflict that has divided our people for decades. But we cannot reach our destination without the goodwill and show of statesmanship from our leaders in the august halls of Congress, in whose hands the legislative power lies,” Coronel and Iqbal said.