Federalism gets boost as Duterte meets with Cordillera, MNLF leaders

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 19) — President Rodrigo Duterte's push for federalism in the Philippines got a boost from meetings he held with officials from the Cordillera region and the proposed Bangsamoro region, the Palace said Wednesday.

Duterte held separate closed-door meetings Tuesday in Malacañang with officials from the Cordillera region led by Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan and Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front, statements from the Presidential Communications Operations Office said.

The shift to a federal form of government has been Duterte's strong advocacy since his campaign for the presidency.

Meeting with Misuari

According to the statement, Misuari said he represented the Muslims in Mindanao, especially those from the Sulu archipelago, during the meeting. Misuari's visit comes days after a new draft of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was turned over to the President on Monday.

"In response, President Duterte said he is ready to craft the federal setup of government for the country that he believes will correct the historical injustice in Mindanao and bring lasting peace to the region," the Palace said.

The BBL paves the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, which will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) established in 1989 through Republic Act No. 6734. Misuari served as ARMM governor from 1996, amid widespread allegations of corruption.

The BBL, which the President certified as urgent on July 17, is now with both houses of Congress for deliberation. Its creation is seen as a template of what a federal state could look like in the Philippines.

Among those present during the meeting between Duterte and Misuari on Tuesday were Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the Palace statement said.

Cordillera region backs President's bid

The Palace said the Cordillera officials, led by Domogan, requested Duterte to certify as urgent House Bill No. 5343, An Act Establishing the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera,  filed in March 2017.

"The proposed measure is supported by all of the representatives of the seven congressional districts of Cordillera, according to Domogan," it said.

The Baguio mayor requested for the completion of the region road infrastructure program, saying that 183.3 kilometers in the Cordilleras remain unpaved.  The national and local roads require  P5 billion to be completed, Domogan said.

According to him, the Loakan airport, Baguio's main airport, also needs to be modernized as this is a vital hub for exports to and from the Cordillera region and during times of disaster.  The President said he would discuss this Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

In response, Duterte said the long occupation by colonial powers, in addition to the adoption of the unitary type of government, resulted in uneven development of the Philippines.

Misuari, the peace process, and the Bangsamoro

Misuari, founder of the MNLF in the 1960s, has been a controversial though key figure in the move for autonomy in Muslim Mindanao. He survived rebellions against the regime of former strongman Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s, headed the ARMM, led a failed uprising in November 2001, and was accused of the 2013 Zamboanga siege which saw more than 118,000 people displaced in a three-week standoff between MNLF fighters and government troops.

Duterte has maintained ties with Misuari, saying in March 2017 that he considers the MNLF leader vital in consultations over a "preparatory document" on a federal system in Mindanao. Duterte suspended arrest warrants against Misuari over the 2013 Zamboanga siege, so he could participate in peace talks between the government and Muslim leaders.

The BBL, crafted by 21 experts on issues concerning Mindanao, is the result of a peace agreement signed in 2014 by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a split faction of the MNLF.