One of the most significant points of tensions in contemporary Philippine history are the cultural and nationalistic sentiments of the Filipino Muslim community, especially those concentrated in Mindanao which are collectively termed the “Bangsamoro”. Initial separatist insurgencies in the area were appeased somewhat with the 1989 creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), although armed conflicts still flare up on occasion. President Rodrigo Duterte made it a plank of his administrative platform to complete the process of forming a new autonomous region to succeed the ARMM that was started by his predecessor Benigno Aquino III. Yesterday that process has come almost to completion.
CNN Philippines reports that at long last, a finalized draft of the long-awaited and hotly-debated Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was approved on Wednesday, July 18, by both halves of the Congressional bicameral conference committee that has been going over its provisions since July 9. Said panel, composed of 29 members from Senate and the House of Representatives approved the BBL draft on their sixth day of deliberations. They were led in this effort by Senate Majority Floor Leader Miguel Zubiri and House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas to reconcile the Senate (1717) and House (6475) bill versions of the BBL into its final unified draft.
The provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law will create a new Autonomous Region of the Bangsamoro (ARB) replacing the ARMM, along with an outline of the region’s administrative authority, stating what powers are either exclusive to the ARB government, reserved to the national government, or shared concurrently between the two. All that is left is to submit the BBL, now termed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) to President Duterte for signing into law. Once done, a plebiscite can be called in the cities and provinces of the ARMM and Mindanao for ratification of the BOL and inclusion into the ARB.
But just because the BOL is only now waiting for President Duterte’s signature does not mean there are no more points of contention with it. Among the sticking points that could cause trouble are the wording of the preamble, which must both appeal to Bangsamoro autonomy but not sound like a declaration of political independence. Furthermore, certain voices in the Sulu archipelago are also clamoring for their own separate autonomous region from the Bangasamoro of mainland Mindanao, citing cultural differences.
If President Duterte signs the BOL quickly enough, he would be able to include its official presentation among his talking points for his third State of the Nation address, to be held on July 23.
Image courtesy of Philippine News Agency