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Speaker ‘confident’ of BBL passage in September

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MANILA, Philippines — Responding to renewed calls by President Benigno Aquino III for the swift passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Wednesday he is “confident” the House of Representatives will pass the measure by September.

“I am confident of its passage as far as the House of Representative is concerned,” Belmonte said in a text message.

Aquino made a new pitch for the BBL’s passage at the ceremonial decommissioning of firearms and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Maguindanao province Tuesday, part of the normalization component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement signed in March last year.

The normalization component also includes socio-development programs and confidence-building measures, such as amnesty and transformation of MILF into ordinary communities.

The enactment of the BBL, which will create a new autonomous region, is also part of the CAB.

However, the deadline of the BBL’s passage has been pushed back after the deadly January 25 Mamasapano incident spurred lawmakers into closely reviewing the measure and proposing changes. Although the draft law has reached plenary in the House, it faces rougher sailing in the Senate where at least a dozen lawmakers called the measure as it stands unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, a party-list lawmaker said the schedule of decommissioning “gives the MILF a great leverage.”

Under the timetable of the normalization process, contained in an annex of the proposed BBL, the decommissioning will take three more phases, with the second stage, when 30 percent of the MILF’s arms decommissioned, to take place upon the measure’s passage.

“The fact that the government panel agreed to this means that the MILF did a better job of negotiating the peace terms than our own government negotiators,” Magdalo Representative Ashley Acedillo said.

The result, he pointed out, is that Congress would be “forced” to pass the BBL in exchange for getting only 30 percent of the MILF’s weapons.

“Meanwhile, the MILF, through the BBL, gets their own government, their own territory, their own police and billions (of pesos) of funds annually without having to give (up a) substantial number of their firearms,” Acedillo added.

The third phase will see the decommissioning of 65 percent of MILF forces and take place upon the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

The rest of the MILF’s arms and forces will be decommissioned upon the election of the officials of the new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

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