SULU – Thousands of Muslims in Sulu province have showed up on Wednesday for another public hearing by the Senate on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., attended the consultation held at the provincial gymnasium in Patikul town. Sulu Governor Totoh Tan and Vice Governor Sakur Tan led local government officials in the joint public hearing.
Vice Governor Tan said many locals were not even aware or have read the provisions of the BBL.
Marcos, who heads the Senate committee on local government, said the proposed law, as transmitted by President Benigno Aquino to Congress, will pass in its original draft because of many contentious issues.
Lawmakers have repeatedly said that some provisions in the BBL are unconstitutional and among these include the option to increase the Muslim territories through 10% votes by local residents and police powers. Members of both House of Representatives and Senate also want to amend the BBL.
Previous BBL consultations were also held in Sulu, but the Bangsamoro Transition Commission headed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vice chairman and chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, ignored all recommendations made by the provincial leaders and representatives of various civil groups and organizations in the province, and the same also in Basilan and Tawi-Tawi provinces where similar public consultations were also held last year.
Many Muslims in Sulu and Basilan and Tawi-Tawi do not want to be included in the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region in central Mindanao, and instead wanted to be back as part of Western Mindanao or Region 9, for various reasons. Majority of the people in Sulu are Tausug while Yakan in Basilan and Sama Bangingi in Tawi-Tawi; and Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, which is also part of the autonomous region have also its own tribes.
And indigenous people from other ethnic tribes in Mindanao also wanted to be represented in the proposed new autonomous region and not Muslims alone.
Various indigenous groups that belong to the Lumad Mindanaw Peoples Federation also appealed to Marcos for the full inclusion of the Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Senate Bill 2408 or Bangsamoro Basic Law. “Above all it is the recognition, protection and promotion of our rights to territories or ancestral domains, including the resources because that belongs to the generations yet to born,” it said in a letter – signed by 16 tribal leaders – sent to Marcos.
“Bangsamoros are neither more than us nor we, Lumads lesser than them. We value mutual respect and co-existence because we share this Island (of Mindanao) as home of our peoples long, long before the advent of the (Spanish) conquistadores that our ancestors were able to resist, endure, survive and remain in their life ways. And so today, we are standing on our ancestors’ shoulders to continue that struggle for land and life. Our progress and advancement are consistent to culture and tradition handed to us by our ancestors. Mutual respect and understanding will result to peace and co-existence not domination and oppression,” it added.
In Zamboanga, Mayor Beng Climaco reiterated her tough stance for the inclusion of this city to the proposed autonomous region. “Let us be firm in our stand on the city’s non-inclusion to the BBL,” she said.
Climaco has repeatedly declared that Zamboanga should never form part nor be included in the Bangsamoro region because it is the “collective stand of Zamboanga on the issue of the BBL.”
“We expect Congress to pass a law which is consistent and harmonious with and not contrary to the 1987 Constitution and a law that truly addresses grievances that bring about secession and armed conflicts in Southern Philippines and not merely for appeasement. A law that treats every MIndanaoan on even keel, a law that respects the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines,” she said.
In March, three influential Muslim governors and other leaders in the autonomous region have publicly come out to support Aquino following the deadly clashes between MILF and police commandos in Maguindanao during an anti-terror operation that killed Malaysian bomber Marwan.
Vice Governor Tan, who was among those who openly declared support to Aquino, said he and other provincial officials and mayors were supporting the president. Tan along with former Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul – who represented Governor Nurbert Sahali- and Basilan Governor Jum Akbar, including Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Tan, pledged their all-out support during a public forum attended by leaders of various groups from the three provinces, and student and youth leaders in Zamboanga and Sulu.
“We want to reaffirm our unconditional support to the President,” Tan said.
Tan emphasized Aquino’s sincere leadership and his aspiration for peace and progress in Mindanao. and at the same time strongly criticized those who are calling for the president’s resignation or ouster.
He said Aquino has never spoken about war, but peace for the country, especially in the Muslim autonomous region and other parts of Mindanao where the president poured billions and billions of pesos in development projects in support to peace and development efforts.
“There are certain people who believe in going to war to be able achieve peace. But we are now talking peace because they went to war. There are so many groups, the BIFF, the MNLF, the MILF – they all went to war and now they are talking about peace, but in the case of President Aquino, he has not been talking about war, he’s never talked about war (but peace),” Tan said.
He said although the Mamasapano clash was a tragic incident, Aquino had not resort to violence. Akbar and the Sahalis also echoed Tan’s statement, saying, they all support Aquino.
Many groups demanded Aquino’s resignation over his failure to prevent the brutal killings of nearly four dozen police commandos on January 25 deep inside MILF territory in Mamasapano town. The elite Special Action Force commandos were ambushed by MILF forces and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters on their way out of the remote village.
The MILF signed a peace accord last year, but the peace process is yet to be completed with passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law now pending in Congress following the carnage. Tan’s group was the first in Mindanao to come out in the open and express their full support to Aquino. They are also expected to issue their own provincial manifesto in support to Aquino.
Lawmakers shelved the BBL until investigations into the deadly clashes between SAF and MILF was completed. The BBL is important in crafting a new autonomous region in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)
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