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More representation sought for Filipino-Muslim groups in new autonomous region.

Manila: More Filipino-Muslim groups should be represented in the parliament of a proposed Filipino-Muslim autonomous area in the south, said Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is in charge of reviewing a proposed bill that will help implement provisions of the pro-autonomy peace settlement reached by the Philippine government and a 38-year-old former secessionist group in 2014.

"We allowed the representation of 13 indigenous Filipino-Muslim tribes, the Sultanate of Sulu, the 45-year-old Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the 38-year-old Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Christian groups, women, youth sector, local government units, and business communities in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which will oversee the transition from the 26-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (ARMM), as proposed in the peace settlement of the Philippine government and the MILF," Sen. Marcos Jr told Gulf News.

These groups are necessary for the peace process to succeed in war-torn Mindanao. Their exclusion from BTA was a grievous mistake," said Marcos, adding, "We made this amendment in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) because the Philippine government and MILF peace negotiators did not consult with all Filipino-Muslim stakeholders in the south before they finalised their political settlement."

However, "the BTA will still be led [by] the MILF since the 2014 peace agreement was written by the Philippine government and the MILF," explained Marcos.

The MNLF once led a separatist war that killed 150,000 in the south in the early 70s. After the MNLF and the Philippine government forged a pro-autonomy peace settlement in Libya in 1976, MILF became a faction of the MNLF in 1978.

During the revolutionary government of former president Corazon Aquino in 1986, a new Constitution allowed autonomy by referendum for Filipino Muslims in the south, which resulted in the creation of the ARMM with four provinces in a referendum in 1987.

A second referendum, held in 2001, led to the expansion of the ARMM with five provinces and one city.

During talks held by the Philippine government and the MILF from 1997 to 2014, they agreed to expand the ARMM with 60 Muslim-dominated villages and six towns. Residents in these places voted to be part of the ARMM in the 2001 referendum, but their votes did not comprise the majority of a province, which was needed for inclusion into the ARMM.

During their negotiations, the Philippine government and the MILF agreed to create and expand the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) based on the result of a referendum for autonomy in 2001.

"After the BAR is finally formed, there would be no more referendum for autonomy for its expansion," said Marcos. "Eighty per cent of the proposed BBL to implement the 2014 Philippine government-MILF peace agreement have some kind of major and minor amendments." He did not give details.

President Benigno Aquino has called for the passage of the BBL by October, so that the Philippine government-MILF peace agreement will be implemented before he steps down in 2016. He sees the peace agreement as a key to end decades of war between soldiers of a Catholic-dominated government and Filipino-Muslim fighters in the south.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Aug 8, 2015
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