Delaying passage of Bangsamoro law will worsen instability in Mindanao, says former peace negotiator

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — A former peace negotiator is urging President Rodrigo Duterte to push for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress, or there is a risk unrest in Mindanao will spread.

"It's really going to be for the stability of the situation in Mindanao that the roadmap of the Bangsamoro continues. Kasi kung madelay pa yan [If that will be delayed], then you're going to expand the area of instability over and beyond Marawi," former Government of the Philippines Peace Panel Chairperson Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told CNN Philippines.

Her comment comes amidst the military operations against the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City. The crisis, which broke out on May 23, has reached a death toll of over 300 and displaced over 200,000. It also prompted Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.

She said the BBL has to be passed as soon as possible, ideally within the year, and that support for the draft law requires "a political push coming from the executive."

"It could happen if the President really puts his mind to it," she added.

Incumbent Peace Panel Chair for the Bangsamoro Irene Santiago previously told CNN Philippines' The Source they are hoping the President will certify the bill as urgent.

Ferrer said delaying the passage of the law will put off partners from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has also thrown their support behind the measure.

The BBL provides autonomy to the Bangsamoro, a collective term for Filipino Muslim groups. It is also a result of talks with the two groups.

She also noted that Moro locals might lose faith in the peace process if there are more delays.

"Kasi kung madelay pa yan, marami nang maniniwala na wala nang pag-asa sa gobyernong ito. Yung mga Maranao, lalo na, na nagsusupport sa Bangsamoro peace process - mawalan na rin sila ng tiwala," she said.

[Translation: If it's still delayed, many will believe there is no hope in this government. The Maranaos, especially, who support the Bangsamoro process will also lose trust (in the government).]

The law failed to pass the 16th Congress when it adjourned in February 2016, leaving the panel to tweak provisions to the law and repeat the legislative process.

A new draft has since been ready to be submitted to the Office of the President. The peace panel is hoping Congress can deliberate on the new draft when they resume session on July 24.

Related: Duterte, Congress to receive final Bangsamoro Basic Law draft

Speaking to The Source, Ferrer also said the country cannot afford a war with these groups.

"Pag matuloy yan [If (the BBL) pushes through]... it will stabilize the situation in so far as both the MILF and the MNLF... are concerned," said Ferrer. "And that's a big thing, because you cannot afford a war in the whole of Mindanao or most parts of Mindanao."

She said the two groups are the largest and most organized groups in Mindanao.

"You are able to reassure them that government is sincere in implementing this agreement... You strengthen the partnership for peace, socio-political economic reforms," she added.

Ferrer also said that although splinter groups championing extremism such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters are still there, partnerships with the MILF and MNLF as well as local government units and the autonomous regional government can help.

"The face of the government in a lot of these communities is a man in uniform, which is not very healthy," said Ferrer.

"But if you have a broader base of your partnership working together — the moderate leaders of the Bangsamoro communities, both the revolutionary groups MILF and MNLF, and also the communities, the ulama (religious leaders), the traditional elders, yung kanilang [their] customary institutions — if they're all working together to prevent the rise of violent extremism, then government has a very good partner."