House resumes discussions on proposed BBL draft

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 16) — Lawmakers resumed discussions on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law draft Tuesday

They have agreed to remove the word "territory" in the working draft of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) they are creating.

Zamboanga Sibugay Representative Wilter Palma II, who presided over the joint subcommittee hearing on the proposed BBL, said they replaced the term "territory" with "geographical area" to avoid constitutional questions.

"The term territory, pinalitan lang namin ng [we replaced it with] 'geographical area.' Kasi [Because] when you say territory, it presupposes under international law, part of the characteristics of a state is territory," Palma said.

He said using the term "geographical area" would also ease fears that the Bangsamoro entity may declare independence in the future.

"Di ba ang fear natin noong last Congress, and even now, is baka humiwalay sila. Mga ganoong haka-haka. So to safeguard lang, tinanggal namin yung term na territory." added palma.

[Translation: During the last Congress, and even now, our fear is they might seek separation. That was a worry. So to safeguard, we removed the term 'territory.']

But Palma added, the replacement is not final as the draft would have to be discussed by the joint committees on Muslim affairs; local government; and peace, reconciliation and unity.

The subcommittee is in charge of coming up with a working draft based on four versions of the proposed BBL.

Palma said they aim to finish the working draft by the end of January so the joint committees could begin discussions and public hearings.

The BBL, which seeks to establish a new and autonomous Bangsamoro region, is seen to put an end to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.

In November 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would push for a special session of Congress in a bid to fast-track a bill granting autonomy to an area of Mindanao, a priority of the administration.

RELATED: Duterte: I'll ask Congress for a special session on BBL

Duterte said he would ensure the inclusion of all concerned groups in the proposed BBL which was "sacred" to him.

An earlier draft of the BBL failed to pass in the last Congress primarily because of the bloody 2015 Mamasapano encounter where 44 elite troops of the Philippine National Police were killed by a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

This new version of the BBL has the support of the MILF, as well as leaders of Christian and indigenous peoples communities.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.