Esperon: Failure to pass BBL could lead to 'violent extremism'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 23) — National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said Tuesday Congress' failure to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may lead to violent extremism.

During the Senate hearing on BBL Tuesday, Esperon warned if the government once again fails to approve the bill, it may incite discontent and boost radicalism within the region.

"One of the most pronounced threats (of the failure to pass BBL) is that of the Muslim communities turning away from the peace process and providing dangerous opportunities for recruitment by violent extremist groups and the propagation of more radical views," Esperon said, citing academics and security experts.

He added this may especially affect the youth and vulnerable sectors in Mindanao.

"In that scenario, the possibility of war in Mindanao as we have seen it, that President (Rodrigo) Duterte is warning about, is not that far off," said Esperon.

The BBL is a result of decades-long negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It will create a Bangsamoro Region with its own Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The bill is expected to resolve the longstanding conflict brought about by inequalities in the region. However, critics have questioned the constitutionality of some of its provisions, including the Bangsamoro region's proposed parliamentary form of government.

Esperon warned the "continuous delay" in the bill's progress may cause the Muslim community to lose "faith in the peace process."

He said incidents such as the 2016 Davao bombings and the Marawi siege signal the Moro community's growing discontent, which may cause them to "resort to violence" to achieve their objectives.

READ: Timeline: The Marawi crisis

The five-month long Marawi siege began on May 23, 2017, when members of the terrorist Maute group attacked the Lanao del Sur city.

Following the damage and widespread displacement dealt by the war, there have been concerns grievances from its destruction may cause members of the youth and marginalized communities to become more susceptible to radical ideas.

Esperon said positive economic and political developments that will arise from the passage of the BBL can help curb the spread of radical ideologies in Mindanao.

"The successful conclusion of the peace process is still the most effective vaccination against the risk of violent extremism in our country," said Esperon.

Esperon opposes creation of separate Bangsamoro military command

Esperon, however, opposed the creation of a Bangsamoro military command under the proposed BBL.

"I take the position that we should not create a command that will be under the control of the autonomous region. Splitting Southern command into two -- Eastern and Western Mindanao has addressed the problem," he said.

The proposed BBL creates a Bangsamoro Military Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the Bangsamoro, to be "organized, maintained, and utilized in accordance with national laws."

Esperon said current structures allow the AFP to serve the purpose of defense and security without becoming a "potential instrument" for personalities for their own interest.

He added the military can create other forces or task groups similar to the Joint Task Force (JTF) Zamboanga, JTF Iligan or JTF Pagadian if needed.

The first version of the BBL was submitted to Congress by the Aquino administration but its passage was scuttled by the 2015 Mamasapano encounter. The Duterte administration has since renewed efforts to craft and pass a newer version of the bill.