Updated: July 18, 2017 09:48 AM GMT
President Rodrigo Duterte and members of the government and rebel peace panels make a "peace sign" as they pose for a photograph at the end of the handover ceremony of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law in Manila on July 17. (Photo by Karl Norman Alonzo)
A new law that will govern the creation of a new autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines has been drafted and was submitted as a bill to the government on July 17 for approval by Congress.
President Rodrigo Duterte received the draft "Bangsamoro Basic Law," which was crafted by a 21-member commission he appointed, saying he will "support and husband" the proposed measure until it passes Congress.
"I am for this, within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country," said the president.
He said he has "no objections" to provisions in the bill that are "consistent with the constitution and aspirations of the Moro people."
The president said the bill is proof of the government's resolve "to set aside our differences and stand united to achieve a common goal of peace."
"This moment is a significant step forward in our quest to end centuries of hatred, mistrust, and injustice that caused and affected the lives of millions of Filipinos," he said.
The rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been waging war with the government for almost four decades, appealed to the Filipino people to support the passage of the revised draft law.
An earlier version was crafted after the signing of a peace deal between the government and the rebels in 2014.
Congress rejected it following a public outcry over the deaths of 44 policemen during a botched anti-terrorist operation in MILF territory.
Mohagher Iqbal, head of the rebel group's peace deal implementation panel, emphasized the need for public awareness to pass the new bill.
Irene Santiago, head of the government's panel, agreed, saying the absence of a "strong peace constituency" caused the failure of the earlier version.
"If the public supports the [proposed law], then politicians will also be for [it]," said Santiago.
No Muslim secession in Mindanao
Both Santiago and Iqbal assured that a new autonomous Muslim region will not result in the secession of the Moro people from the Philippines.
"The [proposed law] is the antidote to the dismemberment of the country," said Iqbal.
Santiago said it will allow the building of "one state with many nations," adding that it is an "opportunity to show that the diversity of our country is our source of wealth."
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is only part of the process to implement the "political track "of the 2014 peace deal between the government and the MILF.
The Philippine government signed the agreement with the MILF to end almost four decades of war in the southern region of Mindanao.
The agreement served as a basis for the drafting of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
If it becomes law, it will signal the creation of a new Bangsamoro government that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Duterte said the proposed law "embodies our shared aspiration of a peaceful, orderly, and harmonious nation after decades of armed struggle and violence."
"We will come up with a constitutionally consistent legal instrument that will lay the foundation for establishing the real and lasting peace in Mindanao," vowed the president.