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  • Filipino Muslims shout after hearing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed in Mendiola Bridge, near the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, the Philippines, 27 March 2014.

    Filipino Muslims shout after hearing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed in Mendiola Bridge, near the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, the Philippines, 27 March 2014. | Photo: EFE

Published 13 March 2018

The Bangsamoro Basic Law has been stalled since 2015 and former rebel groups are getting tired of waiting.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) says the group is tired of waiting for the implementation of the 2014 peace accord and the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region in the Philippines.

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Ghazali Jaafar, MILF's vice chairman, said the Muslim rebel groups were “tired of waiting” for real autonomy. Jaafar says rebels are getting frustrated “with the way the government is handling the negotiation,” referring to the most recent clashes between the government and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an armed group that broke away from MILF after they chose autonomy over full independence. At least 44 Islamic fighters died during the clash.

MILF emerged as a secessionist armed organization in 1978 and has engaged in a bloody insurgency against the central government. It is mainly based in Mindanao, Philippines' second largest island, but has a presence in neighboring islands as well.

The group gave up on their plans to secede in exchange for broader autonomy and signed a peace accord with Benigno Aquino III's government in 2014.

However, the agreement stalled in 2015 after a violent clash between the BIFF, the MILF and the Special Action Force (SAF), resulting in the death of 44 police officers.

Ghazali says the law, also called the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), is “the most civilized and peaceful way” to end the armed conflict, and declared they were tired of corruption, nepotism and all things that are holding back their Muslim homeland.

The Bangsamoro term roughly stands for “Muslim Nation,” and refers to Philippines Muslim population, which lives mostly in the Mindanao island as well as in smaller islands in the Philippines.

Several congresses have tried to pass the Bangsamoro autonomy law since it was stalled in 2015, facing opposition from more conservative sectors of the Philippines' political sphere.

Now, Rodrigo Duterte's government has said he's looking forward to establishing a Bangsamoro autonomous country, but the law has yet to be implemented.

In 2016, Duterte's spokesman Pantaleon Alvarez declared the BBL would be subsumed by the federalism plans, saying that the requested autonomy and federalism were “the same concept.”

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“While waiting for federalism, the Duterte administration can fully implement the Tripoli Agreement,” Alvarez said, “they can manage their own natural resources and economy.”

The Tripoli agreement was signed by Philippines government and the Moro National Liberation Front in 1976 and ultimately led up to the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1990.

The Bangsamoro region, if created, would give the Muslims in Mindanao a greater autonomy from the central government.

But things might have to wait until the federalism plans and the new constitution settle.

“If the Filipino nation and a plebiscite would not want it, then I am ready to concede (to) whatever is there in the BBL,” Duterte said in 2016.

But the federalism referendum doesn't have a set date yet, with politicians saying it may take place before the midterm elections in 2019.

In February, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said they would need some months before the new constitution would be ready, but that they finish it earlier than expected then the government could hold a stand-alone referendum, regardless of the midterm elections in May 2019.

Muslims comprise about 5 percent of Philippines population and are the largest religious group after Catholics. They mostly live in the Mindanao island, where they are now also a minority after decades of Catholic immigration.


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