The Philippine government is confident that a law signed this year to give ex-Muslim guerrillas control over a wider autonomous region in the south will survive a Supreme Court challenge, a peace-process adviser said Tuesday.
Sulu province Gov. Abdusakur Tan II filed a petition Monday asking the court to rule on the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). President Rodrigo Duterte signed it in July, four years after the previous government struck a peace deal with the 11,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Jesus Dureza, the president’s adviser on the peace process, welcomed the filing.
“The Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsamoro Organic Law complied with President Duterte’s directive that it will comply with all previously signed agreements in step with constitutional and legal reforms,” Dureza said.
“I am confident that the BOL can withstand the constitutionality test.”
Legal scholars in the Senate and the House of Representatives, he added, had “scrutinized its fine points and fine-tuned them.”
The Bangsamoro Organic Law is designed to give about 4 million Muslims under MILF’s leadership the right to self-determination and to elect their own parliament in areas in the south that are predominantly Islamic. They are to vote in January to ratify the law.
BOL would also give people in the south control over many local government functions, including taxation and education, and allow Muslim Filipinos to incorporate Islamic law into their justice system. As part of the deal, MILF was required to gradually disband its armed force and destroy weapons.
Tan accused Congress of gravely abusing its discretion by passing BOL. It violated a law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), he argued.
“Since the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is created by a Constitutional fiat, Congress, by itself, has absolutely no authority to abolish ARMM,” Tan said.
“Only through an amendment of the Constitution may ARMM be abolished. This is so, because only the Constitution may create or abolish an autonomous region,” he added.
BOL would replace ARMM, which was formed in 1996 after the government concluded a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), another rebel group.
MILF splintered from MNLF in the 1970s, after accusing the latter of giving up the fight for full independence to settle for autonomy.
Nur Misuari, the MNLF leader, was later elected governor of the autonomous region and, while the government poured millions of pesos into it, Muslim Mindanao remained one of the country’s poorest.
Former President Benigno Aquino III, who had described the ARMM as a failed experiment, sought to bring the MILF to the peace table. This culminated in the 2014 peace deal.
Duterte had said he hoped that Misuari would play a role in new autonomous set-up that has yet to be determined. The president met with him several times in Manila shortly after he signed off on BOL.
Last year, the government dropped charges against Misuari related to a 2003 siege in southern Zamboanga city that left about 200 people dead and thousands of homes destroyed.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.