Philippines takes step to grant autonomy to Muslim region

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Manila, May 30 (IANS) The Philippines House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would provide increased autonomy to Mindanao, the Muslim-majority southern region of the country.

The Lower House introduced a number of amendments before approving the bill that would allow the establishment of a self-administered territory in an area sometimes referred to as Bangsamoro (nation of Moros), encompassing mountains, islands and jungles that is home to at least 4 million people, mostly Muslim, official news website PNA reported.

One of the amendments sought to keep security forces under the central government while another mandated that the law should be ratified with a single plebiscite, to be held within 90-120 days after the law is approved, instead of a referendum every 25 years as proposed earlier, Efe news reported.

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The House passed the law a day after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the bill as “urgent”.

He had repeatedly urged a faster approval of the bill to avoid encouraging extremism in a region, which in 2017 witnessed a five-month-long conflict between the military and a group affiliated to terror group Islamic State.

The law, which still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by Duterte, aims to create a self-governing structure with greater powers in the autonomous region.

The BBL is the result of a peace agreement signed in March 2014 between the Philippines government — led by former President Benigno Aquino — and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in which the rebels had agreed to give up armed struggle in exchange for the creation of an autonomous region under their rule.

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The agreement, however, had clashed with constitutional provisions and faced opposition in Parliament, eventually getting stalled after 44 police officers were killed in an ambush in Mindanao in January 2015.

The MILF was formally established in 1984 by a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) following a split when the latter agreed to withdraw the demand of complete independence in 1977.

The MNLF signed a peace deal in 1996 in exchange for being allowed to govern the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a demarcation which is set to be replaced by the autonomous region promised to the MILF.

–IANS

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