The Philippines moved a step closer to ending decades of conflict on the island of Mindanao, after lawmakers approved a bill to allow self-rule for its Muslim-majority Bangsamoro region.
Today (Wednesday, May 30) the House of Congress voted 227 to 11, with two abstentions, to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). This aims to help bring lasting peace with separatist rebels and thwart the rise of Islamist extremism in the nation’s poorest and most restless region.
The bill is the result of a 2014 peace deal between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government to end nearly 50 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced two million.
It outlines the process to set up a self-administered territory in an area sometimes referred to as Bangsamoro, which is home to four million people.
President Duterte has stressed the importance of the bill and certified it as “urgent” yesterday in a bid to get it approved before a house recess on Saturday (June 2).
The Senate has agreed to pass its counterpart version soon, before a panel of both houses combines both drafts in a version for the president’s final approval.
The previous administration encountered numerous setbacks and failed to pass the bill, fuelling resentment and mistrust among some Muslims.
The president has warned that another failure could be disastrous and play into the hands of extremist groups such as Islamic State, which inspired a militant alliance to seize Marawi City last year.
The five-month battle for Marawi was the biggest and bloodiest seen the Philippines since World War Two. It stoked wider concerns that Islamic State had ambitions to turn Mindanao into a base for its operations in Southeast Asia.
Hundreds of people were killed in months of conflict and more than 350,000 were displaced.
Though some militants who fought in Marawi were former MILF members, the group has officially denounced radical Islam and has a good relationship with the president.
Once signed into law, Bangsamoro would have its own executive, legislature and fiscal powers. However, the central government would continue to oversee defence, security, foreign affairs and monetary policy.