Philippine leader to expedite bill for self-rule in Muslim region


* Peace process with MILF started in 1997
    * MILF condemns Islamic State-inspired groups
    * Duterte key supporter of Bangsasmoro autonomy

    By Martin PettyMANILA, July 17 (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo
Duterte vowed on Monday to fast-track new legislation for
autonomy in the country's most volatile region, advancing a
protracted process to end decades of rebellion and thwart rising
Islamist militancy.
    The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted to Duterte on
Monday is the culmination of a rocky 20-year peace process
between the government of the predominantly Christian
Philippines and the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF).
    It aims to turn predominantly Muslim parts of the southern
island of Mindanao into an autonomous region with its own
executive, legislature and fiscal powers.
    "May I say to you my brothers ... I will support and hasten
this instrument as it goes to the legislature," Duterte said in
a ceremony for the handover of the bill, drawing loud applause.
    "There will be no objections of the provisions of all that
is consistent with the constitution and aspirations of the Moro
    Passage of the bill would be a major achievement for
Duterte, who was a mayor in a Mindanao city for 22 years and has
made peace deals with separatists and Marxist rebels a priority
for his year-old government.
    The bill's submission comes at a critical time for the
Philippines, as fears grow that militants allied with Islamic
State have exploited disillusionment over the failure of the
previous Congress to pass the law, and have used it to recruit
fighters and further a radical agenda.
    Rebels inspired by Islamic State have occupied the
commercial heart of Marawi City, on Mindanao, through seven
weeks of air strikes and battles with government troops that
have killed more than 500 people and displaced 260,000, marking
the country's biggest security crisis in years.

    "We live in very dangerous times...  we watch with utter
disgust of the destruction that violent extremism has inflicted
in the city of Marawi," MILF chairman Al Haj Ebrahim Murad said.
    "These misguided people have filled the vacuum created by
our failure to enact the basic law and (they) feed into the
frustration of our people."
    The law, details of which were not immediately available,
calls for the creation of a self-administered territory within
what the Philippines called Bangsamoro, meaning "Moro nation",
referring to the southern Muslims that Spanish colonialists
called "Moros".
    The bill, agreed by a panel of representatives from
government, the MILF and religious groups, prescribes an elected
legislative assembly, a chief minister, a cabinet, with an
agreement to share natural resource revenues, stacked largely in
favour of the new Bangsamoro government.
    In a recent interview with Reuters in Cotabato City,
Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF's top peace negotiator, said the hope
was for Congress to pass the law and a transition period to
start in 2019, with elections in 2022 for an 80-seat assembly.
    Iqbal said he feared the Marawi siege could complicate the
passage of the law if there was a perception that the MILF and
the radical Maute group fighting in Marawi were associated with
each other because both hail from the same region.
    "Right now we don't really know the thinking of the people,"
he said.

 ((martin.petty@tr.com; +63 2841 8937))


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