[JURIST] President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday urged the Philippines Congress to enact a draft law that would create an autonomous Muslim region in the south of the country. The law is to serve an important role [Al Jazeera report] in the peace talks between the government and Muslim rebels, which are meant to end a conflict that has lasted for over four decades [WSJ report] and left more than 120,000 dead. Leaders of Congress have said [NYT report] that they may pass the law as soon as March, well before Aquino is due to leave office in June 2016. Passage of the law will create the Bangsamoro region, an area that would have a local self-government with locally recruited law enforcement officials and a population of about four million and would retain the majority of the tax revenue it generates. Though the agreement is the result of 17 years of negotiations, those who fear that it threatens Philippine sovereignty remain opposed, and some organizations plan on challenging the constitutionality of the law.
This is not the first time such a solution to the long-standing conflict with Muslim rebels in the country’s southern provinces has been proposed. In 2008 the Supreme Court of the Philippines rejected as unconstitutional [JURIST report] a proposed peace agreement between the government and the rebel group. The high court enjoined the signing of the proposed agreement earlier that year after Christian politicians in Mindanao claimed it violated the constitution [JURIST report]. The government first suggested [JURIST report] that it might agree to increased autonomy for the region in 2005. Also in 2008 the Philippines House of Representatives passed a bill [JURIST report] to create a new national commission meant to guarantee the rights of Muslim citizens. The bill created a National Commission on Muslim Filipinos [press release] to address complaints of rights violations brought by Muslim citizens, oversee the development and distribution of lands traditionally held by Muslim Filipinos and advise the president on issues concerning the country’s Muslim population.