Manila: A rebel leader has assured members of the Philippine congress that Filipinio-Muslims in the south have totally given up their secessionist stance.

“There shall be no state within a state in the south with the proposed Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),” Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) told lawmakers in the House of Representatives.

He was speaking during the first ad hoc committee hearing on the proposed law that would give enhanced self-governance powers to Filipino-Muslims in their expanded southern autonomous area.

“The Philippine state shall remain sovereign. We only ask to be allowed to govern ourselves. You shall see the Philippine flag and hear the national anthem sung in our schools and offices,” Iqbal said.

“The Bangsamoro will further unite our peoples,” Iqbal said, adding if the proposed law is not approved it would spell “more disaster” in the south.

“Let us warn you of people who would want to sow fear instead of hope in your hearts and in the hearts of the Filipino people. Their aim is to stop the establishment of the Bangsamoro and for this, they will take advantage of the deeply held biases and prejudices of the people [that continue to separate Filipino-Muslims from Filipino-Christians],” Iqbal said, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, Congressman Elpidio Bargaza said he withdrew his proposal to criminalise secessionist movements of Filipino-Muslims in the south.

“I have the best intentions with that proposed provision. I want to guarantee the integration of the Philippine territory. As a lawyer, I don’t see anything wrong with it. But then I withdrew the proposed amendment,” Bargaza said.

“There was a heated discussion during the hearing,” said an insider.

Fighting Bargaza’s proposed amendment, Congresswoman Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman of Children of Mindanao, a sectoral party in the House of Representatives, explained, “I found it offensive. It gave the impression that we are a rebellious people.”

The proposed amendment is not necessary because of a statement in the proposed Bangsamoro law that the political entity is “not a separate state from the Philippines,” explained Secretary Teresita Deles, head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

The approval of the proposed bill will implement the political settlement forged by the Philippine government and the 36-year old MILF in March this year.

The passage of the proposed law for the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity that will replace and expand the existing ARMM has to be approved by a plebiscite in the south.

The proposed law calls for power-sharing between the national government and the Bangsamoro. It also calls for sharing of revenue between the national government and the Bangsamoro on taxes collected by the autonomous region.

The Philippine government and the MILF began holding peace talks in 1997.

Member countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) brokered the peace settlement of the two parties.