MANILA -Philippine President Benigno Aquino yesterday sent to Parliament a proposed law to grant autonomy to minority Muslims, a crucial step in his attempt to end one of Asia's longest rebellions.
The submission to Congress is seen as significant, as it means Mr Aquino and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed, after months of tense talks, on the entire legal underpinning for Muslim self-governance in the southern region of Mindanao.
"We have taken yet another step towards a more peaceful and more progressive Mindanao," he said, after turning over the Bill to congressional leaders.
He called for the passage "in the soonest possible time" of the proposed law that would have MILF leaders governing a region comprising about 10 per cent of the Philippines' land area.
Mr Aquino said this would improve the lives of millions of Philippine Muslims, who are among the poorest inhabitants of the largely Catholic nation of 100 million people.
Under the timetable of a peace pact, the law is meant to be passed before the end of this year, giving him time to put in place a regional government before his six-year term ends in mid-2016.
Rebel leaders are expected to govern the new autonomous area during the brief transition period, transforming the guerrilla group into a political party.
Once the law is passed, its residents would have to endorse it in a plebiscite scheduled next year.
The agreement calls separately on MILF to disarm under supervision by international monitors.