CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/23 May) — In MindaNews, there is a nice, poignant picture of my friend and cousin Rufus Rodriguez, congressional representative of my home city Cagayan de Oro, during the final voting on the Ad Hoc Committee draft of the Bangsamoro basic Law. Cong. Rufus is shown tired and meditative in the picture, maybe wondering whether this – his chairing of the committee which approved the controversial draft – was worth the sleepless nights, the endless cajoling of colleagues, and listening to diverse and even angry voices.
I have noticed that there are out there in traditional and social media world quite a lot of memes, cartoons, and editorials against Rufus. Anti-BBL groups are accusing him of treason, the MILF has not even accepted the version he steered to approval, and the Lumads are certainly not happy with the end result. On the other hand, it is interesting to see that most Mindanao Representatives did vote for the committee report and the new draft, telling me that he had the right pulse on his fellow Mindanawons.
As someone who has known Rufus since high school at Xavier University (he was a few years ahead of me), for at least 40 years (wow, I just realize that’s a really long time), I want to send him a public gesture of support and encouragement: “Bay, this will pass; whatever happens now is outside your hands but you have done your best. Certainly, if war breaks out in our island, you will not be faulted because at least you tried to reconcile conflicting demands, all legitimate actually. Fewer souls in public life can be as brave as you in tackling such a complex issue for legislation and bring it to completion. Xavier University, DLSU, UP Law, and San Sebastian law, the schools you have been affiliated will surely be proud of you.”
This is quite unfortunate and unfair, the vilification of Rufus. Regardless of my own critique of the approved BBL, it is not right to blame him for this as, in my view, the current draft is the best outcome right now. He should be in fact congratulated for bringing us to this point in spite of all the landmines that this bill had to go through. So when I see my congressman from Cagayan de Oro next, in the airport usually for our regular trips to go back home to our beloved city, I will go up to and embrace him, thank him for doing a thankless job (pun intended), assure him of my admiration and respect, and encourage him to keep on working until we get even a better draft that can be enacted. At this point, there is no room for despair and discouragement.
In fairness, the other person I would like to praise is Congressman Celso Lobregat. By coincidence, I am also related to Celso because his brother is married to a cousin to whom I am close. I have seen Celso in action on the BBL in the last few months, including in the final hours before the BBL was approved by the Committee. One could not help but admire him for his tenacity and for the high standard of diligence and thinking he put in his research. He may very well have the last laugh here if the Supreme Court sustains his arguments that many provisions of the approved draft are unconstitutional. I say to Cong. Celso – keep doing your job, your constituents certainly support you, and you are doing a yeoman’s job as an oppositionist.
In praising these Representatives from two opposing camps, am I being a coward and not choosing sides? No. The BBL is a complex law. It’s not black and white what is right here. There will be no perfect law. At the same time, we cannot wait for that perfect law. The adage “the enemy of the good is the perfect” clearly applies here.
As for me, I am still doing my own analysis on what the Ad Hoc Committee approved, applying four tests – Is it constitutional? Is it compliant with the agreements with the MILF? Does the law create a better entity than ARMM? And does it adequately protect indigenous peoples rights? I am being rigorous and objective about this because the stakes are high as we move forward but even now, I can see why the approved version does not fully meet all the tests I have posed. The political decision to be made is whether to move forward knowing these limitations and make corrections along the way. Or actually pause for a moment and decide that this is better done by the next Congress and administration and this time following what most experts have said is really the best way to do this – by changing the Constitution either through an ordinance as proposed before by the MILF or by establishing g a federal system of government that allow some regions to become substrates in one federal system.
While always giving my best advice, I will follow the wishes of the principal actors – the government, the MILF, other Moro groups, local governments in Mindanao and the Lumads on this and try to be as helpful whatever decision is made by these main groups. In the end thought, it’s the people in the affected areas, the Moros and the indigenous peoples who must prevail. For the latter, the essence of free and prior informed consent includes respecting the Lumads if they reject a law that does not adequately protect them. I will be with them if this is their decision. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Dean Tony La Viña is a human rights and environmental lawyer from Cagayan de Oro City. He was a member of the Government of the Philippines Peace Panel that negotiated with the MILF from January-June 2010. He is currently the Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. Dean Tony can be reached at Tonylavs@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: tonylavs.)