PEACETALK: Be on the right side of history

(Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law delivered this sponsorship speech for HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” at the Plenary Hall, House of Representatives in Quezon City on June 1, 2015. HB 5811 is the Committee-approved substitute bill to HB 4994 or the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law)

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, Members of the Ad Hoc Committee, ladies and gentlemen, a pleasant good afternoon.

It has been a very long, demanding and difficult journey. After eight (8) months of consultations and 51 hearings, more than two hundred hours of debates and long man-hours spent on studying and crafting this bill, I am very proud to present to the Plenary, Committee Report No. 747 submitted by the Ad Hoc Committee on House Bill No. 5811 in substitution of House Bill No. 4994.

The title of the substitute measure is:

AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE BASIC LAW FOR THE BANGSAMORO    AUTONOMOUS REGION, REPEALING FOR THE PURPOSE REPUBLIC ACT NO.     9054, ENTITLED “AN ACT TO STRENGTHEN AND EXPAND THE ORGANIC ACT     FOR THE AUTONOMOUS REGION IN MUSLIM MINDANAO,” AND REPUBLIC     ACT NO. 6734, ENTITLED “AN ACT PROVIDING FOR AN ORGANIC ACT FOR THE             AUTONOMOUS REGION IN MUSLIM MINDANAO”

This measure took years in the making, paid for by blood and tears of our people. This measure has brought to the fore the need to address the issues that (have) stunted the otherwise robust growth of Mindanao.

Mindanao is the second largest island of the Philippines and home to 24% of the Filipino population. This represents at least 18 million people of highly diverse ethnicities, cultures and ways of life. The people of Mindanao are basically divided into three groups, the Moro, the Lumad and Christian settlers.

The National government ignored Mindanao and has marginalized Mindanao’s indigenous and Muslim populations. Education, services and opportunities for Mindanao’s distinct populations have been consistently inadequate over time. This is why there is conflict.

In a paper titled, The Mindanao Conflict in the Philippines: Roots, Costs, and Potential Peace Dividend written by Salvatore Schiavo-Campo and Mary Judd Long (Social Development Paper, The World Bank: February, 2005), it was mentioned that the Mindanao conflict is the second-oldest on earth, after the conflict between North and South Sudan. Based on said Paper, the long history of the conflict can be summarized as follows: “Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, Mindanao has already been in contact with Muslim traders from Indonesia and Malaysia long before the Spaniards which resulted in the conversion to Islam of the inhabitants, and the formation of the Muslim Sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu, among others. When the Spaniards arrived, Luzon and most of the Visayas were subdued and converted to Catholicism, but they never succeeded in Mindanao. When the Americans came, Mindanao was brought under control of the National government after the end of the Philippine-American War. Despite this, hostility and conflict remained endemic and persisted until today. According to the same paper, the Philippines was comparatively calm for a period after independence in 1946, but conflict flared up again in the late 1960’s as growing numbers of Christians settled in Mindanao. Settlers arrived particularly from Central Luzon and Panay Island in the Visayas. The resettlement was fostered by a deliberate policy of the central government, in Manila, and eventually resulted in Mindanao having a Christian majority overall, with Muslim-majority areas concentrated in the central and southwestern regions.

 

Overall, although religious differences have partly shaped the conflict, the roots of the conflict have been the clash of interests in land and other natural resources, and the identity issues emerging from the de facto second class status of much of the Moro population. Complicating the picture is the fact that Indigenous Peoples have historically been pushed aside and displaced from the lowlands to the highlands.

Starting from the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, attempts have been made to forge a negotiated peace settlement with the Moro rebels realizing that a purely military solution to the problem was not the answer.

The 1976 Tripoli Agreement with the MNLF provided for an immediate cessation of armed hostilities between the two parties and established the framework for an autonomous region for the Muslims in Mindanao. President Corazon Aquino fulfilled the provisions of the Tripoli Agreement with the condition that it should follow the Constitutional process of holding a plebiscite to determine which among the provinces specified in the Tripoli Agreement would opt to become part of the autonomous region.

President Fidel Ramos continued the peace initiative which resulted in the signing of a peace accord with the MNLF under Nur Misuari.

Under President Joseph Estrada’s administration, the threat was no longer emanating from the MNLF because many MNLF officials had the joined government or were elected local government officials with tacit support from the central administration. The new challenge was emanating from the MILF, a breakaway group from the MNLF. President Estrada declared an “all-out war policy” and mobilized a large military contingent to capture several MILF camps, including its main headquarters in Camp Abubakar.

The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo initially declared an “all-out-peace” policy toward the MILF but was forced to temporarily abandon it when the military launched another assault of MILF controlled territories in pursuit of “criminal elements” operating there. But peace was again restored when MILF under Chairman Murad Ebrahim forged a ceasefire agreement with the government.”

Under the leadership of President Benigno S. Aquino III, peace talks continued with MILF chair Murad “Al Haj” Ebrahim and the President even holding an unprecedented meeting Japan where both agree to expedite the peace process. The Framework Agreement in the Bangsamoro was eventually signed, then the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed with President Aquino saying that, “I will not let peace be snatched from my people again. Not now when we have already undertaken the most significant steps to achieve it”. And finally, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law was submitted to both Houses of Congress.

We all know what happened next. Twenty four (24) public hearings, (conducted in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao), nineteen (19) regular meetings and eight (8) executive sessions, for a total of FIFTY-ONE (51) meetings, were conducted by your Ad Hoc Committee in a span of eight (8) months from the time it was formally organized in September 16, 2015 and up to May 20, 2015.

We have invited in these meetings – Heads of Departments and of government agencies, Local Chief Executives (including members of local legislative bodies), Deans of various law schools, Members of the academe, legal luminaries / experts in constitutional law, Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Society Organizations and People’s Organizations, labor groups and chambers of commerce. Public consultations were attended by the general public, who were able to voice their opinions and concerns about the bill, and its possible impact on their lives, their families and their community.

This is the most inclusive and most comprehensive consultation for a piece of legislation in the entire history of our nation, since the start of the first Philippine Assembly in 1907.

Your Ad Hoc Committee has heard and traversed all sides of the issue. We have made several amendments to the initial draft, incorporated several proposals from our esteemed colleagues, and on May 18 and May 19, we voted on each and every section, line-by-line, on the Chairman and Vice Chairperson’s working draft.

On the afternoon of May 18, the Committee had an approximately 63 votings – from the Preamble up to paragraph 15, Section 3, Article V. The whole day of May 19, the Committee deliberated the entire bill except for the title and the appendix. It held a marathon meeting from 10 a.m. up to 11:30 p.m. with approximately 145 votings made. And on May 20, with a vote of 50 in favor, 17 against and 1 abstention, the Ad Hoc Committee approved the Committee Report with the attached substitute bill to House Bill No. 4994.

 

Pursuant to the Rules of the House, particularly Section 44 thereof, the Ad Hoc Committee has referred on May 20, 2015 the approved substitute bill to the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Ways and Means for their comments relative to the appropriation or tax or revenue aspects of the bill.

I sponsored the substitute bill in separate meetings held by the two (2) Committees last Tuesday, 26 May 2015. In the Committee Report we have submitted to the Plenary today for approval on Second Reading, we have appended the comments of these two (2) Committees.

In these two Committees, it was clearly brought out by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) that only P37 billion will be given to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the first year upon the approval of this Law and not P75 billion as claimed by its detractors. Of the P37 billion, P27 billion (around P25 billion from the General Appropriations Act allocated to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and P2 billion from the Internal Revenue taxes)are currently being received by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao leaving and incremental increase of only P10 billion for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

For the information of my esteemed colleagues and the public, let me enumerate in brief the objective and some of the key provisions of this substitute bill, namely:

PURPOSE:

  • To establish a political entity, provide for its basic structure of government in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and to secure their identity and posterity and allow for meaningful self-governance.

KEY PROVISIONS:

  • Identifies the Bangsamoro People and creates the political entity called the Bangsamoro Government.
  • Defines the geographical area of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, which is composed of the present geographic are of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the contiguous territory, the inland waters and the Bangsamoro waters.
  • Defines and enumerates the powers of the Bangsamoro Government in relation to the National Government.

The powers are classified as:

  • Reserved Powers or those over which the National Government has authority and jurisdiction.
  • Concurrent Powers refer to those which the Bangsamoro Government shares with the National Government.
  • Exclusive Powers refer to those over which the Bangsamoro Government has authority and jurisdiction.
  • Provides for the form of the Bangsamoro Government, which shall be a parliamentary democratic political system.
  • Divides the powers of the Bangsamoro Government. Legislative Authority shall be exercised by the Bangsamoro Parliament. Executive Authority is exercised by the Chief Minister, who will be elected by the parliament.   Judicial Authority continues to be exercised by the Supreme Court, even as the bill recognizes the applicability of the Shari’ah Justice System over Muslims and traditional or tribal justice systems to indigenous peoples.
  • Provides that the Bangsamoro Government shall enjoy fiscal autonomy
  • Provides for funding grant and support to the Bangsamoro Government, such as the following:
  • Annual Block Grant. The Central Government shall provide an annual block grant which shall be the share of the Bangsamoro in the national internal revenue of the Government.
  • Special Development Fund for the rehabilitation and development of the Bangsamoro.
  • Initial Funding for Transition in order that the Bangsamoro may carry out the requirements of transition, including the organizational activities of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), organization of the bureaucracy, hiring of personnel, and the exercise of functions and powers of the BTA.
  • Provides for the sharing of taxes between the Bangsamoro Government and the National Government as well as the sharing of income from the utilization of resources in the Bangsamoro Geographic Area.
  • Creates the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which shall be the interim government or the governing body in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region during the transition period, and provides for its powers and functions.
  • The salient Deletions and Amendments to the Original HB 4994 to Conform to the Philippine Constitution are attached to this speech.Mr. Speaker, my esteemed colleagues, in gist, those are the key provisions of the proposed measure.

Undeniably, records and history will bear me out that the process that the BBL or now the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region has gone through is unprecedented in the history of the legislative branch of our government. Considering the high stakes and objectives involved in attaining peace and development in Mindanao, this process of deliberation that your Ad Hoc Committee has completed is indispensable if we are to truly achieve what we have been told is a Herculean, and sometimes even described as “impossible” task.

According to data from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, 120,000 people have already lost their lives since 1970 (50%, MILF; 30%, AFP; 20%, civilians). From 2001-2012, 2,599 more people were killed, 1,267 of which were MILF forces; 491 were AFP/PNP, and 841 were civilians. For the same period of 2001-2012, a total of 2,999 were wounded, 237 of which were MILF forces; 1,089 were AFP/PNP, and 1,673 were civilians.

Aside from this, at least 1,500,000 people displaced because of the conflict with many going different parts of the country including Metro Manila where our Muslim brothers and sisters are forced to live far away from their mother land and, in most cases, separate from their families and relatives.

From 1970 until today, the Philippines has already suffered at least P640 billion in economic loses in terms of damages to businesses and properties and loss of potential investments and businesses in the region. Further, the government already spent at least P73 billion in combat expenses.

Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, I agree with some of the dissenters of this Basic Law, that this 91-page document is not a miraculous pill that would somehow end all hostilities in Mindanao and usher in a golden era of peace in the region. Centuries of violence, injustice, discrimination, and misunderstanding among our brothers and sisters in Mindanao will not be magically swept away once we pass this bill on Third and Final Reading and hopefully, enacted into law. What we offer through this substitute measure, however, is the chance to achieve peace by addressing all these issues and thrusting them into the public consciousness, as what has been done from the time the bill was first referred by the Plenary to the Ad Hoc Committee.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little”.

What we have here now is the chance to understand the plight of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao; provide them with the means and opportunity to ascend and create a truly autonomous community suitable to their culture and needs; and repose in them our nation’s trust that the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region would answer the Mindanaonon’s needs in a more efficient, inclusive and timely manner. These are the first, small steps towards achieving lasting peace in Mindanao.

Mr. Speaker, peace in Mindanao will not be achieved if we pass this measure today. Peace may not even be achieved a month, or even a year after this bill becomes law. But this I assure my esteemed colleagues and the Filipino people – this bill will provide the groundwork on which the foundations for peace and development in Mindanao shall be laid.

This bill will address centuries of inherited disadvantages suffered by our Muslim brothers and sisters; will erase the accretions of antipathies against Muslim brothers and sisters; and will be an affirmative action to correct centuries of neglect and injustice on our Muslim brothers and sisters.

I am from Mindanao! I wish to see the day that children of Muslims and Indigenous Peoples will have the same opportunities of the Christian children of Christian families to have good education, health and employment opportunities. And that they not be judged because of culture and religion but as human beings with human dignity.

I wish to see the day that no one will be left behind; no Muslim will be left behind in enjoying the blessings and fruits of development in our beautiful Island of Mindanao.

In conclusion, I urge my colleagues in this august chamber to support lasting peace in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, to enhance the economic development of the Bangsamoro Area and Mindanao and to ensure the inclusive growth of the entire Philippines.

My colleagues – Be on the right side of History!

Thank you very much.