GENERAL SANTOS CITY, January 15, 2016 – No matter how unacceptable, let it be stated simply: The Bangsamor is banished indefinitely. This is seen through prevailing circumstances that look irreversible. This is squarely facing the fact. Let’s hope, though, that by a miraculous stroke of fate, the statement is proven wrong.
Last Friday, January 8, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, during a speech in Davao City and on meeting the press after, made a “new pitch for BBL” and promised to set “a meeting with solons” as his last-ditch thrust for the passage of the BBL when the Congress resumes session on January 19 (INQUIRER.net, January 8, 2016: Aquino: BBL will push Mindanao, PH to global spotlight).
This has been played up by other Manila media until this week. However, Carolyn O. Arguillas, MindaNews editor, took a realistic view on January 9. Her analytical report may be summed up in a question: Can the “dead BBL” be resurrected or the “BLBAR on its death throes” be revived during the “eight session days left” for the Congress to tackle pending priority bills before adjourning for good for its members to plunge into the election campaign?
BBL was the original Bangsamoro Basic Law draft the President sent to the Senate and the House of Representatives. It was deemed “dead” after it had been drastically revised – 80 per cent of it by the Senate; 50 per cent or more by the House by MILF’s estimate – and substituted with the BLBAR (Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region). Even this substitute bill is “on its death throes” – dying, by all signs, to be unmourned.
Can President Aquino III do a miracle? Can he prevail over the two Houses of Congress in eight session days, January 19 to February 5, after having been frustrated so many times in 2015? Can he deliver by June 30, 2016, the end of his term, the negotiated solution to the Bangsamoro Problem he promised shortly after assuming the presidency on June 30, 2010?
Let’s take a quick backward glance.
In the third week of March 2014, 33 months into Aquino III’s presidency, the negotiated solution embodied in the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement of Bangsamoro) was signed. On September 10, 2014, the BBL based on the CAB was received by the Congress. March of 2015 was set for the passage of the BBL. Had the target been hit, the BBL could have been ratified by June and the Bangsamoro Transitional Government set up thereafter. By June 30, 2016 the regular officials of the Bangsamoro could be elected.
But contrary to expectations when President Aquino III handed the BBL drafts to the Senate President and the House Speaker at a ceremony in Malacañang, the House representatives and the senators had their own idea of what Bangsamoro and its Basic Law must be. Despite the thorough review and revision of Draft BBL to be compliant with the 1987 constitution and the CAB, the Congress found BBL full of legal and constitutional infirmities. The authority of the President to negotiate was questioned.
The revision of the BBL and its substitution with BLBAR did not hasten the proceedings in both Houses. The BLBAR was vastly questioned; the pace was hampered by the lack of quorum in both the Senate and the House. As House leaders have admitted, the lack of quorum manifested the lack of interest in the BLBAR – in the Bangsamoro Problem.
What is the present status?
In the House of Representatives, the debates or interpellations have been terminated. HB 5811 is set for amendments and approval.
In the Senate, the interpellations are not over. A point of procedure has been raised; since BLBAR is a local bill, the Senate cannot wrap up its deliberations on SB 2894 until it receives the approved House bill.
Can the President deliver on his promise?
Let’s take an honest and serious look.
To pass BLBAR, the Senate and the House have to pass SB 2894 and HB 5811, reconcile them at the Bicameral Conference Committee and have their respective plenaries ratify the Bicameral BLBAR. Can this be done in eight session days considering the status of the bills in both Houses and the big differences of the SB and the HB provisions?
But what the President promised to deliver was the Bangsamoro under BBL, not the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region under BLBAR which is unacceptable to the MILF and the Moros. The only way to resurrect the BBL is to restore into the BLBAR one deleted BBL article and the many watered down or deleted key provisions. Both Houses will not do this. Even if they do, this cannot be done in eight session days, January 19 to February 5.
Only by resurrecting the BBL can Bangsamoro be delivered to the Moros. Can this be done in the next administration?
If not passed, SB 2894 and HB 5811 will be archived. Any new move to address the Bangsamoro Problem will start from scratch and go through legislative procedures from Step 1. Any proposal must be enacted by the 17th Congress; otherwise, another one will restart from Step 1 in the 18th Congress – ad infinitum.
Will Draft BBL be resurrected as the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro? Most probably, the Senate and the House will introduce new proposals as alien or more to Draft BBL as BLBAR is. That will not deliver Bangsamoro to the Moros. Bangsamoro will remain in exile, the Bangsamoro Problem unsolved, indefinitely.
What might be the consequences of the President’s failure to deliver to the Moros Bangsasamoro?
It will not be a surprise if Malaysia that has facilitated the Government-MILF peace negotiations since 2001 and the other members of international communities and organizations that later joined on the invitation of the Philippines and MILF will cease monitoring the BBL and the implementation of the CAB. That includes the peace arm, the International Monitoring Team. By watering down and rejecting key provisions of Draft BBL, the Congress has sent wrong diplomatic signals.
With Draft BBL dead, they no longer have reasons to stick around. In substituting the BBL with BLBAR – SB 2894 so disparate from HB 5811 — the Senate and the House were saying, “We know better”. The repudiation includes Malaysia and members of the international communities and organizations involved.
Will the fund and technical assistance from foreign governments and the UN agencies coursed through and pledged to the MILF continue?
These consequences concerning the Philippines’ “friends of peace” will embarrass the country for years to come. But the more serious consequences may be rued and regretted. For the last six years, at least, the Moros have been happy to experience peace. They have seen in Bangsamoro their bright tomorrow. Another frustration is most enigmatic.
At the outset we expressed the hope “that by a miraculous stroke of fate”, what we see as the banishment of Bangsamoro “is proven wrong.” Will clutching proverbial straws create the miracle?
That exactly what President Aquino III did when he made a “new pitch for the passage” of the BBL in Davao City last January 8. He knew the irreversible odds. He knew he was making a “pitch” not for the BBL that would establish the Bangsamoro he had promised to deliver but for the BLBAR that MILF and the Moros will reject.
There were many last ditch appeals to the Congress. Expect a few more before January 19. Will seeing BBL supporters clutching straws move the Congress to pass the BBL?
Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel A. Roxas, Aquino III’s anointed one, admitted the futility of hoping for the 16th Congress to enact the BLBAR nee BBL when he promised in Cotabato City on January 13, “to push Malacañang’s peace overture with Moro sectors forward if elected president” (philstar.com, January 14, 2016: Mar vows to push peace in Mindanao if elected).
(Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)