GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 27 April) – His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, Archbishop of Cotabato, convener of Friends of Peace, and Moro Elder Guiamel Alim are advocating the passage of the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) according to CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) within two years following June 30, 2016 not only to entrench peace in the Bangsamoro but also as a pilot federal state for the Philippines (MindaNews, April 23, 2016).
The passage of the BBL, CAB version, to entrench peace in the Bangsamoro is a “must”; the Bangsamoro as a pilot federal state is a long shot. Of the five presidential candidates, only Rodrigo R. Duterte has federalism in his platform; two have openly opposed the issue and the other two, ignoring the issue, are for the status quo. Will Duterte win?
Granting that Duterte wins – still a BIG IF – he cannot change the system of government through an Executive Order or a Presidential Proclamation. It needs a congressional act to convene a constitutional convention. Will the Congress agree? Federalization will be a long process on a thorny road?
Again, granting that Duterte wins and the Congress agrees to change the unitary system to the federal, can the Bangsamoro be a model? The Congress must first pass the BBL, CAB version. Will it? Even if the BBL, CAB version, is enacted by 2018, the regular Bangsamoro will be inaugurated after the election of its officials in 2019. At the earliest, only by 2022 will it be known if Bangsamoro can aptly be a model federal state. If so, federalization will not take place under Duterte. Will the next president do it?
Let’s focus on the enactment of BBL, CAB version, as a “must”. What are the odds?
It will take concerted efforts of the President and the Congress to enact BBL, CAB version. This did not happen under President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III. From the submission of Draft BBL to the Congress on September 10, 2014 to December 2015 when the Congress adjourned for the election campaign, the 16 months could have been enough time to pass Draft BBL, the CAB version.
For the lack of concerted efforts, President Aquino, Senate President Drilon and Speaker Belmonte were unable , first, to cushion Draft BBL against the backlash of Mamasapano debacle – citing it instead to explain the change of mind among the legislators; and, second, to rally the administration LP-led coalition, a clear majority in the Senate and the House, to support Draft BBL.
President Aquino was a big puzzle. Despite the repeated requests from the leaders of the Congress to certify BBL as a priority bill, he never did it. Despite the constitutionality of Draft BBL as reviewed and revised by the Office of the President’s legal team, he did not challenge contrary opinions in the Congress. In the last minute, according to reports, he approved the watered-down BLBAR (Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) as the substitute bill of Draft BBL.
Even the BLBAR was evidently unacceptable to the majority of legislators. What really killed it was the persistent lack of quorum – the convenient way to kill a pet bill of the President without incurring his ire by an outright “NO” vote. Senate President Drilon and Speaker Belmonte could have prevented this by imposing the Rules but they did not.
President Aquino, Senate President Drilon and Speaker Belmonte were responsible primarily for demise of Draft BBL and, finally, the substitute BLBAR. Will the next President and the next Congress do better?
Two presidential candidates, Manuel A. Roxas II and Rodrigo R. Duterte, have openly committed to have the BBL enacted should they win. The three others – Jejomar Binay, Grace Poe and Miriam Defensor-Santiago – have different proposals to solve the peace problem in Mindanao with no reference to BBL.
Should any of the “three” win, the resurrection of BBL – the original Draft or the BLBAR – is in doubt. Should either of the “two” win, which BBL version will be refiled? Or, will there be a third version?
The Cardinal and Guiamel Alim are referring to Draft BBL. This, too, is what the Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders want. The BLBAR is a no-no; a third version may be more objectionable than the BLBAR. Will the next President and Congress just refile Draft BBL?
Even if it is this that will be done following the Rules, there is no assurance Draft BBL will not be tampered again in the process – no assurance either that it will be enacted in two years, much less the 360 days Drilon has promised the Cardinal? The Draft will be subjected to committee hearings, debates, amendments, etc.
The only assurance is to revise BLBAR with the 40 or so amendments the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and the MILF had submitted to the House and the Senate. The resulting version will be as good as Draft BBL. Then the House and the Senate will do away with the usual rigid committee hearings, debates and amendments. They may just subject the bill to some necessary refinement and enhancement. Can this be done?
Regarding “some necessary refinement and enhancement”, Members of the Congress must read closely the CAB and the Report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation. The first embodies the Government and MILF negotiations within the provisions of Constitution; the second, the TJRC findings during its extensive and rigid consultations with the Moro and IP (Indigenous Peoples) communities in the five ARMM provinces and contiguous geographical areas. Will the Congress just do this?
Refining and enhancing BBL according to the CAB and TJRC Report would be most relevant to solving the Moro Problem towards lasting peace in Mindanao.
In the 16th Congress, the senators and House representatives were most concerned with constitutionality. They declared unconstitutional BBL provisions contrary to the opinions of the OP Legal Team. But only the Supreme Court has the final say on questions of constitutionality. With due respect to the Executive, the 16th Congress should have left it to the Court to rule on the constitutionality of controversial provisions of the BBL.
Will the 17th Congress do this should the BBL be refiled? A provision can be included in the Act on how to amend it according to the ruling of the Court if so questioned.
To reiterate, the enactment of the BBL, CAB version, is a must. Will the 17th Congress see it as such? It will face so many odds, with the Congress ultimately holding its fate. Like the 16th Congress, the 17th Congress will have in its hands the BBL, CAB version, to live or die.
[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected]]