COMMENT: BBL: Options Apt for Bangsamoro

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 May) – Will the Bangsamoro be established under the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte? MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim sounds optimistic. (MindaNews, May 15, 2016: MILF’s Murad to Duterte: “We will partner with you and your administration”)

Can this happen under the Duterte presidency? Being optimistic is not always being realistic. Optimism buoys the spirit; yet, fulfillment may remain elusive. The optimism gone puff under the Aquino administration is sobering and unforgettable.

What will make the establishment of the Bangsamoro happen? What are the options? What are the imperatives?

Options

One: Refile a reconstituted House version of the BLBAR (Basic Law of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) with the restoration of the “deleted” and “altered” provisions of Draft BBL, the original version.

Another: Disregard BLBAR and refile the original Draft BBL approved by President Aquino III and Chairman Murad.

Imperatives

First: The President must certify the refiled bill as “urgent” or “top priority”. This is not enough. His Office must lobby for the passage of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro)-compliant BBL; he must impress on the leadership and membership of the Congress the need for this BBL in establishing a meaningful Bangsamoro. These were sorely lacking in BBL’s odyssey in the 16th Congress.

Second: In either option – “One” or “Another” – a new article, “Normalization”, that embodies the recommendations of the TJRC (Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission) must be added.

Third: It must be passed during the First Regular Sessions of the 17th Congress; signed by the President and submitted to a plebiscite by December 2017.

Fourth: Within the period January 1 to June 30, 2018, the Bangsamoro transitional government must be fully organized so the BTA (Bangsamoro Transitional Authority) can have a full year, July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, to prepare the foundation of the regular Bangsamoro government for its elected officials in the May election of 2019.

Essence of Time

If a meaningful Bangsamoro is to be established under the Duterte administration, the above options and imperatives must be adhered to. Six years is not that long, really. It is fixed; once time starts ticking off, it will not come back. Not a minute is to be wasted.

Under Aquino, more of the six years was spent in negotiations – July 2010 to March 2014. With the time in drafting the BBL and refining of the Draft intervening, the President submitted the proposed bill to the leadership of the Congress on September 10, 2014 – leaving just 15 months, after disallowing the 5-month election campaign period, for the passage of the bill in Congress, the signing by the President and the plebiscite.

The Duterte administration has six years to do the task that had to be done within the constraint of 15 months during the last phase of the Aquino presidency; but it has to adhere to the above options and imperatives. Six years are not a luxury.

Either of the two options will save the time – one to two years or, perhaps, longer – that would otherwise be spent in a new negotiation involving all stakeholders as proposed by some think-tanks or sectors to insure inclusivity. Such new negotiation is unnecessary; we will discuss that in another article.

With the certification by the President, the House and the Senate can hasten the process by dispensing with some of its Rules like shortening or modifying Committee hearings, debate period, etc. The 16th Congress had to strictly follow the Rules since President Aquino III had failed to certify the bill despite repeated requests.

The new article on Normalization can be inserted at the Committee level or during the period of amendment. Ideally, the BTC should frame and submit it to the Committee. However, it can be done cooperatively or co-laterally by the BTC and the Committee.

If the 17th Congress would give BBL the top priority as certified by the President, there is a high probability that Imperatives Three and Four will be met. Of course, the President and the House and Senate leaders still have to exert their concerted efforts to push the bill through on time.

Constitutionality

Constitutional issues will continue nagging the BBL in the 17th Congress unless the BBL is seen in the proper light and the President and his Office are given due respect. In the 16th Congress, the peace negotiation as seen by some leading members of the Congress was the act of the President alone. The Congress did not authorize it; it had no part in the commitment of the President.

Draft BBL is not an ordinary bill. It is the product of the peace negotiation between the Government of the Philippines represented by the President and the Bangsamoros represented by the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). Since the Congress, like the Executive, is a branch of that Government, the commitment of the President is also its own to honor.

The Legal Team of the Office of the President had vouched for the constitutionality of Draft BBL. When the 16th Congress declared Draft BBL as grossly unconstitutional it did not only disrespect to the Executive but it also usurped a function the Constitution has reserved for the Supreme Court as the sole arbiter of questions on constitutionality.

The 16th Congress should have passed Draft BBL with reservation on its constitutionality – allowing any Member to question before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of the BBL Act after its signing by the President. In anticipation of this, a provision should have been inserted to allow the amendment of provisions that the Supreme Court might declare unconstitutional.

If the 17th Congress can do this, it will ease, hasten and shorten the periods of debate and amendment.

A petition consolidated from the complaints of the Philconsa (Philippine Constitutional Association) and other petitioners questioning the constitutionality of the CAB is pending resolution at the Supreme Court. Can the Court be asked to resolve this case before the opening of the 17th Congress so as to provide a clear guide for the legislators in their deliberation – whether to delete or amend the BBL provisions based on CAB provisions the Court has ruled as unconstitutional? That will simplify and hasten the process.

Model of Federalization

At the outset, we said Chairman Murad sounds optimistic. What must have lit up his optimism was Duterte’s revelation to the MILF Central Committee last February 27 while campaigning in Cotabato City that “in my government I will convince Congress to pass the BBL then make it as a template for federal states”. The parliamentary form of government spelled out in the BBL is akin to the federal form.

Duterte’ plan is to call for a constitutional convention within 2018 or earlier to amend the 1987 Constitution. Among the proposed amendments is the shift from the present unitary to the federal form of government. If the BBL is to be among the models for a federal constitution, it must be passed, signed and ratified by December 2017.

[NOTE: The regular Bangsamoro government functioning under the BBL should be the proper template for federal states. But this can only be established after the May 2019 election. How it will function according to BBL cannot be gauged until after a few years. – ppd]

If the President and the leaders of the 17th Congress would focus on either of the two options, stick to the four imperatives, deem the BBL constitutional unless otherwise ruled by the Supreme Court and assert jointly their leadership to pass the BBL on schedule, Chairman Murad’s optimism will be fulfilled with the establishment of a meaningful Bangsamaro under the Duterte administration.

But will this happen? Skeptics or opponents of either of the two options believe that neither would solve the Moro Problem. Citing weaknesses in the CAB and the BBL, they offer alternatives perceived as the “better solution”. We will discuss these next.

(“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 [email protected])