GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 May) — Unless it is his way of finding relief from his promises, presumptive President Rodrigo R. Duterte must restrain his cabinet-member designates and top allies in the Congress from making public statements contrary to his campaign and post-campaign commitments like what Davao del Norte representative-elect Pantaleon Alvarez said at the “Headstart” program of ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) last May 19. He is Duterte’s candidate for House speaker.
As reported by ABS-CBN News and Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 19, Alvarez told Headstart that the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) “will be taking a backseat given … Duterte’s preference for a federal form of government (ABS-CBN)” – rendered “moot” with “the peace talks back to square one (PDI)”.
This was contrary to what Duterete had committed to the MILF Central Committee and had told the Moros during his campaign sortie in Cotabato City last February 27.
Duterte to MILF: February 27
As reported by MindaNews Editor-in-Chief Carolyn O. Arguillas last May 15 (MILF’s Murad to Duterte: “We will partner with you and your administration”), Duterte had made clear his plan for BBL in relation to his proposal to federalize the Philippine government. The MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) received Duterte’s manifestation with optimism and renewed confidence.
At noon of February 27, he visited the MILF Central Committee in nearby Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat to reveal his plan. In changing the system of government to federalism, he would use the Bangsamoro as the model for the Constitutional Convention to follow. He said, “I will convince Congress to pass the BBL then make it as a template for federal states.” He repeated this at the rally in the afternoon at the Cotabato City Rizal Park.
What did Duterte clarify? The BBL would be “a template for federal states”; as such, the Congress must pass it as a reference of the Constitutional Convention. That is how BBL relates to Duterte’s federalization plan.
Alvarez at Headstart
Alvarez did not only contradict Duterte’s commitment to the MILF Central Committee and the Moros but he also made policy statements concerning BBL and the federalization plan of the incoming Duterte government without explicit reference to Duterte. He talked as if he were already the House Speaker.
He explained to Headstart:
The concept of a Bangsamoro region will be part of the shift to a federal form of government. “The BBL will be absorbed by the federal form of government, kasi pareho ‘yun e. Yung concept ng BBL is the same dun sa federal form of government.” (The BBL concept of the Bangsamoro government is federal in form.)
The current administration, he said, took the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for a ride with the unrealistic promise of passing the BBL as part of the peace process without charter change.
“How can you implement the provisions of the BBL without amending the constitution? You cannot do it because there are provisions in the BBL that [run] contrary to the provisions of the constitution; it would have been struck down by the Supreme Court for unconstitutionality. To rectify this [we] will amend the constitution in the 17th Congress to provide [in it] what is inside the agreement of the BBL.” (ABS-CBN News)
“There’s no more need” for a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which the government signed in 2014 with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to be fleshed out with enabling legislation in the form of the BBL, had also been rendered moot by the new government and its plan to federalize the political system.
“That’s moot already. There’s no point to it anymore” – referring also to all peace agreements.
When asked to clarify if he meant all peace agreements with the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari, he said: “Yes… Everything is back to square one.”
The federal system of government, as espoused by Duterte’s campaign and which he would pursue as the next leader of the House of Representatives, would fix the Mindanao problem; It is unnecessary to enact a separate law. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
Nemesis of Peace Process
With Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. having conceded already, Alvarez will be the House Speaker of the 17th Congress. But he is not yet the Speaker. What authority has he to speak for the Congress? Even if he is, he cannot speak for the Duterte government. In the Headstart interview, he was not just expressing his personal opinion.
When he becomes Speaker, he will be the nemesis of the peace process between the Philippine Government and the Moros dating back to the Tripoli Agreement of 1976. From his statements, his knowledge and appreciation of the Government-Moro peace process is the proverbial glass almost fully empty.
For instance, what did he say?
First: The BBL was not passed because (1) the government and MILF peace negotiators were at fault for not clearing it with Congress first; (2) “[t]hey negotiated but there was no public hearing. There was nothing on the ground. That’s why there were vehement objections in the House of Representatives.” (PDI)
He betrayed his ignorance. Of “(1)” only the President has the power to negotiate peace; not a subordinate of the Congress, he does not need congressional clearance. Of “(2)”, if by “public hearing” he meant public consultations and information campaign, he had not followed reports on the peace negotiation.
Second: The full implementation of the Tripoli Agreement would offer the Muslims immediate relief while the shift [to federalization] is being drafted. “Yung economic benefit, kasi dun sa budgeting yata, parang di pa rin naibibigay talaga ‘yung totoo (Economic appropriations have not been released). We can start with that.” (ABS-CBN)
What was he referring to? Did he not know that the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 could not be fully implemented without first negotiating its substantive provisions? This was done in the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace and embodied in R.A. 9054, the present charter of the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Did he mean the ARMM budget has not been released?
Alvarez has put Duterte in a bad light. There must be doubt now among MILF and other Moro leaders if Duterte will make good his election campaign commitment to the Central Committee and the Moros,
Duterte’s Presscon: May 16
But, is there any sign that Duterte has been having second thoughts?
In his press conference last May 16, Duterte said he “will create a separate commission comprised of Moros, Lumads and Christians to spread the word on federalism in the country when he assumes the country’s highest post by June 30”. Lecturers and experts on the parliamentary form of government will sit in the commission. (MindaNews, May 17, 2016: Creation of new commission eyed to spread word on federalism)
The time frame for drafting of the new constitution is “in the next two years”. With the inclusion of “Moros” in the commission, reference to the BBL is implied when he said, “… madali lang mag-frame (it will not take long to frame). It’s not in the framing of the words, it’s in the matter of implementation and obeying what we have agreed on and that is for everybody – Christians, Moros and Lumads.” (Bold, italics supplied) The clause “what we have agreed on” could refer only to the GPH-MILF agreements.
However, he pronounced primacy of “federalization” over “BBL” when he said that the Mindanao issue hinges on “our success or failure of federalism” and that “Nothing short of that thing will ever appease the Moro people”. By that, he sees federalism, not BBL, to be the solution to the Moro problem.
May 16 Blurs February 27
Unless MindaNews has misreported Duterte’s May 16 press conference, Duterte himself has blurred his commitment to the MILF Central Committee last February 27. In that he categorically promised to convince the Congress to pass BBL in the first two years of his presidency as the template of federal states. The establishment of the Bangsamoro would not depend on the success of his federalization plan.
In his May 16 press conference, Duterte did not reiterate BBL as the template of federal states. Instead, Moros together with Lumads and Christians will be in the commission to presumably study federalization and wage an information campaign countrywide before convening the Constitutional Convention. Without mentioning BBL and the Bangsamoro, Duterte said the solution of the Mindanao Problem will be determined by “our success or failure of federalism”.
The big difference is clear: On February 27, the BBL is the solution to the Mindanao Problem. Pass and have it signed by the President by December 2017; ratify it by June 2018 to establish the transitional government; then elect the regular officials of the Bangsamoro in the May 2019 election. On the contrary, on May 16, federalism is the solution to the Mindanao Problem.
Was Alvarez only echoing in his Headstart interview Duterte’s apparent change of mind?
As Alvarez has put Duterte in bad light, so has Dutere put himself in the same, if not worse, bad light until he clarifies his statement last May 16 about BBL and federalization plan in the light of his commitment to the MILF Central Committee last February 27.
The MILF and the Moros are wondering. (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)