PEACETALK: Deja Vu?

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 05 December) — As reported recently in the media, the three House of Representatives (HOR) Committees charged with the four House bills proposing a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) have created a Sub-Committee to prepare a draft of the merged bills that is expected to be ready by the end of January 2018.

The House Sub-Committee is headed by Zamboanga Sibugay 1st District Congressman Wilter “Sharky” II Palma. Specifically, Palma is tasked to “iron out” which of the parts of the four bills could be cobbled together into a final draft like “Humpty Dumpty Sitting on a Wall.” In other words, Palma and the Sub-Committee he heads will be “separating the chaff from the grain,” meaning purging, from their point of view, those that are ‘unconstitutional’ or ‘undesirable’ from the four bills, and coming out with a “merged” bill that will be passed for deliberation on the floors of the Lower House of Representatives.

We are aghast to learn that there are four different bills on the BBL in the HOR, which clearly reveals that there are correspondingly four different versions of the BBL in Congress. We still do not know how many versions the Senate has. But for sure, whatever version is passed on by the HOR to the Senate will undergo more changes.

So what happened to the BBL draft produced by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC Part 2) that was submitted to President Duterte and which the latter is supposed to certify as “urgent bill”? Gone with the wind?

As part of BTC I that crafted the CAB-compliant BBL (editor’s note: compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) under Aquino’s presidency, we feel that we are going through a déjà vu in light of this replay of events vis-a-vis the BBL in Congress. Or, to be more brutally frank, what is being experienced today is the same nightmare that we went through when the Aquino regime and the 16th Congress messed up the CAB-compliant BBL so much so that what came out was a “BBL” – or versions of it – that not even an unlettered Moro patriot brother on the ground could swallow.

In hindsight, we cannot but conclude that the BTC Part I and Part II were turned into rigmaroles to make it appear that government is complying with the FAB and CAB. Unfortunately, we ignored this duplicity that stared at us in the face even after the first BTC draft was “harmonized” with the government’s version and then followed by another revision of the second BTC draft to meet more government conditions. Twice we compromised at the expense of the FAB and CAB. We should have learned from the first BTC experience that “if you give them a foot, they will ask for a mile.”

But we didn’t. Worse, we relied on the “wisdom of Congress,” not once but twice, to further mangle the CAB-compliant BBL beyond recognition. (In this context, we can’t quite define the meaning of “wisdom.”)

In fairness, though, the current government should not earn the full measure of blame. It takes two to tango, isn”t it? Immediately after the 2016 presidential election and a new regime came to power, we were ‘advised’ to keep the original CAB-compliant BBL intact and wait for its entrenchment in the federal system that the new government was contemplating on instituting. We were told that this BBL would not only be the law of the Bangsamoro component state but would also be the template from which the other component states of the new federal system will be patterned.

But we rejected this because we wanted the BBL to come first before federalism. We ignored the caveats that the new government laid on the table if we were to persist on having the BBL go through the same processes it experienced under the 1987 unitary state constitution. For it cannot be helped, said the present government, that the BBL will have to go through the same constitutional, and hence legislative, processes it underwent under the previous regime. The only way to escape this was constitutional change and thus a shift to the federal system.

Against better judgment and notwithstanding the excruciating ordeal with the BBL that we went through under the Aquino presidency, we persisted. We cajoled and even threatened. To use a cliché, we were “stubborn as a mule” and as stupid.

So today, there are four versions of ‘BBL’ in the HOR. And once again Congress is playing the parlor game of ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ on the ‘BBL’ and the Bangsamoro as it did in the previous Congress. President Duterte did not even mention it when he spoke at the Bangsamoro Assembly. Probably, though, we will still end up, among other things, with a ‘Bangsamoro Government’ of a regional entity like ARMM without a Police Force or police powers. Without a police force, however, whatever Bangsamoro Government version that makes it to the finish line set by Congress will be like an aging toothless tiger unable to even chew on a leaf of grass.

And with the MILF transitioning to NGO as announced in the media, the Abu Sayyafs, ISIS, and all the crazies and gunslingers in town will have a field day running around the Bangsamoro and playing ‘Indians and cowboys’ with the AFP and the PNP. There goes your ‘demilitarization’! There goes your ‘Moro self-governance’!

So why did we end up in the same boat as before? Are the ‘few’ in a hurry to enjoy the perks and dividends of nebulous ‘peace’ rather than see the blessings of enduring justice for the entire Moro people?

The answer to this is beyond us. We could only grit our teeth in frustration as we go through this deja vu. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on peace in Mindanao. Robert Maulana Marohombsar Alonto was a member of the peace panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that negotiated the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro signed in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in 2014. He was also a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that the Aquino administration did not pass. This piece was posted on his Facebook wall on December 6, 2017. The author gave MindaNews permission to reprint this).

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