PEACETALK: Bangsamoro Basic Law: Towards a Just and Dignified Peace

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(Sponsorship Speech on Senate Bill No. 1717 or the “Bangsamoro Basic Law”
under Committee Report No. 255, delivered by Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, chair of the Senate Sub-committee on BBL, on 28 February 2018)

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, I am honored to sponsor a landmark bill, with so much promise, with so much hope ….. for a lasting peace in Mindanao, and the rest of the country. This Senate Bill No. 1717, under Committee Report No. 255, jointly submitted by the Committees on Local Government, Ways and Means, and Finance, and the Subcommittee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, is a product of 11 public hearings, six whole days of technical working group meetings and several thousand man-hours of labor.

But before I proceed to the rest of my sponsorship, let me thank the Chairman of the Local Government Committee, the mother committee, Senator Sonny Angara, for graciously acceding to the creation of a subcommittee to hear this bill. Also to the Senate President for granting many of our requests and as the principal author of the bill. This bill, whose other co-authors, aside from this representation, are Senator Bam Aquino and Senator Risa Hontiveros, is a collective effort of the entire chamber. Nowadays, it is very rare that we see a measure with so strong bipartisan support, but fortunately and for good reasons, we have a very clear bipartisan support in this bill.

And I thank all my colleagues for such support, especially those who attended our hearings, both in the Senate and our out-of-town hearings in all the provinces of the current ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), Senators Sonny Angara, JV Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Bam Aquino, Risa Hontiveros, Cynthia Villar and the Senate President. I was told by my staff that in recent Senate history, the out-of-town committee hearings we conducted made a record of sort, for being one of the highest in attendance by members, the one in Zamboanga City had seven members in attendance including the Senate President. It shows the importance the chamber has accorded this bill. And the reception of the people we consulted on the bill was amazing and most have voiced their strong support for the immediate passage of the bill.

We also thank the secretariat and the Senators staff for their untiring assistance, and the media for their coverage and documentation of our hearings.

May we also recognize the Bangsamoro Transition Commission members and their staff and supporters who are in the plenary today to witness this historic moment.

In the course of our hearing Mr. President, we also made another record, for having the highest number of Senators who simultaneously visited an MILF camp, Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao. The visit to the MILF Camp by the Senate panel cemented the mutual trust and confidence with each other.

We also took a side trip in the Marawi City “Ground Zero” or ruins, which is still close to the public and even the former residents of the houses and buildings were not allowed to enter the site, for us to better assess the damage and personally see the horrors a war could bring to a once vibrant and thriving community. When we saw the destruction of Marawi City, we could not hold back our tears Mr. President. What once were imposing, sturdy and colorful structures are now reduced to rubbles. Such a horrific sight. And I must say, enough of these wars, Mr. President. Our Moro brethren had suffered long enough.

Bangsamoro Historical Narrative

The advent of Islam in southern Philippines started during the end of the 13th century and the beginning of 14th century when Arab traders arrived in Sulu and performed missionary activities. This is the phase of the coming of the Makhdumin and the first seeds of Islam were sowed by them. At that time, the inhabitants in the area were animists.

The arrival of the Sumatran Islamic influences and political institutions followed at the end of the 14th century. This phase is represented in the Sulu tarsilas by the coming of Rajah Baguinda Ali who arrived in Sulu with ministers and soldiers and established a principality.

This was followed by the establishment of the sultanate of Sulu in the middle of the 15th century under the Sherif Abu Bakr, an Arab who had travelled extensively in Malaysia. The establishment of the sultanate assumes that a large number of coastal inhabitants had become Moslems and responsive to such Islamic institution.

Islam then spread to the Cotabato basin and subsequently spread to the Lanao area during the end of the 15th century. This is signified in the Mindanao tarsilas by the coming of Sherif Muhammed Kabungsuan.

Islamic influences in Sulu and Mindanao increased through greater maritime contacts with Malacca, Java and Borneo, and the occasional visits of Moslem traders and missionaries from Arab and Indian lands.

By the second half of the 16th century, Manila was already ruled by the members of the Bornean aristocracy and signified the Islamization of the area around Manila Bay. We know the name of Rajah Sulayman and when the Spaniards came to Manila in the last quarter of the 16th century started the fall of Manila as a Moslem principality.

Despite attempts by the Spaniards to colonize Sulu, Maguindanao and Lanao areas during their more than 300 years of presence in the Philippines, the Spaniards were not successful to convert the Moslems in the area to Christianity and maintained their Islamic way of life and political institutions.

Then came the Americans and the short-lived Japanese government in the country who were not successful as well in colonizing the Muslim Mindanao.

Bangsamoro, loosely translated to English, means Moro nation or Moro land. The term came into being when the Spanish colonizers arrived in Manila in the mid-1500s and saw a strong Muslim settlements in the area. They had expelled the Moors from Spain after nearly 800 years of conflict. The Spaniards nicknamed the Philippines Muslim inhabitants the Moros, a corruption of the word Moors.

The Bangsamoro people take pride for not having been colonized by these foreign powers. And I say, we too, Christians, should be proud of that. It is their sense that they were able to preserve their cultural, religious and historical identity. But despite such triumphs, biases and prejudices by the Filipino Christians toward the Bangsamoro people exists.

It is in that context that the Bangsamoro people aspire to correct such historical injustice through self-determination.

The Muslim Secessionist Movement

This aspiration for self-determination can be regarded to have started or resurfaced during the 70s when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a splinter group of the Muslim Independence Movement and formed by Nur Misuari, sought an independent Islamic state or autonomous region for the Filipino Muslim minority. From then on, the MNLF had metamorphosed into several organizations and groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) founded by Hashim Salamat, primarily seeking an independent Islamic state in Muslim Mindanao. And the rest, as they say is history. The Muslim secessionist movement is now regarded as the second oldest internal conflict in the world.

The Costs of Internal Conflict

Since the fighting between the Philippine government and Moro secessionist movements started in 1970s, a World Bank study (Campo and Judd, 2005) had roughly estimated the direct economic costs of the conflict from 1970 – 2001 to be at $2 to $3 billion. That is the lowest estimate for direct cost of the conflict, Mr. President.

Aside from the direct economic costs are the heavy human and social toll of the conflict. The same study estimated the death toll since 1970 at 120,000 people, and unaccounted numbers of wounded and disabled. Internally displaced people at two million, of whom 1 million in 2000 alone during the “all-out-war.”

The ARMM Organic Law

We have attempted twice through the enactment of RA 6734 or the Act Providing for an Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the subsequent amendatory law, RA 9054 or an Act to Strengthen and expand the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Unfortunately, according to at least two administrations, “it was a failed experiment.” I believe that, if we consider those two laws a failure, they failed because no real full-autonomy was given to the Muslim Mindanao, especially on the fiscal aspect. If our Muslim brothers and sisters have an annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina for their hajj to purify their souls, so too the ARMM leaders for their annual pilgrimage to Malacañang and Congress to beg for funds from the so-called imperial Manila. Funds that would otherwise accrue to them automatically that they can allocate based on the needs and development plans for their people. That and other important aspects heavily contributed on the failure of the previous autonomous government in Muslim Mindanao.

The new Bangsamoro Basic Law

Which brings me to the proposed measure on the floor. This new Bangsamoro Basic Law gives greatest latitude if not full autonomy to the Bangsamoro government that will be established, to assert their political and economic self-determination and pursue development programs for their people according to their peculiar historical, cultural, religious and national identities.

Salient Features

Here are some of the salient features of the proposed law.

  1. Territory

On Territory. The bill proposes to cover what remains of the traditional homeland of the Bangsamoro, which overtime has lost much of their territory due to colonization and some policies that have deprived them of their lands and marginalized them such as the earlier land registration acts that did not provide them opportunity to register their lands or settlement programs that offered their lands to settlers from Luzon and the Visayas. This is part of the historical injustice that the Bill proposes to address.

The core territory includes the present territory of the ARMM, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, cities of Cotabato and Isabela, 39 barangays in North Cotabato, and contiguous areas that may petition to join the Bangsamoro. Note that the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and the 39 barangays in North Cotabato already voted yes in the 2001 plebiscite for inclusion in the ARMM. However, due to a technical issue in the manner by which the plebiscite question was designed and the manner of appreciation of the majority of votes, they were not included as part of the ARMM as it then required them to obtain a double majority.

The Bill proposes to address this challenge by following the suggestion of Justice Adolf Azcuna during the hearing, by constituting these six municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato into geographic areas, so that we can give life to the provision of the 1987 Constitution on autonomy that allows municipalities and geographic areas to join the autonomous region. This too, will give life not only to the peace agreement we signed with the MILF but also to the MNLF.

  1. Powers of Government

Reserved powers are matters over which authority and jurisdiction are retained by the Central Government. The list of reserved powers would pertain to powers that are the attribute of a sovereign country and are important in maintaining its independence and ability to relate to other countries such as foreign policy, defense, citizenship and others.

The concurrent powers are powers shared by the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government within the Bangsamoro. The Basic Law enumerates 14 powers exercised by both the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government. Constitutional Offices in the Bangsamoro shall continue to remain under the direct control and supervision of its National Head Office.

To guard against allegations of rampant corruption in the ARMM this Basic Law is providing that aside from the regional office of the Commission on Audit in the Bangsamoro, the Bangsamoro Government shall also create a Bangsamoro Auditing Office (BAO) which shall conduct pre-audit and post-audit.

On the other hand, the exclusive powers that are granted the Bangsamoro are powers essential to deliver services to its people and enable them to develop as communities such as agriculture, public administration, waste management, etc. It is a truism that these matters are best left to the Bangsamoro government which is closest to the ground.

  1. Intergovermental Relations Mechanism/Bodies

These bodies are provided to ensure coordination and cooperation between the Central Government and Bangsamoro Government on matters such as environment, energy, fiscal and natural resources among others. These bodies are created as mechanisms to allow a degree of synchronization while allowing a reasonable latitude of discretion for the Bangsamoro government to exercise its power in the spirit of the autonomy granted them. In a more context-specific case for the Bangsamoro and the MILF, these mechanisms will allow them to transition in their assertion of their legitimate grievances from an armed struggle to a more democratic and peaceful means. In a way the Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) mechanism is the venue for ventilating their issues and provide them a platform to continue their assertion and advocacy, but this time around, no longer by the power of the guns but by the power of the pen.

  1. Bangsamoro Government

The Bangsamoro Government will allow them self-governance that will put an end to their feeling of alienation which for decades have fueled their rebellion. This will be a government of their own, a Parliamentary government with the Chief minister as head of government and supported by a cabinet. The Parliamentary System of government is closer to their tradition as the Parliament mirrors their traditional leadership such as the Ruma Bichara (Council) of the Sultanate of Sulu or the Atas (Council) Bichara of the Sultanate of Maguindanao.

The Parliamentary System with this innovative features of party representation, district representation, and reserved seats and sectoral representation ensures that no one is left behind. Everyone will have a voice in the Parliament. The party representation, constituting 50 percent of the Parliament will infuse new dynamics and hope in the Bangsamoro Government for the eventual triumph of genuinely principled parties. Candidates will now be voted on the basis of party platforms and programs and no longer based on popular personalities. The reserved seats and sectoral representation will ensure that marginalized sectors and other identities will have a voice in the Parliament.

An innovation included in this Bill is a provision that penalizes the unprincipled transfer from one party to another which is a problem in this country. This Bill proposes that if Member of the Parliament, after having been elected under the proportional representation system, transfers to another during his incumbency, he will forfeit his seat. Section 18, Art VII.

An anti-dynasty provision in the Parliament has also been included under section 15, Art VII which provided that no party representative should be related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to a district representative or another party representative in the same parliament.

  1. Bangsamoro Justice System

The Bangsamoro Justice System allows them to implement the civil and commercial and minor criminal aspects of the Shariah law if the parties are Muslims or where parties have voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of the Shariah court. Also, regular courts will continue to function and allow for the other indigenous peoples in the region to continue to practice their customary laws. The justice system allows them to practice their religions and recognize the uniqueness of their culture and identity while maintaining the control and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over the Shariah Court system.

  1. Public Order and Safety

On Public Order. The Bangsamoro Police remains a part of the PNP. The Bill operationalizes Section 21, Article 10 of the Constitution that gives local authorities the ability to manage peace and order.

  1. Fiscal Autonomy

On Fiscal autonomy. The Bill will give meaning to the concept of true fiscal autonomy by providing them sufficient freedom to determine their priorities and how best to spend their funds with the least intervention from the central government. The block Grant will be 6 percent of the net collections both of the BIR and the Bureau of Customs. This will be automatically appropriated and regularly released to the Bangsamoro akin to the system adopted for the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) of the LGUs (Local Government Units). This measure addresses the gap in the ARMM Autonomy Act that treated the ARMM only as a national government agency and even less autonomous than ordinary LGUs.

To further strengthen their fiscal autonomy, the Bill proposes to provide a share to the Bangsamoro in the taxes collected in the region as well as the revenue derived from exploration development and utilization of natural resources found therein. For taxes the sharing is at 75-25 in favor of the Bangsamoro and for fossil fuels the same will be divided equally. This will put a stop to their long standing grievance that we have been exploiting their resources such as Lake Lanao for power generation but that they have been deprived of the benefits that are derived from the exploitation of the resources found in their area.

  1. Special Development Fund

The SDF of 100 Billion is designed to rehabilitate damaged infrastructure in the region as a result of decades of war. The fund will be released in 10 equal installments for a period of 10 years and will be utilized based on Development Plan crafted by them. This fund will allow them also to catch up with the rest of the country.

  1. Plebiscite

The plebiscite provisions in the Bill effects the Constitutional mandate to secure the consent of the governed and ratifies the autonomy law for the Bangsamoro. This is not an ordinary law and the Constitution has set the parameters for its enactment different from ordinary legislation where after its passage in Congress, the signature of the President is sufficient to make it into a law. This Bill proposes that the Plebiscite be held in the following areas:

  1. The ARMM
  2. The 6 municipalities in Lanao del Norte
  3. The 39 barangays in North Cotabato
  4. Contiguous areas who may petition for inclusion in the Bangsamoro

To give full meaning to the constitutional provision for the creation of the autonomous region and to honor our commitment to the peace agreements we signed, we have designed the plebiscite to ensure the preservation of the gains of autonomy by allowing the ARMM, as a geographic area, to vote as one unit. For the six municipalities and to effect the mandate of the constitution to allow municipalities and geographic areas to join the autonomy, the determination of majority will be at the level of the municipalities. This is also true with respect to the geographic area constituting the 39 Barangays in North Cotabato.

For contiguous areas, we have raised the number of petitioners to 20 percent of the registered voters and also to allow them only to join if their mother unit allows them to do so. This is of course is without prejudice for Congress to declare them as geographic units, in which case they may subsequently join as such local government units where the determination of majority will only be at the level of their concerned local government units.

To put a closure to the GPH-MNLF process which has already undergone a Tripartite Review with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, we have proposed a subsequent plebiscite but only on three (3) occasions for a period of 15 years. This process will finally shift the struggle of our brothers from an armed revolutionary struggle to one of democratic and peaceful as they need not fight with guns as there is an avenue for them to join their brothers in the autonomy thru this periodic plebiscite. Our hope is that this provision will finally put a closure to our peace process with the MNLF and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in the Bangsamoro and in the whole country as well.

  1. Bangsamoro Transition Authority

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will be the interim government and allows the MILF to transition from a rebel organization into governance through a peaceful democratic process. While the BTA will be led by the MILF, other sectors in the Bangsamoro will be represented. The transition period under the Bill will be for three years which will be a sufficient time to stabilize the region and hopefully kick start development and reforms.

Concluding Statement

Mr. President, in the course of the Bangsamoro struggle for political and economic self-determination so much blood had been shed, so many lives had been lost and so much hope had gone.

The Senate, through this bill, now has this rare chance to give justice to the historical injustice in the Bangsamoro. We can correct the mistakes of the past. Let us seize this opportunity. Let us not be bystanders in the passing of history, let us make this spot in our history a meaningful one for the Bangsamoro, let us not be cowed from our responsibilities, just the like the rich tradition of this Senate.

Mr. President, I do not want to sound like a warmonger, but if we do not heed this clamor for change in the Bangsamoro, God forbid, restlessness among the armed groups in Mindanao could spiral out of control. The possibility of another Marawi siege would not be far from the horizon. The country can no longer afford more bloodshed. Our generation has suffered long enough from the clutches of poverty, from the evils of war. Let not our children and their future suffer some more. Never Mr. President, never.

So much now is upon our shoulders. Let us thrust ourselves on the right side of history, and certainly, passing the BBL now is on the right side of history. This is our burden now and yet this could be our road to a just and dignified peace not only in Mindanao but in the whole of Philippines.

Thank you Mr. President.

 

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