QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/06 May) – The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that Congress will pass will not be less than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it seeks to replace, officials of the House of Representatives assured a delegation of peace advocates led by Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo.
“One thing is sure, it will be very hard to have a BBL that has less powers than the ARMM,” Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, said during a 75-minute dialogue at the Speaker’s office on Monday afternoon. Belmonte and other officials nodded.
The government and MILF peace panels had agreed in 2012 that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the establishment of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal had repeatedly said that what the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) provides and what the BBL has articulated in its provisions is a future Bangsamoro government that would be “less than independence but more than the ARMM.”
Concerns have been raised over proposed amendments to the draft BBL that the 75-member Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL will introduce as what will come out may be a “mangled” BBL or a “watered down” BBL that will make the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the present ARMM.
Constitution, Comprehenshive Agreement
According to Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong, chair of the House Committee on Muslim Affairs and a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), in pushing for the BBL, “we are guided by this CAB and above all, by the Constitution. “
“If there is something in the CAB that is contrary to the Constitution. let us find a language that will conform to the two – the Constitution and the CAB,” Loong said, adding “there is no BBL without this (peace) agreement.”
“We are just acting on the basis of what has been agreed by the executive branch of government and the MILF. So as co-equal branch of government, we belong to the legislative branch, that is our job now, to put everything in order,” he said.
Belmonte said what bothers him is how the “common man” understands the BBL.
He said some “might think that when somebody is questioning the constitutionality or what to do this way or that way, they might think that one, the national government is reneging on agreements. Yung expectations might be too high because of itong sinasabi mo na ‘di naman masama kung ilagay mo yan dyan.’ You understand that this is subject to negotiation. You understand it, I understand I but does the common man understand?”
Quevedo, lead convenor of Friends of Peace (FoP), a group of peace advocates and peace networks promoting the passage of a Basic Law that would respect the Bangsamoro’s right to self determination and provide them genuine autonomy, expressed concern over news reports quoting representatives as saying they will delete provisions that are “unconstitutional” but actually conform to the Constitution and the CAB.
“Why remove them?”
Last month, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the 75-member Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL said in several media interviews that eight of the 250 provisions in the BBL will be deleted because of questions of constitutionality.
Among these, he said, are the provisions authorizing the Bangsamoro government to have its own Commission on Elections, Ombudsman, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Audit and Commission on Human Rights.
The proposed BBL, however, provides that the creation of the Bangsamoro Commission on Audit is “without prejudice to the power, authority, and duty of the national Commission on Audit to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenues and the use of funds and property owned and held in trust by any government instrumentality, including GOCCs;” the proposed Bangsamoro Civil Service Office which shall develop and administer Bangsamoro government employees and officers is also “without prejudice to the Civil Service Commission’s powers;” the Bangsamoro Electoral Office “shall be part of the Commission on Elections;” and the Bangsamoro Commission on Human Rights (BCHR) which shall have investigatory and prosecutorial powers shall in the performance of its functions, coordinate with the Commission on Human Rights.”
The present ARMM has set up its Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) as this was mandated by RA 9054, the basic law of the ARMM.
Quevedo cautioned against deleting provisions that “would make the Bangsmoro less powerful than the present ARMM.”
An example is the RHRC from where the proposed BCHR was patterned and other bodies already set up by the ARMM “so why remove them now?”
The Peace Council, which submitted to President Aquino on Monday morning its report on the BBL, said in its letter to the Filipino people that “overall, we agreed that the BBL is overwhelmingly acceptable and deserves the support of all Filipinos. On the few provisions that needed some refinement, we offered recommendation.” (see other story)
Lawyer Christian Monsod, a former member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution and former chair of the Commission on Election noted that the BBL “is supposed to give life to two mandates of the Constitution: to create an autonomous region with real autonomy and to deliver social justice and human development to the peoples of Bangsamoro because we have neglected and oppressed them for so long. There are two mandates of the Constitution there but the question is, are we fulfilling it by all of these restrictions we are putting there so that they would have no real autonomy?”
Fr. Bert Layson, head of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s Inter-religious Dialogue said residents in the conflict-affected areas may not know the details of the BBL “but what they are just waiting for is peace. They are tired of war, Muslim man o Christian o Lumad. Pagod na talaga sila sa gyera. Naghihintay sila na ito na ang panahon.” (They are really tired of war. They are waiting if now is, indeed, the time).
Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy residents in conflict areas “don’t care about these legalities” for as long as the BBL promises a better future for them, “jobs, peace, education.”
Other members of the Friends of Peace who attended the meeting were Samira Gutoc of the Young Moro Professionals, who read some provisions comparing what is provided in the present law governing the ARMM and the proposed BBL, and Sister Arnold Maria Noel of Balay Rehabilitation Center and the Mindanao Solidarity Network.
With Belmonte, Balindong and Loong were Misamis Occidental, and Rep. Henry Oaminal. Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez, who came in towards the end of the meeting.
No certificate of urgency yet
Congress resumed sessions Monday after a six-week break to deliberate on priority legislations, including the BBL.
President Aquino, however, has yet to issue a certificate of urgency on the matter of the BBL” “I think he wants to take a look at it first before he does. As of now, wala pa,” Belmonte told MindaNews.
Rodriguez, who was not in the meeting with Belmonte, told MindaNews last month that he expected the certificate of urgency to be issued by the President “when sessions resume.”
MindaNews sources privy to the Bangsamoro peace process said Murad met with the President on January 13 this year to express concern over the absence of a written certificate of urgency. At that time, Congress was expected to pass the BBL before Congress took a break in the third week of March.
On January 25, however, a total of 66 persons were killed — 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF), 17 from the MILF and five civilians — in a law enforcement action purportedly to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, who was also killed.
But the BBL became yet another casualty of the law enforcement operation that was not coordinated with the local or regional police, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and the peace process mechanisms agreed upon by the government and MILF peace panels, as the resurfacing of biases and prejudices against the Moro further delayed the passage of the law.
“Fair, just acceptable”
The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed by the government and MILF on October 15, 2012 provides that the draft BBL that would be submitted by the Transition Commission “shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.”
The 15-member government-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which drafted the BBL, submitted it to Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Belmonte on September 10, 2014, in rites held in Malacanang.
During that handover, President Aquino assured members of Congress that the BBL was crafted to be “fair, just, and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumads, or Christians.”
A former congressman and senator, the President said he understood the need for Congress to thoroughly review the draft BBL but “we ask Congress, however, to pass this bill in the soonest possible time.”
“If we are able to legislate this, we can give our Moro brothers enough time to prepare, thus enabling them to nurture the seeds of meaningful governance which were planted for the Bangsamoro,” Aquino said.
In their historic meeting in Japan on August 4, 2011, Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim agreed to fast-track the peace process so that an agreement could be reached within the first half of Aquino’s six-year term (2010 to 2013) and implementation would be done during the second half (2013 to 2016)
Reckoning it from May 6, 2015, only 421 days are left to June 30, 2016, the end of the Aquino administration.
The peace roadmap of the government and MILF had earlier targeted June 30, 2016 as the inauguration of the Bangsamoro government, supposedly after a year-long transition. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews