DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 June) – The chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government said they are not throwing away the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as he is certain that “large parts” of the original BBL will still be in the substitute bill.
“I want to disabuse people from the idea that we are throwing the BBL away. Quite the contrary , we are basing everything on the draft BBL,” Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., told a press conference at the Park Inn hotel here Saturday afternoon.
He explained that in writing the substitute bill, they will “go down line by line of the draft BBL and … I cannot predict what will be agreed upon and what will not be agreed upon but I am sure large parts of the original BBL (HB 4994) will still be in the substitute bill.”
Marcos, who said in his privilege speech at the Senate on June 3 that he “cannot support the BBL in its present form,” was apparently referring to the non-problematic provisions of the draft bill as the “large parts” that would be carried into the substitute bill, in the same manner that the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law retained “large parts” of the provisions in HB 4994 but introduced major amendments into the substitute bill, HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”
In the words of the Committee chair, Cagayan de Oro Rufus Rodriguez, HB 4994 was “significantly changed by the substitute bill HB 5811.”
In his privilege speech, Marcos said “napakarami pong mga kumplikado at kontrobersyal na probisyon na napapaloob sa BBL at kung tatanggalin pong isa-isa, baka maski kahit ano pang retoke ang gawin, hindi na makakaya pang maibalik sa orihinal na anyo ang BBL” (there are so many complicated and controversial provisions in the BBL and if we remove them one by one, no matter what we do, it won’t be possible anymore to bring back the BBL to its original form.”
He also announced then that he was preparing a substitute bill to HB 4994, that would be “good for all” because the BBL in its present form and substance “will not bring us any closer to peace” but will “lead us to perdition.”
He said he had set a deadline for himself to submit the substitute bill before July 27, when Congress reconvenes for the third regular session of the 16th Congress, the same day President Benigno Simeon Aquino delivers his last State of the Nation Address.
Vision of autonomy
Asked at the press conference what kind of autonomy his substitute bill envisions that would address the historical injustices to the Bangsamoro people and be faithful to the Constitution and the peace agreements, Marcos replied, “That’s a big question. There are many, many, many things. I think the … subject of autonomy is no longer an issue. That will remain.”
He said he was going to focus on four areas of the BBL: constitutionality, power-sharing, economic provisions and administration.
Pressed to share his vision of a Bangsamoro autonomy given that he “cannot support” the proposed law drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC),
Marcos replied: “I would say that what we have to do is to do better in terms of the inclusiveness of the process, that we have to talk to everyone who is involved.”
He said efforts should also be undertaken to “talk to other armed groups, not just one so that we will be able to say that if they come on board…. They will be part part of the peace process.”
“Only then can we say that we have made some effort into answering or addressing the problems and issues that they bring up,” Marcos said.
Beyond peace agreements, Marcos noted the need for a “stronger mechanism for the development of Mindanao and Muslim Mindanao.”
“In my view, as long as we stay true to the principle that the government recognizes the differences between our Muslim Filipinos and other Filipinos, that they have a different culture, they have a different history, they have a different religion, different law, as long as we stay true to that, and from that is derived the idea of autonomy, then I think that will be an important step to bringing peace.”
“The concept is one thing, but what we are going to do to live that concept is much more important because we can have very good ideas but if we don’t do anything about it, nothing will happen,” he said.
When an editor asked Marcos if he was “inclined to just expand the ARMM law,” Marcos replied that this suggestion has been made not only by him but other senators and observers.
“One of the arguments against its constitutionality is that we are not in fact allowed to create another autonomous region which is what we will be doing if we pass BBL in its present version,” Marcos said.
He said what is being given as a reason to abolish the ARMM is that it is a “failed experiment.”
“That’s not true. That’s wrong. I think ARMM is an ongoing experiment that we need to continuously improve. We’ve already amended the Organic Act once, there is no reason why we shouldn’t amend it again,” he said.
But Marcos said that whether or not the substitute bill would just amend the ARMM will “depend on the discussion that we have with the other senators.”
Marcos also recalled that as soon as news about this proposal to amend the ARMM law broke out, MILF peace panel chair Mohahger Iqbal immediately said the proposal was “unacceptable to the MILF.”
“And that is a political problem. MILF wants their own. Yun lang naman problema doon” (that’s the only problem there),” Marcos said.
The government and the MILF negotiated for a political settlement of the armed conflict for 17 years — from 1997 until the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2015.
The Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo administrations had offered to “strengthen” or “enhance” the ARMM but this was not acceptable to the MILF.
The current administration initially offered a “3 for 1” proposal in August 2011, barely three weeks after the historic meeting in Tokyo, Japan between President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. The proposal, provided, among others, for a “more empowered” AMMM was rejected by the MILF.
The government proposal noted that the ARMM “may have been a failed experiment in the past; but the current proposal is based on a more balanced understanding of whether its past failure was due to its structure and the systems that it spawned or the quality of the past national or regional leadership.”
The proposal presented the “possibility of a more empowered, more workable, and thus, more genuine autonomy of a Bangsamoro region.”
In their Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012, both parties agreed that the status quo was unacceptable and that they would work for a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, to replace the ARMM.
The FAB also provides that upon promulgation and ratification of the BBL, the ARMM is “deemed abolished” and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) takes over to prepare for the first election and inauguration of the Bangsamoro, which will adopt a parliamentary system of governance. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)