Sema: MILF “wanted the moon and stars and everything” but is getting only the rays of the sun

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QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/09 June) – One of the vice chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law on Tuesday night said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which signed last year a comprehensive peace agreement with the government “wanted the moon and the stars and everything” but within the framework of the 1987 Constitution, are getting only the “rays of the sun” in the committee-approved BBL.

“The MILF wanted the moon and stars and everything but because the Bangsamoro Basic Law has to … conform to the Constitution, I think they have to content themselves with the rays of the sun,” Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, who took the sponsorship role in the Tuesday night interpellation by Gabriela party-list Representative Luz Ilagan, said.

WOMEN. Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan (L) interpellates Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema (on video screen). the lone woman among eight vice chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
WOMEN. Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan (L, standing) interpellates Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema (on video screen). the lone woman among eight vice chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Ilagan was the sixth representative to have finished interpellating out of 38 who had signed up. Five had interpellated on June 2, 3, 4 while Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat will again continue interpellating Wednesday, the scheduled last day of session before Congress adjourns sine die, his fifth day at interpellating.

There wasn’t a debate on Tuesday night between Ilagan and Sema as the latter agreed mostly with the points Ilagan raised, such as self-determination, structural reforms, and addressing the roots of historical injustice committed against the Bangsamoro people.

It was the first time in the five-day interpellations that a woman representative interpellated, and the first time a woman sponsor was on the floor to defend the substitute bill, HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”

Sema, wife of Muslimin Sema, chair of one of the factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is the lone woman among the Ad Hoc Committee’s eight vice chairs.

Rep. Sema was Education Secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) when then President Joseph Estrada waged the “all-out war” against the MILF.

“Failed experiment”

Ilagan’s first question was on President Aquino’s speech on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) where he described the ARMM, as a “failed experiment” and how it was necessary to have structural reforms to address the root causes of the conflict.

The government and MILF in 2012 had agreed that the status quo was unacceptable and that they would work for a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, that would replace the ARMM.

“Does the sponsor agree with the statement of the President that the ARMM is a failed experiment?” Ilagan asked.

Sema said she believes the ARMM is “not embodiment of the agreement entered into by the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MNLF.” She noted that

the ARMM has “partly.. helped in establishing relative peace in the area of autonomy” but “did not in totality address the basic conditions that we needed in the autonomous region to become a region that operates under a genuine autonomy.”

Sema narrated the history of the Bangsamoro struggle, the history of the peace agreements, the ARMM and said “both the MNLF and MILF do not see the ARMM as the embodiment.. as the manifestation of the genuine autonomy that they have struggled for.”

Ilagan wanted to know what caused the failure of the ARMM and if the Ad Hoc Committee’s version of the proposed Bangsamoro will not lead to yet another failure.

Is 5811 addressing historical injustices?

She cited the initial study of the Cotabato City-based Bangsamoro Study Group that the Ad Hoc Committee’s HB 5811 violated the GPH-MILF’s Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and how the future Bangsamoro as envisioned under HB 5811 is going to be less autonomous than the ARMM as it took away from the future Bangsamoro powers already given the ARMM.

Ilagan asked if HB 5811 was addressing the historical injustices committed against injustice to the Moro identity, political sovereignty and economic development.

Sema talked about transitional justice, the normalization process, about how “we are part of the Philippine system,” and how the Bangsmaoro parliament would be deciding on the priorities on the block grant that it would receive.

Ilagan noted the HB 5811, what she repeatedly referred to during her interpellation as “BBL Ad Hoc version,” appeared to be “ too concerned with constitutionality but … is far removed from the spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”

She wanted to know if the Ad Hoc version is, indeed, correcting the historical injustice or “we are actually perpetuating the injustice to the Bangsamoro?”

“I fully agree,” said Sema, adding “this can still be amended.” She urged Ilagan to bring this up during the period of amendments.

Ilagan asked what is meant by self-determination and why the Committee deleted “chart their own political future” from the Preamble of the draft BBL. Sema replied it was “already subsumed by self-governance.”

“Castrating”

The Gabriela party list representative also asked why the Committee changed “territory” into “geographical area” when provinces, cities, municipalities and even barangays have territories.

Sema explained that she wanted “territory” to be retained but it was replaced because “according to our Chairman, the term ‘territory’ is an element of state.”

“Are we not in fact castrating the territory of the Bangsamoro?” Ilagan asked

“It could mean that way,” Sema replied, adding she shares Ilagan’s sentiment.

“What harm would the word ‘territory’ inflict if we retain it?…. If a barangay can have a territory, why cannot the Bangsamoro?” Ilagan asked.

“I think there is no violation but again we have a process…” Sema answered.

Structural reforms

In the course of the 91-minute interpellation, Sema would repeatedly tell Ilagan, “I agree” or “I share your sentiment” but would add “but again we have a process and the result of the process is what we have now.”

Ilagan asked for provisions that she did not find in HB 5811 that would ensure it will not be another failed experiment. “Where are the provisions on structural reforms?”

Sema again said, “The MILF wanted the moon and stars but because of constitutional limits (they’re just going to get) the rays of the sun.”

“We just want and end to war,” Sema said. “I want this BBL because I want the war to stop.”

Ilgan tied up the amendment introduced by the Ad Hoc Committee that took out the power of the Bangsamoro over natural resources, with moves to amend the restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

“It is beyond me that our colleagues have no qualms allowing foreign investors so why cannot we extend the same liberality to the Bangsamoro people?” she asked.

She also asked why there is only one seat for the women sector in the Committee draft.

“Worse than ARMM”

Ilagan ended her interpellation by saying “this Ad Hoc version BBL, measured in terms of genuine autonomy, is worse than the ARMM,” to which Sema replied, “I agree with you but we have to respect the collective wisdom of the Committee.”

Zamboanga City Rep. Lobregat resumed his interpellation after Ilagan, facing Committee chair, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro.

In contrast to the women, the men debated over alleged unconstitutional provisions that Rodriguez said had been addressed in the substitute bill.

“What is the cause, the justness, the legitimacy of the Bangsamoro cause?” Lobregat asked. Rodriguez cited the Constitutional provision on creating the autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras, to which Lobregat replied the peace agreements do not cite the Constitution.

Constitution is basis”

Rodriguez countered that the Committee version states the Constitution, that it is “within the framework of the Constitution and national sovereignty as well as the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”

Lobregat repeatedly said “please save this country from dismemberment.”

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat continues his interpellation, his fourth day Tuesday night. Lobregat will continue his interpellation Wednesday, the last session day before Congress adjourns sine die. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat continues his interpellation, his fourth day Tuesday night. Lobregat will continue his interpellation Wednesday, the last session day before Congress adjourns sine die. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Rodriguez repeated the phrase “within the framework of the Constitution….” And wondered why Lobregat finds that difficult to comprehend, ‘as if we don’t believe in the Constitution, as if we do not understand simple English.”

“Help save the dismemberment of our country,” Lobregat again said.

Rodriguez replied: “The basis of this bill is the Constitution, not the FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro), the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsmaoro.”

Lobregat’s interpellation, his fourth day, was not finished as Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza rose to the rostrum at 9:33 p.m. apparently to question the quorum but before he could be acknowleged, the presiding chair suspended the session until 10 a.m. Wednesday. It was 9:35 p.m. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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