DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/16 November) – “It’s not over until its over,” the chair of the government (GPH) peace panel in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said on the possibility of passing the the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by December 16, the self-imposed deadline set last month by the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“It’s not over until its over di ba? But I have to admit that as the days go by the chances (of passing the BBL by December 16) become slimmer,” Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, GPH peace panel chair said in a press conference at the Apo View Hotel on Friday afternoon.
She cited the quorum problems at the House of Representatives which has not resumed interpellation on the BBL since Congress resumed sessions on November 3. There have been five session days since but no interpellation as there was no quorum on November 3, 4, 9 and 10 and the 11th was spent on the Salary Standardization Law.
Congress will resume sessions on November 23 as sessions were called off this week due to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
At the Senate, only one Senator, Juan Ponce Enrile, has interpellated during the five session days. He manifested he would continue in the next sessions.
Ferrer acknowledged that if the BBL is not passed by December 16, it will be more difficult to muster a quorum next year.
When Congress resumes on January 19 next year, it will have only eight session days until February 5. Congress will again go on recess between February 6 and May 22 for the election campaign leading to the May 9 synchronized elections.
“We’re still hoping but not to give false hopes to anyone. We know the chances are getting smaller as the days go by,” she said.
Last week, when MindaNews asked Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, on the next steps to be taken should Congress fail to pass the BBL by December 16, she replied: “No Plan B. We’re not giving up. On the peace table are miracles waiting to happen.”
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, was not as optimistic. He told MindaNews, “Optimism has been shelved many months ago; only the ember of hope does not die until the last minute. Let the time pass and continue to engage especially the friends of the peace process, both domestic and international.”
In August, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews that if the BBL is not passed under the Aquino administration, “we still have the CAB” (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro).
“What is important is nandyan yung agreement, we protect that agreement because if it cannot be implemented within our lifetime, then the struggle will continue and the next generation will always demand for the implementation of this agreement,” he said.
The passage of the BBL would have paved the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 25-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Its passage would also have allowed for the normalization process to move faster as ratification of the BBL would mean decommissioning of 30% of MILF forces and weapons and, on the part of government, identification of the priorities for redeployment of the military as well as the “start of deactivation of civilian armed auxiliaries,” among others.
Not much time but..
Ferrer maintained that the leadership in the House and the Senate, and President Aquino, are committed to ensure the passage of the BBL “and not pass this problem on to the next administration.”
“The idea is really to pass the law and if it is necessary to adjust the timeline, adjust it so that hopefully by the time of the next President, hopefully this is no longer a problem. I mean we don’t have to start again with refiling the bill or whatever needs to be done),” Ferrer said in mixed English and Filipino.
But she admitted that “timeline-wise, it is very clear we don’t have much time. But definitely there’s still time. There’s still time.”
What is important, she said is that the BBL is passed “maskin di pa yan umabot sa bicam this year basta maitawid na yan sa plenary ng House and Senate” (even if it does not reach the bicameral conference level this year, but the House and Senate pass it).
The bicameral conference does not require plenary attendance. It is composed of representatives from the House and Senate who will be tasked to “settle, reconcile or thresh out differences or disagreements on any provision of the bill.”
But the two houses are supposed to finish interpellation first so they can proceed to the period of amendments, approve the bills separately and move on to the bicameral conference.
“Our appeal continues to our legislators to please finish what has been started precisely because we know the Bangsamoro is awaiting this,” Ferrer said.
She reminded the public that in the nationwide surveys, even if the reception of the majority is not in favor of the Bangsamoro, “it is very, very clear that the overwhelming majority” in the Bangsamoro core territory view this as “one important step to normalize the whole situation.”
Passing this on to the next President, Ferrer said, would mean refilling a bill. “Anong bill ang ifa-file. Who’s the next president? Anong policy ng next President?”
Ferrer noted that the new administration may not likely act on the proposed BBL immediately given that it will have only six months in 2016 and “2017 is still early to expect na meron ka nang BBL.”
“You’re wasting two years of stabilizing the whole situation and it’s not good for people directly concerned,” Ferrer said.
But Ferrer announced that other components of the peace process that are not tied to the passage of the BBL are ongoing.
She said follow-up activities on the decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons last June are continuing.
A symbolic decommissioning of 144 members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and 75 high powered and crew-served weapons was done in June.
She said they are also preparing for the next decommissioning – of 30% of the combatants and their weapons – when the BBL is passed and ratified.
This means “several thousands” of combatants and weapons, Ferrer said.
Quick impact projects are also ongoing in six of the MILF camps acknowledged by the government under the Estrada administration, she said.
The quick impact projects, identified by the people in these areas, include solar panels for electricity, water system, and hanging bridges, among others, Ferrer said.
“This is part of the continuing efforts to maintain confidence (in the peace process), Ferrer said, even as she acknowledged “the uncertainty of waiting for the (passage of the) bill.”
She said this is part of the context that is being worked on by the GPH and MILF “to
keep everybody on track in the peace process even without BBL under this administration,” she said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)