Pimentel urges BTC to work “double time” on draft Bangsamoro law

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PASAY CITY (MindaNews/ 01 March) —  The expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) “should now start working” and work “double time” to submit their draft to Congress by July, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said, adding that passing a “bill into law is easier than (shifting from) old Constitution to new Constitution.”

In a sit-down interview Tuesday afternoon in his office here, Pimentel said the Senate will “accommodate and cooperate” with the Executive Branch’s two-track approach to peace through BBL and Federalism even as he admits the two-track process  “introduces some complications” and that “the simplest would be straight to federalism.”

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel discusses the Bangsamoro Basic Law and Federalism in a sit-down interview with MindaNews on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 in his office. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed during the election campaign and even as President that he would ensure that the historical injustices committed against the Moro people are addressed. While he pushed for the passage of the BBL and for it to be made a “template” for federalism, he has also more frequently said that “nothing short of federalism will solve the problem in Mindanao.”

The BBL is the legal expression of the political agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on March 27, 2014, to pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a  new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim  Mindanao (ARMM).

Congress under the Aquino administration adjourned in February 2016 without passing the BBL.

According to the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap approved by Duterte, the BTC is supposed to submit the draft BBL before the President delivers his second State of the Nation Address on July 27.

Executive Order no. 8 creating the BTC was signed on November 7 but it was only on February 10 when its 21 members — 11 nominated by the MILF and 10 by the government including three from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Muslimin Sema — were named.

The Commission was formally launched on February 24 in the presence of Duterte and is expected to hold its first session in Cotabato City next week.

Duterte signed EO 10 on Dec. 7, creating a consultative committee (ConCom) to review the 1987 Constitution, mandating the 25-member body to “study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, including but not limited to the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance, and economic policies.”

The ConCom, according to the EO, “shall endeavor to complete its work on or before the lapse of six months from the date it is convened.” Its recommendations and proposals will then be transmitted by the President to Congress. Congress will then convene as a constituent assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution to allow for the shift from Presidential to Federal form of government.

Almost three months since the EO on the ConCom was signed, its members have yet to be named.

Ahead of federalism

Moro leaders interviewed  by MindaNews from the revolutionary fronts,  government and non-governmental organizations are pushing for the passage of a Bangsamoro law ahead of the shift to federalism to ensure historical injustices committed against the Moro are addressed and not merely subsumed into the bigger federal project particularly as the latter may take a longer time to fulfill.

Also, the federal project requires ratification through a plebiscite conducted nationwide while under the CAB, the plebiscite on the creation of the Bangsamoro will be within its core territory only.

“If we think about it objectively, it would be more difficult to have federal then have BBL because by the time that you are now pushing for BBL  you are already in a federal set up so… It makes more sense to push for BBL first so an autonomous law for a certain area in the Philippines then for constitutional change towards federalism,” said Pimentel,  who hails from Cagayan de Oro City and whose father, Aquilino Jr., was also a Senate President.

He explained that the simplest track would be “straight to federalism” but acknowledged, too, the need to implement the existing peace agreements that mandate the creation of a Moro autonomous region.

“Ang plano nga ng executive branch, two-track. That’s more complicated than a single track na federalism. But we have to accommodate them. We will now await the product of the BTC, a new bill.. and then present-day legislators benefit from all of these (peace) agreements… other reading materials, studies,” he added.

“When we now tackle the BBL or when we act as Constituent Assembly for constitutional change, we should benefit from all of those materials, from all of those agreements and learn from them,” Pimentel added.

“Double time”

He said it is a “matter of fact” that the BTC is now ahead of the ConCom “so they should now start working and then (work) double time, anyway one issue lang sila eh: come up with the BBL, so concentrate sila diyan.”

He said the deadline given the BTC is also the same deadline given the ConCom — July-August — “but since (ConCom) has not been constituted then I think they have to adjust the timetable.”

“Basta kami, we will accommodate and cooperate,” Pimentel said, adding that (passing the) “bill into law is easier than (shifting from) old constitution to new constitution.”

There is actually another track in the Bangsamoro peace process — the MNLF under founding chair Nur Misuari, which has a separate peace implementing panel but Pimentel maintained there are only two tracks. “It’s still the Bangsamoro track and then federalism track” bu the former has two “sidestreets.”

He said the product of the BTC and the product of the Misuari panel will both be  submitted to Congress and that it would be ideal if the Moro fronts do the convergence of the drafts into one proposed law for submission to Congress but if the fronts are not willing to cooperate, “then somebody has to do the harmonization or the reconciliation. It could be the Office of the President, walang masama doon (nothing wrong with that) or it could be Congress.”

Asymmetrical

Pimentel said under a federal set-up, the Bangsamoro will be treated as one regional state out of their “latest model” of 11 states. Mindanao will have three states – the Bangsamoro, the northern part — “from Zamboanga Peninsula all the way to Surigao” and the southern part comprising Davao and the Cotabatos.

He acknowledged that the BBL debates in 2015 and 2016 introduced them to the concept of asymmetrical relationships which they will “borrow.”  Pimentel explained that if the federal set up is composed of 11 regional states, “10 could be treated in a standard manner” while the 11th, the Bangsamoro, “can have a different way of treating them” but these relationships “are captured in the Constitution.”

Pimentel said they have yet to decide what committee will handle the BBL when the draft reaches them.

“If we are to follow the practice of last Congress it would be Local Government but should there be a new insight kung saan pwede ilagay, we can still change it,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Q&A with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel will be uploaded soon 

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