DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 July) — Peace groups and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expected President Rodrigo Duterte to call on Congress to immediately pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) during his two-hour State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, but no such call was made.
Instead, the President read three short paragraphs from his prepared speech on the BBL with no ad lib on its urgency, as government forces continued to battle violent extremists in Marawi on Day 63 of the Marawi Crisis.
Monday’s SONA came exactly a week after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted its draft BBL to President Duterte in Malacanang in the presence of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Immediately after the 114-page draft, 18-article BBL was handed over to him by BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair, Duterte committed “in front of everybody, my covenant with you that I will support and husband this instrument as it goes (to) the legislature for its consideration. And there will be no objections of the provisions of all that is consistent with the Constitution and the aspiration of the Moro people.”
“I am for this — within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country,” Duterte said.
In his speech, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim even thanked Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza for “recommending to the President the certifying of the BBL as urgent Bill during its endorsement to Congress.”
“We pray to Allah that the President will highly consider such important step which will ultimately hasten the process and ensure that the agreed Road Map in the Peace Process will be met, inshaAllah,” Murad said.
Murad did not have to thank Dureza for the recommendation. The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that the government and MILF signed on October 15, 2012 provides that the draft BBL “shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.”
Dureza told MindaNews last Sunday that the President would certify the bill as urgent. The President may likely issue a written certification of urgency but his call on Congress in joint session during the SONA was awaited and expected to the push needed for the Bangsamoro law’s passage before the end of the year.
Pimentel and Alvarez during their opening speeches on the Second Regular Session of the 17th Congress, mentioned the BBL on the latter part of their calls for passage of priority bills.
Pimentel and Alvarez
But Duterte’s three short paragraphs made no mention of the urgency of the BBL’s passage. It only dwelt on what is said to be an “inclusive” peace process.
“In our sustained effort to achieve just and lasting peace for a unified nation, we are pursuing an inclusive peace process, promoting the participation of all stakeholders, including those in conflict-affected areas,” the President said.
“We took steps to promote inclusiveness in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) by expanding its membership through Executive Order No. 8 which I signed in November last year,” he added.
The third and last paragraph Duterte noted that in “giving representation to Indigenous Peoples, women, the sultanates, and other key stakeholders in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, we ensure a Bangsamoro government that truly reflects the aspirations of our Muslim brothers and sisters as well as our indigenous brethren.”
At the opening of the Second Regular Session of the 17th Congress at the Senate on Monday morning, Pimentel cited six major measures they should give priority to, the fifth and sixth being BBL and federalism.
First on his list was the tax reform measure, strengthening the anti-terrorism law, national ID system, universal health care and “we will pursue a path to lasting peace in Mindanao by addressing the valid concerns of our Muslim brothers and sisters through the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
Pimentel also called on the Senate to “empower our regions to determine their development plans, their overall direction, through the shift to Federalism.”
Speaker Alvarez in his speech at the House also on Monday morning cited at least eight other legislative measures before saying, “last but not the least,” the need to “concentrate our efforts in passing two legislative measures that hold the key to lasting peace and prosperity for our country — BBL and federalism.
He said the draft BBL had been submitted the President “and will soon be on its way into our chambers.”
The Bangsamoro law, he said, “will be the basis for creating a homeland for our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters.”
The second legislative measure Alvarez refered to was to “exert additional effort in paving the way for the shift from a unitary to a federal form of government” to address “the structural defects that have hampered our national strategy in pursuit of peace, prosperity, and progress.”
He noted that the youngest staff member in the House of Representatives works in his office and wonders what changes and challenges will her generation meet and overcome, among them, “will her generation still have to deal with fighting for elusive peace and missing out on progress and development should we fail to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law and – in addition to that – fail to shift our form of government from unitary to federal? Or will her generation reap the dividends of our efforts to end the insurgencies? Will our children still have to fight or can they finally live their lives in peace and happiness?” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)