Is the BBL dead? proposed Bangsamoro law not among 28 priority bills

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ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 30 August) — Not a priority, just an afterthought.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), supposedly a priority measure that should be passed by yearend if the Duterte administration’s peace roadmap were followed, is not a priority after all.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Tuesday told a Malacanang press briefing that the BBL was not on the list of priority bills. “Alam mo wala siya rito sa ano ha — ‘yung sa ibinigay na listahan. But I’m sure it is priority. I’m sure it is of high concern,” he said.

But the BBL was not among 28 bills listed under the Common Legislative Agenda approved by the  Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) in a full council meeting on August 29.

The list does not include the BBL.

But it will be added as the 29th, apparently as an afterthought.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III told MindaNews in a text message late Wednesday afternoon that “BBL (is) to be added per motion by Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) chief Adelino Sitoy.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte receives a copy of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) from Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chair Ghazali Jaafar in a turnover ceremony at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on July 17, 2017. Also in the photo are (from left) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Government of the Philippines Implementing Peace Panel Chair Irene Santiago. King Rodriguez/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

The 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), signed by the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014 provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 27-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, “in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and their aspiration to chart their political future through a democratic process that will secure their identity and posterity and allow for meaningful self-governance.”

President Rodrigo Duterte, the first Mindanawon President and the first with Moro blood in his veins, has repeatedly promised he would address the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro, and on July 17, the day he received the draft BBL in Malacanang, declared, “within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country.”

Duterte committed to “support and husband” the proposed BBL in Congress to ensure the passage of the law.

Expectations that at least a century of historical injustices committed against the Moro people will finally be addressed were high at the start of the Duterte administration particulary because both leaders of the two houses of Congress are also Mindanawons.

Still waters, stillborn

In March this year, when the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) was still starting to craft the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), President Duterte told a crowd in Baguio City that he would “pray it would sail on still waters” in Congress.

Peace stakeholders also prayed “sana hindi stillborn” (may it not be stillborn).

The non-inclusion of the BBL in the list of 28 priority bills, its inclusion as an afterthought, and the slow progress of the Bangsamoro peace process under the Peace and Development Roadmap of the Duterte administration belie Abella’s claim of  “priority” or “high concern.”

It took the Duterte administration almost five months to issue an Executive Order 8 on November 7, 2016,  creating the expanded BTC and another three months and three days to name the 21-member Commission.

After they were named, it took another two weeks to launch the Commission on February 24. But work could not immediately start as there was no budget allocated under the General Appropriations Act.  The Commissioners themselves initially advanced payment of their transportation and staff expenses. No funds were released to the BTC directly. Budget expenses were coursed through the Office of the President. The BTC staff continues to await payment of its salaries.

President Rodrigo Duterte poses with the 21 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) at the launch Friday, February 24, 2017 of the expanded body that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

When the BTC completed its draft on June 16, it took Malacanang several weeks before it could schedule the handover ceremony that was initially announced to be on July 18 and eventually re-scheduled to July 17.

It took another month before the draft BBL could reach Congress. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told MindaNews on August 17 that the draft BBL reached the office of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on August 14.

A certificate of urgency was expected but no such certificate accompanied the transmittal letter from the Office of the President to the two houses of Congress.

“Genuine aspirations of the Filipino people”

Instead, Undersecretary Ryan Estevez of the PLLO said in his August 14 letter to Pimentel that they “trust in the collective wisdom of Congress should they deem proper to refine the draft further in the course of the regular legislative mill in order to reflect the genuine aspirations of the Filipino people.”

“Per Deputy Executive Secretary Menard Guevarra, when all pending bills are consolidated into one bill, then certificate of urgency will be issued,” Dureza told MindaNews then.

Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Bai Sandra Sema of the first district of Maguindanao says she will see to it “that our voice is heard, our sentiments are expressed, and our aspirations realilzed.” MIndaNews file photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao told MindaNews late afternoon of August 17 that the draft BBL had just been received by the Secretary General of the House and “was immediately transmitted to the Speaker’s Office.”

“Congress is the policy-making body of the Republic of the Philippines. Its duty is not only to honor the commitment of the Government to the Bangsamoro but also to express the will of the Filipino people in the form of the law. As a leader of the Bangsamoro, I will see to it that our voice is heard, our sentiments are expressed, and our aspirations realized. Inshaallah,” Sema added.

Wanted: authors

The draft BBL is still apparently awaiting authors. Pimentel and Alvarez did not reply to MindaNews’ query on August 30 if the bill had been filed.

On August 18, MindaNews asked both if they would be the principal authors. Under the Aquino administration, the draft BBL was immediately filed, the Senate President and House Speaker as among the principal authors.

Alvarez did not send a reply but Pimentel told MindaNews he was “willing to be author” but “have to sked discussion with my legislative staff.”

The transmittal letter from the Office of the President took a month to reach Congress but no certificate of urgency accompanied the transmittal.

Instead, Undersecretary Ryan Estevez of the PLLO said in his August 14 letter to Pimentel that they “trust in the collective wisdom of Congress should they deem proper to refine the draft further in the course of the regular legislative mill in order to reflect the genuine aspirations of the Filipino people.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza. MindaNews file photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza who earlier said the BBL would be certified as urgent, told MindaNews on August 17 that “per Deputy Executive Secretary Menard Guevarra, when all pending bills are consolidated into one bill, then certificate of urgency will be issued.”

There is a pending bill in Congress filed by former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, titled Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BABAR),  which  has been noted to be a resurrection of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BABAR) filed under the Aquino administration by Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., then chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments.

The BLBAR was criticized for allegedly rendering the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM it is supposed to replace.

Violence, Impunity, Neglect

BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar declined to comment on Abella’s statement that BBL was not on the list of priority bills. “No comment for now,” he told MindaNews on August 29.

Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Cotabato City-based  Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, told MindaNews that if BBL is not a priority, “it is unfortunate.”

“But the whole world knows that it was among the priority concerns as announced earlier on by the Executive Department,” he said.

A delayed passage of the Bangsamoro law will also delay the decommissioning of the weapons and combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

NEVER-ENDING. Sisters Saria Namayo (left) and Cartiquia Cartin (right) of Barangay Elian, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, have lived a life of never-endng evacuations. The sisters in this photo taken in February 2015 hoped peace would come so they can return home and their grandchildren and great grandchildren do not experience what they went through, MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Aside from the delays in legislation, the Duterte administration has yet to act on the recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to set up a National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro.

The TJRC was set up by the government and MILF in 2014 “to undertake a study and to propose appropriate mechanisms to address legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro People; correct historical injustices; address human rights violation; and address marginalization through land dispossession.”

The TJRC report noted that the Bangsamoro narrative is  “based on an experience of grievances that extends over generations” and is a result of three interlocking phenomena: violence, impunity, and neglect, rooted in the imposition “by force” of a monolithic Filipino identity and Philippine State “on multiple ethnic groups in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago that saw themselves as already pre-existing nations and nation-states.”

Historical injustice across generations was cited “particularly with respect to land dispossession and its adverse effects upon their welfare as a community as well as their experience of widespread and serious human rights violations.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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