DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 July) – One paragraph, the rest video materials, for a total of three minutes on what is supposed to be an “urgent” bill — the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) — out of a total of 130 minutes of President Benigno Simeon Aquino’s sixth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27.
The President mentioned BBL on the 88th minute of his SONA, referring to it as an important measure (“pangunahin” was translated into English by the Official Gazette as “the most important of these”), but did not impress upon Congress the urgency of the measure. Instead, he challenged those who oppose it to propose a better alternative.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Saturday told reporters in Camp Darapanan that he expects the President to “reiterate his commitment to support the passage of an undiluted BBL and we hope through this SONA, he could enlighten more those who are still opposing the BBL.”
In his SONA, the President said: “Pangunahin siyempre po dito: Ang Bangsamoro Basic Law. Sa mga tutol sa batas na ito: Palagay ko, obligasyon ninyong magmungkahi ng mas magandang solusyon. Kung wala kayong alternatibo, ginagarantiya lang ninyong hindi maaabot ang pagbabago,” (The most important of these: the Bangsamoro Basic Law. To those who oppose this measure: I believe that it is incumbent upon you to suggest more meaningful measures. If you do not present an alternative, you are only making sure that progress will never take root in Mindanao).
“Ilang buhay pa ang kailangang ibuwis para magising ang lahat sa obligasyong baguhin ang sirang status quo sa Muslim Mindanao?,” (How many more of our countrymen will have to perish before everyone realizes that the broken status quo of Muslim Mindanao must change?), he asked.
He then presented two video clips — one of a student from Madamba in Lanao del Sur who benefited from the Conditional Cash Transfer, a nationwide program, and the other on two combatants of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces who are benefiting from Sajahatra Bangsamoro,” a socio-economic program launched in February 2013 between government and the MILF.
Not written on water
In the 2014 SONA, BBL observers waited for an hour before the President finally talked about it for two minutes out of his 92-minute speech.
In the 2013 SONA, the President spoke for one hour and 42 minutes, with the Bangsamoro peace process cited on the 40th minute.
The 2013 SONA had four paragraphs on the peace process and was more specific than the 2014 and 2015 speeches. In 2013, he called on Congress to pass before the end of 2014 the law creating the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), as he assured that whatever agreement the government will sign with the MILF would be implemented.
Aquino assured that “every word we utter must result in an action that would benefit all. Every line that we craft in the agreement we are forging must be set in stone and not merely written on water, only to be forgotten by history.”
Before yearend 2014
“We will prove that they did not make a mistake in choosing the path of peace; we are ready to lend the strength of the entire nation to lift up the provinces of Muslim Mindanao, who are among our poorest. What we aim for is the triumph of all; we will not allow any of our countrymen to be left behind, while others surpass them,” he said.
In Filipino, he called on Congress to pass the BBL “before the end of 2014. This way, we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government come 2016.”
The government and MILF had agreed under the FAB that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM by 2016.
Under the FAB, the parties agreed that upon the promulgation and ratification of the BBL, the ARMM is deemed abolished and all devolved authorities will be vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.
The sense of urgency in passing the BBL is also not evident in the speeches of Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.
Drilon cited the BBL in only one sentence — the 33rd paragraph of his 45-paragraph speech at the opening of the 3rd regular session of the 16th Congress also on July 27.
“We will continue to promote lasting peace and sustainable development in Mindanao through a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is consistent with our Constitution,” he said.
Belmonte cited the BBL in two paragraphs – the 22nd and 23rd out of a 37-paragraph speech at the opening of the 16th Congress.
“To the end of achieving peace,” he said, they are “committed to passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
New sense of possibility
“For far too long, the conflicts in the Bangsamoro have taken on different forms, rooted in passions that feed on discrimination and deprivations that are fuelled by poverty. We must address the longstanding grievances of the Bangsamoro people by empowering them to fully provide for their self-expression and development. But this has to be complemented by clear and decisive legislative language to accommodate and empower not just the new majority of the Muslims in the Bangsamoro, but also for all other groups whose lives, family and work are located in these regionally autonomous areas of the Bangsamoro,” Belmonte said.
Belmonte added that there is a “sense of new possibility” for the country after Mamasapano.
“As we work towards achieving real and lastin gpeace in Mindanao, we must also have the courage to finally come to peace with one another, and with ourselves, by exploring all avenues for peace, including the possibility of reopening peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front), the Speaker added.
In 2014, at the opening of the 2nd regular session on July 28, Drilon said the Senate would work on a BBL “that will put an end to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.”
Belmonte in the 2014 speech acknowledged the “clamor for a BBL,” that current realities “challenge us to reexamine existing legislative policies on the governance of parts of Mindanao.” He noted how the 16th Congress was “given the signal opportunity to make history by passing a responsive Bangsamoro Basic Law that shall establish a solid framework for genuine peace and enduring stability in Mindanao within the bounds of the Constitution.”
The draft BBL was submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014, in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang.
The House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL approved on May 20 what is now HB 5811, the substitute bill to HB 4994, the draft crafted by the 15-member GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission.
Less than ARMM
HB 5811, however, has been criticized as producing a Bangsamoro that is “less than the ARMM.”
Former House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin warned Congress against passing a “recipe for disaster.”
“If Congress will give another failed experiment, do not expect the Bangsamoro to produce miracles. The same failed experiment will also be the result of the kind of law that Congress will enact for the Bangamoro,” Salapuddin said at the Experts’ Forum of the Cotabato City-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City on May 29.
At the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., who said the draft BBL in its present form and substance would “lead us to perdition” has yet to submit his substitute bill on the BBL.
Last month, he promised to submit the substitute bill before the President’s SONA. A day after the SONA, the substitute bill has yet to be submitted. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)