Lobbying for peace inside the comfort room

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 14 April) — Lobbying for peace can come in various ways, depending on the lobbyist’s creativity and audacity. For Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema, a member of the Bangsamoro Insider Mediators, it meant lobbying all the way to the comfort room.

Sema, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro basic law, wanted to convince a top congressional leader – no less than the Majority Floor Leader, Rodolfo Fariñas, the Speaker’s pointman for the passage of the Bangsamoro law — to change his mind over a certain provision of the proposed law so he followed him all the way to the comfort room.

(L to R). Lawyers Jose Lorena, Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema and Naguib Sinarimbo share the experiences of the Bangsamoro Insider Mediators during the Asia-Pacific conference in Bangkok, Thailan, on 16 December 2018. Photo courtesy of ROSS ALONTO

The audience at the conference on “National Experiences on Insider Mediation in Asia-Pacific: Enhancing Skills, Knowledge and Collaboration” in Bangkok on December 15 to 16, 2018, laughed as Sema narrated his story, but commended him for his effective method.

Fariñas, he told MindaNews, had been his friend in Laoag City in northern Philippines, his mother’s hometown. Sema’s father, Muslimin, who is based in Maguindanao in what is now the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in southern Philippines was the Secretary-General of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) during the peace negotiations from 1992 to 1996, leading to the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

The younger Sema, whose mother is a Christian, was among three nominated to the BTC by the MNLF under Yusoph Jikiri.

“Congressman Fariñas was always consulting me on this perspective on BBL right before the beginning of the bicam (Bicameral Conference Ceommittee). I was the last person he spoke to when he opened the bicam conference. And there are a lot of things he told me. There were positives, there were negatives and those positive statement that he revealed to me I already made consultations with the then chairman of the BTC Ghazali Jaafar,” Sema recalled.

But why did he follow him all the way to the comfort room?

“There was one provision in the BOL. I think if I remember right it was the block grant. At first he was really adamant on his position that the 5% block grant for the Bangsamoro was too high. Now when they took a break, he asked to be excused and went to the comfort room and then I followed him. His son told me ‘you can follow’ so I went in. I explained that the 5% was actually too small for the Bangsamoro. I made a projection how it will be divided and how it will be disbursed in the region. There are five provinces in the region and entitled to a fair share of the Bangsamoro block grant. From there he changed his position,” Sema explained.

Lawyer Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema, member, Bangsamoro Transition Authority. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

According to Section 15 of Article XII (Fiscal Autonomy) of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the National Government shall provide an annual block grant which shall be the share of the Bangsamoro Government in the national internal revenue tax collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and collections of the Bureau of Customs.

The law provides that starting 2020, the amount of the block grant shall be equivalent to 5% of the net national internal revenue tax collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the net collection of the Bureau of Customs from the third fiscal year immediately  preceding the current fiscal year.

Sema said he also followed the Majority Floor Leader in pushing for proper wording in the Preamble.

Before joining the IM, Sema says he had been “mediating between two chairmen” – his father who was then MNLF chair – and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), “especially in the last days of the first salvo of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that was affected by the Mamasapano incident” in January 2015.

“I had been helping Chairman Muslimin Sema in discussing with Chairman Murad of possibilities of a Bangsamoro Basic Law where it would begin and where it would end because of that incident of Mamasapano. Fortunately, the two leaders had come to an agreement on further strengthening the unity of MNLF as a party in the CAB (Comprehensive Agremeent of the Bangsamoro between government and the MILF) — of course MNLF was pushing for the full implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement as a result of the tripartite review on the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. Remember … there was a unified statement issued by the two leaders sometime in 2015 and from then on the MNLF and the MILF have continuously worked for the full implementation of all signed peace agreements, more importantly the CAB.”

As BTC Commissioner, Sema had certain constraints in pushing for the law but as IM member, he was freed of the constraints.

“When we organized the IM group with the help of UNDP, a lot of issues unfolded before my eyes. There were so many intertwining interests and needs that needed to be met in the legislation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Luckily, a lot of us came out (those) who are actually playing a role of IM in the sectors to which they belong. Because of that, these issues helped me in pushing for an inclusive Bangsamoro Basic Law in the Bangs.amoro Transition Commission, especially interests of the youth,” he said.

After the law was ratified in January 2019, Sema was among those appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte to the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which will govern the BARMM in the three-year transition period until 30 June 2022, when the first set of elected officials shall have taken their oath.

Does the IM still have a role under this new set up?

Sema’s quick reply: “Yes, I think so. More important (now) because even in the BTA, you can see the different interests, the needs of the people that are being represented there. Though we are not elected, a lot of the members of the BTA, especially from those who are nominated by the government, there are different interests. Some of them are members of the political clans, some of them belong to the organization, some of them are traditional leaders. So they brought their interests into the BTA. More important now is (having) more mediators, that mediation is more relevant given the intertwining conflicting interests so that all laws that we will pass — electoral code, the local government code, etc.. — will be truly representative of the interest of the people.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)