COMMENT: BTC Visits: What For?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, February 11, 2014 – For over a week starting January 29, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) had been in Metro Manila on rounds of courtesy calls on Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and Senate President Franklin Drilon, as well as press interviews, with Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles or GPH Peace Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer in tow (or towing?).

By this, BTC had taken a break from its hectic drafting of the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) in Cotabato City. Was this part of the original BTC agenda or a surprise move to prevent emerging issues and challenges from derailing the Bangsamoro entrenchment?

These rounds of courtesy calls and press interviews by a team of fifteen and for that long a time must have cost the BTC tens of thousands of pesos out of its multi-million peso budget from the Office of the President. But whatever the cost that was money well spent on an insurance gambit for the passing of the BBL and the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro by June 30, 2014.

No matter how practical the plan is, don’t impute malice on some who might ask what for really were the courtesy visits. What can be gleaned from media reports?


With the signing of the Annex on Normalization and the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters, we think the negotiation period is over. The meeting to finalize the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) will just be putting icing on the cake – to make appear whole and beautiful the tiers of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes. All provisions in the Annexes are final; the CAB will just be a ribbon to tie together the Annexes with the FAB.

However, at the same time, the well-publicized ending of the negotiations – as seen in media reports – has aroused cynics and outright doomsters who warn of conflicts and disaster and adversarial critics who ask hard and prying questions about the agreements and the prospects of lasting peace under the Bangsamoro. They are obviously labeled as “spoilers” – perceived to be messing up the Bangsamoro road map.

Hence, for Government and MILF and their negotiating mechanisms, this is now time for a covenanta joint commitment to shepherd the passage of the BBL in the Congress without straying from the constitutional path and the ensuing plebiscite. Government has already secured a pledge from leaders in the Congress to pass the BBL with the BTC — after its “courtesy visits” — being well aware of its responsibility in keeping with the wishes of the Congress leaders. The way for the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro must be secured from the “spoilers”.

Evidently, with Government footing the bill, MILF has undertaken – and still is undertaking – extensively and intensively information campaign about the FAB and the Annexes to make the Moros and the Indigenous People (IP) understand, accept and support the Bangsamoro. The covenant must have been conceived at the signing of the FAB. To foil the “spoilers”!

What in reality is the covenant?

In the covenant, the BTC and the Congress leaders agreed that the BBL will be passed within the framework of the Annexes” and they will “deal with the constitutional issue when it arises”. With this understanding, the Congress “has set December 31 of this year as target for the enactment” of the BBL; and the BTC will submit to the President the BBL draft on March 31, 2014 for certification to the Congress.

Assured in the covenant is the constitutionality of the BBL draft. Urged by Senate President Drilon, Speaker Belmonte and other lawmakers to confine the draft within the limits the 1987 Constitution, BTC Chair Iqbal said they have not yet encountered anything that would require the amending of the Constitution so far and they would heed the advice of the Congress.

To be doubly sure of the constitutionality of the BBL draft, upon its submission to the President, his Office and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) will then discuss the law informally with all the sectors involved”. Understandably, the draft will be revised as necessary. Drilon said that the BBL draft the Congress will receive in May will be the administration’s version – no proposal to amend the constitution.

Drilon advised the BTC [Wrongly! BTC will disband after the enactment of the BBL – ppd.] to pursue constitutional amendments in other forums as a separate process. “We are not saying that the Bangsamoro people cannot advocate for charter change. What we are saying is the basic law is not the avenue through which the amendments can be done because Congress, in a debate on the basic law, cannot propose amendments to the Constitution. We are limited by the four corners of the Constitution.” [Yet, the FAB and EO No. 20 have allowed it — ppd.]

[Reports from: (The Philippine Star, January 31, 2014: House, MILF tackle peace process bills; February 6, 2014: Congress leaders agree to pass Bangsamoro law by December – Drilon;February 8, 2014: Senate, House leaders to act on proposed Bangsamoro law)); (Rappler, February 6, 2014: Congress commits to pass Bangsamoro law this year);(Luwaran, February 7, 2014: Drilon Assures BTC of Senate support);]


As stated earlier, at the time when the BTC should be working overtime to beat its March 31 deadline to submit the BBL draft to the President, the break to visit the Congress leaders and the President was unusual. What was it really for? From the above reports, it can be gleaned:

What did Iqbal say?

Partly, the BTC went to the Senate and the House to seek advice and “wisdom”. It was the first step to familiarize with the Congress; soon they have to follow up the enactment of the BBL draft.  They are finding technical difficulties with crafting the law.  They hope to overcome their problem by being “in close coordination with the Office of the President, the Office of the Speaker, the Office of Senate President”.

What did Deles say?

On the significance of the BTC courtesy calls: “This coming together, bringing the mission to the Senate, is certainly an important moment, a historic moment, and it tells us that the roadmap laid out in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is in place. It is now here, moved to the arena of Congress.”

On the BBL: The law is similar to an organic act, and includes the form of the Bangsamoro government and defines its powers. The law puts into legal form the Framework Agreement, and the four annexes on transitional arrangements and modalities, on revenue generation and wealth sharing, on power sharing, and on normalization.

Clarification: “In the normalization annex, not all of that part has to be put into law. Much of the normalization annex, the executive can already proceed with that, in partnership with the MILF but the wealth-sharing annex and power-sharing annex and most of the transition arrangements, particularly the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the plebiscite, will all have to be put into the law”.

On the Bangsamoro police force: “In the normalization annex, it is the matter of the police that will have to be put into the basic law. That’s what it will look like. It will have to be put into a legal form because the agreement is a political document.”

Evidently, in the drafting of the BBL, the BTC is cautiously working with the OPAPP. It must be seen that Government, too is cautious; to ensure the enactment of BBL without the need to amend the constitution, it is not leaving to BTC the drafting of the BBL and it is guiding all the moves outside the BTC office.

Hard Questions

With the BTC visiting the Congress and seeking advice, the intensive and extensive information campaign in Moro and IP communities, and the consultations with various sectors, Government and MILF are avoiding the mistakes in the negotiations of the MOA-AD and of the GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement as well as the latter’s implementation. Will exorcising the ghosts preempt the “spoilers”?

Moro and IP faction and tribal leaders have their own political interests and visions, biases and prejudices against each other. Have the intensive and extensive information campaigns prevailed upon them to cast away these interests, visions, biases and prejudices to rally behind the MILF vision and mission in the Bangsamoro?

As shown in some media reports and opinion articles, some among the various sectors and the so-called “stakeholders” are anti-Moro and anti-Moro autonomy. If they have been among those consulted, they still see the side of the coin opposite that seen by the pro-Bangsamoro. Can they be prevented from obstructing – even mining – the road to the Bangsamoro?

Drilon has said that he does not see any provisions in the FAB and the Annexes that conflict with the 1987 Constitution; Iqbal says, so far, they in the BTC have not encountered problems of unconstitutionality. Are there really none or are they feigning not to see?

The BTC cannot revise or modify the provisions of the FAB and the Annexes. As agreed with the leaders of the Congress, the BBL draft will embody the Annexes. Will the Office of the President and the OPAPP revise the draft if questions of unconstitutionality surface when they “discuss informally” the draft “with all sectors”? Will MILF agree?

Obviously, as shown in the informal covenant seen in the BTC courtesy calls to the Congress and the President, the BTC will abide by the advice and wisdom of the lawmakers and of the President. Consequently, MILF will hail the Bangsamoro to be entrenched before President Aquino III steps down on June 30, 2016. Will that Bangsamoro be the Bangsamoro envisioned in MILF’s only talking point “How to Solve the Bangsamoro Problem”?

Forget the “spoilers”. The BBL will be enacted and ratified. Will its complicating implications just be swept under the rug?  We will discuss this next. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected].)