MIND DA NEWS: BBL Draft Still Being Fine-Tuned

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 4 June) – The BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) draft is still being “fine-tuned” by the legal team of the Office of the President (OP). This is “to ensure that every provision adheres to the Constitution”. (The Philippine Star, June 3, 2014:Bangsamoro law still being fine-tuned, says Palace)

The Congress cannot deliberate on it until August since it will adjourn sine die on June 14 and resume session on July 28. The draft was supposed to have been submitted to the Congress “certified as urgent” last May 5.

Will the President be able to submit it this week or in the next? But what’s the use? By that, it can only be able to calendared.

The BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) submitted the complete draft last April 21 – 97 pages of 18 articles, not including the attachments (MindaNews, May 24, 2014). Fine-tuning – meaning reviewing and revising – it to adhere to the Constitution will really take time. The OP legal team may as well use the next two months completing the fine-tuning.

Call it odd or unique. The BTC started the drafting after the signing of the Annex on Transitional Arrangement and Modalities on February 27, 2013. But it could not do much, even after the signing of the Annex on Wealth Sharing on July 13, 2013. With 70 percent of the work still to do upon the signing of the Annex on Power Sharing on December 8, 2013, the BTC must have worked double time to meet its self-imposed March 31, 2014 deadline that it failed to beat.

What is odd or unique? The “fine-tuning” is virtually as long as the drafting. It took four hectic months for the BTC to finish the draft. Despite its “due diligence”, the OP has not finished the “fine-tuning” in five weeks; it may take the full three months to do it.

Of course, that’s understandable. And, MILF surely understands! The President must be very sure of the constitutionality of the BBL draft he is certifying to Congress. While “fine-tuning” has never been intimated – not in EO No. 120 that constituted the BTC – as a prerequisite to certification, the option is that of the President.

The Philippine negotiating panel has repeatedly emphasized that its mandate was to negotiate within the Constitution – although the first chair, law dean Marvic Leonen (now associate justice of the Supreme Court) assured that the 1987 Constitution is flexible. The head of the panel’s legal team has explained the constitutionality of the draft according to Sections 15 to 21 of Article X of the 1987 Constitution.

Until 2008, MILF had rejected the Constitution as a term of reference in the negotiation. In fact, any reference to the Constitution, by “language engineering”, had always been in another term. MILF relented on the resumption of the negotiation following the revival of the talks on July 29, 2009 – a year after the Supreme Court had aborted the signing of the Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain. With the Aquino III government, it was provided in the agreements that MILF can recommend amendments to the Constitution “when necessary”.

In the “fine-tuning” of the BBL draft by the OP legal team, it must be understood the President only wants to be sure that any recommendation to amend is necessary. By this, it has turned out that the 1987 Constitution is the ultimate TOR of Basic Bangsamoro Law.

Are there constitutionally sensitive provisions in the BBL draft?

How did BTC draft the BBL? “…most of the provisions of the BBL were copy pasted from signed documents; others were culled from recommendations from civil society organizations (CSOs), non-government organizations (NGOs), local government units (LGUs), peace workers and individuals; and the rest to flesh out gray areas in the CAB but taking account its spirit.” (Luwaran Editorial, May 22, 2014: More than a month already)

May we reiterate: As the official publication of the MILF Central Committee on Information, Luwaran carries MILF official policy statements in its editorials.

In the same editorial:

[1] Luwaran, after professing, “For the nth time we say that our trust with President Benigno Aquino III is fully intact” stated with a tinge of regret that “sure enough, the dose of medicine contained in the BBL, as crafted by the BTC, will not please everybody’s taste” particularly referring to “people whose vocation and forte is to see only the legal side of the document or argument”.

[2] Luwaran implies that the OP will consult the BTC but that this has not yet been done; that the BTC has foreseen “this engagement with the OP” and has agreed “because there is no other way”.

[3] This appears enigmatic. “For the MILF, there will be no open engagement vis-à-vis BBL, except perhaps by those connected with the peace negotiation. But surely, it will monitor the movement of the document very closely. Any slip in the handling can spell a great difference. This can only be averted through strong partnership with government.” (Emphasis supplied)

In its May 10, 2014 editorial (Popular ratification of Bangsamoro Basic Law), Luwaran said:

First, that 200,000 Moro people in eleven assemblies “endorsed the BBL for adoption by the Office of the President (OP) without any diminution as crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission”; they appealed to “Congress … not to water down the proposed BBL as originally forwarded to the OP” and to the President “to personally look at the proposed BBL and as much as possible to guard the pristine form as originally submitted by the BTC”.

[To this (See: June 3 Star report above), presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda has given the assurance that the Bangsamoro measure is not being watered down or purposely being delayed. The OP legal team is being careful. “They have to go through each and every provision just to be sure that it is in sync with all the agreements made.”]

Second, that the BTC will propose in a separate document proposals to amend the Philippine Constitution to finally put to rest the Bangsamoro Question”. It is unclear if these proposals are the attachments to the 97-page draft submitted to the OP. If they are, they must have been taking more of the time of the OP legal team.

Is MILF getting impatient?

These three paragraphs of the June 2, 2014 editorial of Luwaran: “MILF is easy to deal with” may read like a riddle. But the answer to the riddle answers the question.

“The MILF is not a radical movement; it simply is very consistent to what it has committed and is being committed to it. What is settled is settled. All its previous counterparts from government in the span of 17 years of hard and protracted peace negotiations can perhaps attest to this characterization.

“This consistency is enshrined in the MILF’s Islamic ideology that abhors Muslim to breach a contract, be it made with a Muslim or a non-Muslim. There is no difference in the gravity of the accountability or sin whether the aggrieved party is a Muslim or not. A commitment is a commitment, period. Moreover, inconsistency or using a more fitting term, backtracking, creates chaos and enmity.

“The MILF is naturally easy to deal with provided that the other party also abides and complies with their obligations. And therefore, without saying, the MILF is hard to deal with if the other party dishonors or violates commitments made in signed documents.” 

Are there grounds for impatience?

The possibilities that the BBL draft would be mired in constitutionality much longer than it has been expected are growing more and more. Three months with the OP! How long will it be at the public hearings and in the plenary debates? Can BBL be ratified in March 2015?

Will the measure be taken up simultaneously in the House and the Senate? In the case of RA 9054, the Senate bill was tackled after the passage of the House bill.

Is there any assurance that the BBL after its passage will not be questioned at the Supreme Court?

For the lack of time for the proper transition the Bangsamoro, will MILF settle by June 30, 2016 for ARMM named Bangsamoro?

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected].]