COMMENT: BBL Concerns: Little, Nothing or Big? (3)

3rd of a Series

II. What GPH Says

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 July) – Government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are one in their agreement to solve the Bangsamoro or Mindanao Problem but not in how the agreement would solve it. That is the core of the present concerns in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft.

The BBL must embody the solution to the Problem. That’s the given. To MILF, BBL must be according to the vision of MILF founding chair Ustadz Salamat Hashim; to GPH, according to the standards of President Benigno Simeon C. Acquino III. That is the problem the present concerns.

At the negotiation table, MILF prevailed in entrenching the essentials of the vision of Salamat and the means to carry it out. It prevailed in its demand to head the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to draft the agreements into the BBL. Of the seven it recommended – and eventually appointed – as MILF BTC members, all except two were actively involved in the negotiation, two of whom are members of the MILF Central Committee. The “two exceptions” are top-ranking officials of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

The seven members for Government are prominent Moro (5) and Lumad (2) individuals – lawyers, political and civic leaders, and educators; one, a former ambassador; only one is a government official and the only one involved in peace concerns as director of the Bureau of Peace and Conflict Resolution under the Commission on Muslim Filipinos. Obviously, the MILF BTC members led by its chairman – a vice chairman of the MILF Central Committee and chair of the MILF peace panel – have the inside track in the drafting of the BBL.

At the BTC, the vision of Salamat must have prevailed. But the BBL draft has to be enacted into an organic law. As agreed, the President would certify it to the Congress as an urgent bill. To do so, the President had the BBL draft reviewed by his office’s (OP) legal team. Should it surprise anyone – including the MILF – if the OP legal team reviewed then revised the BBL draft according to the standards of the President?

Part I of this series dwelt on the MILF concerns – what they say about the revisions; Part II will dwell on how GPH explains and justifies the revisions.

President’s Standards

First: BBL must be according to the 1987 Constitution.While GPH assured that the constitution has the flexibility to accommodate the MILF demands, it agreed that the BTC could propose amendments to the constitution if necessary. Such proposals must be in the original BBL draft.

Second: BBL must be acceptable to all – to the Moros, the Indigenous Peoples, the Christian settlers or immigrants and to all others in Mindanao and the entire Philippines. This is one aspect of inclusivity that the Mindanao peace problem is the problem of all, affecting the interests of all, not just of the Moros.

Third: BBL is one GPH and MILF will be able to support and defend in all fora – the Congress, the Supreme Court and in the court of public opinions. This is what the special GPH-MILF talks on the BBL draft revisions aim to achieve.

The OP review and revision of the BBL draft are justified along these standards.

President Aquino III

Of the concerns Chairman Murad had conveyed to him he told media last June 28: “We’re putting in all of the details and I asked him if it would be possible to meet sometime next week, either their panels or we in particular or our designated representatives.” This was “to thresh out [differences] and come up with that proposed measure and give it to Congress even before the SONA.” (The Philippine Star, June 28, 2014: Bangsamoro draft law ready before SONA) The July 8-11 special Kuala Lumpur meeting was Murad’s response.

Of his legal team reviewing the BBL draft, he explained in the same Star report: “I don’t think there’s a disagreement on the guiding principles; there is an agreement on how you actually work. There’s a need to further refine the language so that it really states a meeting of the minds of both parties.” (Bold ours)By “language”, he must mean the “provisions” in relation to his standards, not to the “grammatical and composition” aspects of the BBL draft; “you” is vague.

In his keynote speech at the Hiroshima, Japan peace conference (COP6, June 24, 2014), he did not mention the status of the BBL draft. He only said, his administration would enact the BBL “to ensure that free, peaceful and democratic elections for the Bangsamoro government will take place come 2016.” That is his concern, in fact an obsession.

In the same Star report above, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. explained that the constitutionality of the BBL is the primary consideration of the Palace legal team, the focus of its “comprehensive and thorough study”. In another report, Senate President Franklin Drilon said they “will ensure the Bangsamoro law falls within the four corners of the Constitution and that it can withstand judicial scrutiny” as he promised to pass the law “as early as possible.” He was saying what House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. had been saying.

The BBL has to meet the standards of the President. Constitutionality of the draft will assure the speedy passage of the law in the Congress. If the BBL bill certified by the President does not adhere to the 1987 Constitution, the Congress will do the revision to ensure the constitutionality of the BBL.

Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles

The Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process has always been the face of optimism. As concerns for the President’s failure to submit the BBL draft to the Congress was building up, she explained at the opening of the international peace conference at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City last June 6 that the submission had been delayed as all parties concerned are striving to meet the standards set by the President” for the BBL to be “equitable, practical, and empowering and which serves the interests of the entire nation.” (From a MindaNews report, Bold ours). By “all parties” she means primarily GPH and MILF.

She said she had asked Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. to have the review process hastened and come up with a BBL bill that GPH and MILF “can fully support and endorse”. The draft to be submitted to the Congress would be a “more refined and strengthened” draft of a “unifying and integrating” Basic Law. (From MindaNews and The Philippine Star reports)

At the COP6 conference in Hiroshima, Japan, she narrated the “ups” and “downs” of the peace process and outlined the pending timetable: the BBL bill will be submitted to the Congress in July and passed into the Bangsamoro organic law by the end of 2014; the plebiscite is held early in 2015 followed by a brief transition period; the Bangsamoro regular officials are elected in May 2016 and the Bangsamoro inaugurated in June 2016.[MindaNews, June 24, 2014: PNoy, Murad meet on concerns over draft Bangsamoro Basic Law]  

What she has been saying is: “All is well. All will be well. Don’t worry.”

Prof Miriam Coronel-Ferrer

Like Secretary Deles, GPH Peace Panel Chair Ferrer is an optimist. It’s gratifying, if not challenging, exploring their “all’s well, will be well, don’t worry” frame of mind clothed in fine rhetoric.

MindaNews (June 24, 2014:PNoy, Murad in Hiroshima for seminar on BMoro peace pact implementation) cited the five challenges in the post-signing phase of the Comprehensive Agreement tackled by Ferrer in her talk at the Heroshima COP6 conference. While they do not directly refer to the revisions of the BBL draft, the revisions can enhance the challenges.

The five are “(1) the element of time, (2) the parties to the agreement themselves, (3) sustaining public trust and support, (4) inclusivity, and (5) how to ensure that the goodwill coming from international community is used judiciously and effectively and that the support empowers a broad base of men and women and engenders self-reliance, not dependence.” (Numbering ours)

Following are Ferrer’s explanations of the five as reported by MindaNews. The numbering is ours.

1. On the challenge of time, Ferrer said there are “so many things to do, but too little time to put everything in place” but added the challenge remains that they finish the task they had agreed upon by 2016. “We cannot panic. We must do things systematically and decisively.”

Ferrer also stressed that the entire government machinery is behind the peace process. “The coming of the President tomorrow (to Hiroshima on Tuesday, June 24), is the best evidence,” she said.

2. On the challenge to the GPH and MILF, there is a need to “address fears that cause paranoia, rumor mongering, emotional outbursts” as well as organizational challenges that the MILF needs to address, she said.

3. The need to sustain public trust and support is also a challenge because while there are many who support the peace process, there are those who continue to use violence as well as those who want to support the agreement conditionally. “We tell them, only God can give the guarantees but God will help those who help themselves,” she said.

4. On inclusivity, Ferrer stressed that Mindanao, the Bangsamoro are not monolithic entities but “multiple narratives, multiple identities, multiple claimants, stakeholders” and should have “just share of benefits for everyone” as well as “just recognition of rights and legitimacy of the different stakeholders.”

5. “Peace dividends are not spoils of war. There must be equitable distribution of the dividends of peace,” she said.

On the MILF concerns on the revision of the BBL draft, she said in her “Statement” posted in the OPAPP Website, July 7, 2014:

1. In critical stage: She acknowledged that the implementation of the CAB “is in the critical stage” as the BBL draft has to be processed so “that the President can confidently submit to Congress and certify it” to the “Congress shortly after the reopening of Congress on July 28”.

2. To better understand apprehensions: The review of the BBL draft “conducted by the Office of the President (OP) … has raised some apprehension over some content where modifications were recommended by the OP review team. That is why we are taking the necessary steps to ensure better understanding of the concerns and to find a good resolution through frank and open discussion”.

3. BTC Petition for clarification: In an en banc resolution the BTC asked the GPH and MILF Panels for clarification “of issues that may have been affected by the proposed revisions in the proposed BBL, in the higher interest of finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Mindanao”. [Author’s Note: The Panels met in a workshop in Kuala Lumpur, July 8 to 11, and will continue meeting in Manila to finish the task.]

4. Open for discussion: “To begin with, neither the BTC draft nor the OP-reviewed text is so complete and perfect to leave no more room for discussion – or no other option but to choose between one or the other.

“Closed options have never been the practice in our past negotiation. It shouldn’t be now in the implementation stage. Then and now, ‘problem-solving’ has defined our modalities and this approach has produced the workable results that brought us this far.”

5. GPH and MILF bound by their agreements as married couple by their vows: “For both the Government and the MILF, the bottom line is set by the signed documents that make up the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. There is no backtracking on either side. Any perception of backtracking can be duly addressed and rectified during the discussion.”

6. BTC’s policy option: “On the other hand, details or aspects beyond the signed documents are policy options that the BTC has taken and which the OP team took care to study and uphold as much as possible. But as in any legislation, there are various ramifications to any single text or gaps that might not have appeared at first instance.  The Kuala Lumpur workshop will help sort out these grey zones.”

7. Justification of the OP review and revisions: “If we are going through this difficulty now, it is because we want the next stages to be less difficult not only between the government and the MILF, but among all the institutions and actors that will be or have been playing a role in the process. A well-processed bill that goes through the legislative mill, with the certification of the President as urgent, will stand much better chances of smooth-sailing passage in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

8. Strong partnership. “As we have said many times in the past, this partnership between the GPH and the MILF is not for the fainthearted. It is also not for the impatient and the impetuous who, in the face of difficulty, immediately throw in the towel.

‘Rather, it is for those who persevere so that when the going gets rough, they get going. They do not turn back to their old comfort zones, or to the familiar sound of their war cries.

“Surely, we are not throwing in the towel because we do need the towel for this laborious task that is 99 percent perspiration.”

9. Appeal for understanding: “We appeal to the understanding of all sectors who have accompanied this process and who like us desire to institutionalize a Bangsamoro that is grounded on a solid foundation and enjoying very strong people’s support. 

“Let our peace process continue to be the bright spot amid the violent conflicts that beset many countries in other parts of the globe today.”

What They Are Saying

The implementation of the CAB is in a critical stage. The review and revision of the BBL draft are necessary. Whatever issues have turned up can be threshed out; they are not irreconcilable. The disagreements are not in the guiding principles but in the details. The President himself has asked Chairman Murad to have the MILF concerns by the two of them, by their representatives, or by the GPH and MILF panels.

(Next: What Third Parties Say)

(“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])