COMMENT: At Last… but not the Last

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/21 September) — At last the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill is now with the Congress. During the 10 a.m. ceremony at Malacañan last September 10, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. officially received the certified copies of the “refined BBL draft” from President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

The submission was more than four months behind the May 5 deadline. The BBL draft that the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) submitted to the President on April 22 had to be reviewed, revised and the language “refined” by the legal team of the Office of the President. When MILF rejected the revised and “refined” draft, the GPH and MILF peace panels met in “workshops” to iron out the rejections. After four workshops in 21 days, the panels were going nowhere; Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. had to come in.

“The ‘refined’ draft BBL (MindaNews September 7 2014: Bangsamoro Basic Law done; submitted to Congress by Sept. 10) is culled from the 97-page draft submitted by the BTC on April 22; Malacanang’s reviewed draft and proposed revisions: the outputs of the 21-day ‘workshops’ of the peace panels in Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Davao between July 8 and until noon of August 10; and the product of the meetings between the team of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who took over the negotiations on behalf of the government in the afternoon of August 10, and Iqbal’s team.”

“The r’fThe “revision” and “refinement” took as long as the writing of 70 percent of the draft starting after the signing of the Annex on Power-Sharing on December 8, 2013. To the President, these were necessary to insure smooth and swift passage of the law in the Congress, so said the Office of the President and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Apparently, over their vehement objections, MILF has accepted the necessity”. Will the gambit work?

Third Major Phase

Let us understand this. The submission of the “refined” BBL draft to the President only closed the “last door” of the first two major phases of the peace process to entrench the Bangsamoro; the certification of the BBL bill to the Congress opened the “first door” of the three more phases to go – legislation, ratification, transition. It must be noted, the first two major phases were within the absolute control of the President; the legislation phase just opened is not – it being under the control of the Congress.

In certifying the BBL bill, the President said: “Sa atin naman pong Kongreso: nauunawaan namin na kailangan ninyong suriin nang mabuti ang panukalang batas na ito. Ang hiling lang namin, maipasa po sana ito sa lalong madaling panahon. Sa ganitong paraan po, mabibigyan natin ng sapat na oras ang ating mga kapatid na makapaghanda, at tuluyang mapalago ang ipinunla nating pagbabago sa pamamahala sa Bangsamoro.”

[Closely translated in English: “To our Congress: We understand that you need to scrutinize this proposed bill. We only request you, if you can, to pass it very soon. This way, we can give our brothers (Moros) enough time to prepare and nourish the seeds of change we sowed for the governance of the Bangsamoro.”]

In having the BBL draft “refined” for so long – last week of April, the whole of May, June, July and August and the first week of September – the President’s desire must have been that the Congress would adopt with slight modifications the certified BBL draft. But he knows how jealous the legislators are of their legislative prerogative. He is only requesting for the BBL’s earliest passage. Will the |Congress oblige passing the “refined” BBL bill as certified?

The House leadership is promising to pass the BBL by December 17; the Senate leadership, by the first quarter of 2015. But these are promises made evidently taking calculated risk against odds including fall outs from what the Congress leaderships consider as necessary to legislate a good BBL. This is not pessimism but realism: roadmaps or timetables are easy to make but difficult to follow. Had the roadmap of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro prevailed, the Bangsamoro should be on the transition phase now.

Looming Deviations

Good News: Deliberations on the BBL bill will immediately start despite the full attention of the Congress on the the 2015 General Appropriations Act. Committee hearings will be conducting in Manila and in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao during the congressional recesses. The bill will be tackled during the resumption of the sessions – the last in 2014, from November 17 to December 19.

In the Senate, the bill with 13 co-authors has bipartisan support. In the House, the President’s majority coalition has enough number to pass the bill.

In the House, the bill is being shepherded by a 75-member ad hoc committee composed of Mindanao legislators. In the Senate, the bill is under two committees — on local governance and on peace, unification and reconciliation.

Worrisome News: Deviations loom ahead. Too many possible complications within so short a time seem too real for comfort.

As culled from media reports: The House Ad Hoc Committee will not leave a stone unturned. It will hear the members of the peace panels, the BTC members, and probably all others involved in the peace process and the refinement of the BBL draft. It will hear from the academe and other resources. It will hear from various sectors and groups in the ARMM. It plans to invite MNLF Chair Nur Misuari and BIFF Commander Umbra Kato, who have pending warrants of arrest. Only the court can lift those warrants. That will take time.

Hearing all these groups and sectors in the name of “inclusivity” is good. How all the inputs will be factored into the BBL bill and what BBL will come out of the “mix” are worrisome.

There is a proposal – “an unsolicited advice” – from Atty. Jesus Dureza, former chief peace negotiator and presidential peace adviser of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, (1) to extend the transition period to 2019; and, (2) to merge the GPH-MILF Agreements, the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement and the unresolved issues of the Tripartite Review of the implementation of the 1996 FPA in order to have “one roadmap for the Bangsamoro”. Proposal “(2)”will mire in its “implications” and “complications” the BBL.

Worst Scenario Looms

From latest reports, the BBL bill will encounter severe constitutional challenges despite the President’s assurance of its constitutionality. To ensure this further, the government said, “After all, it will still pass through Congress, which will be free to make changes on the measure. (Rappler.com, 9/10/14)” Rest assured, the Congress will fully exercise its freedom.

But no matter how best the congressional efforts will be, not all will be satisfied. The legislative phase will breed a collateral phase outside of the FAB roadmap – the Supreme Court phase. As soon as the BBL is signed into Law in the first quarter of 2015, its constitutionality or other legally controversial provisions will most probably be questioned before the Supreme Court. Should this happen, it may take the Court three months to decide the case – as it did in the case against the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Let’s assume that the Court upholds the BBL as constitutional; that will leave only two quarters in 2015 for the two remaining major phases – the ratification and transition phases. By the prevailing thinking including that of the President, by the performance of the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the Moro electorate will judge during the 2016 election the fitness of MILF to rule the Bangsamoro. That gives the BTA until December 2015 to perform since election season starts in January 2016.

This may be the worst scenario. But we have to prepare for the worst, not just the best. The outcome of the BBL’s odyssey through the Congress is enigmatic. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards 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 patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)

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