COMMENT: BBL: 16th Congress the only Option, But …

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 26 Nov) – The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is still on the Committee hearing and consultation phase. Considered as a local bill, the enactment process starts in the House of Representatives. The Senate can begin its deliberations only after the House has transmitted to it the approved HB 2994. That is the most significant meaning of the November 16 MindaNews report that the House can pass the BBL by end of February 2015, not December 17, 2014 the earlier target date.

The 16th Congress is up against a tightening timeframe. Reckoned from December 17 when the House Ad Hoc Committee on Bangsamoro is expected to finish its hearings and consultations, the House will only have ten working session days – January 19 to 31, 2015 minus one Sunday and two Saturdays – for the AHCBB to complete its report for the plenary and 20 plenary session days – February 2 to 28, 2015 minus eight Saturdays and Sundays – for debate and amendments to pass the BBL.

The Senate Committee on Local Governments will have 15 working session days in March 2015 to work on its report before the adjournment on the 24th. There will only be 45 working session days from May 4 to June 11, 2015 – 60 minus 14 Saturdays and Sundays plus one holiday – during which the Senate plenary can pass SB 2408, the Conference Committee can consolidate SB 2408 and HB 4994, the BBL can be approved separately by the House and the Senate then signed by the President.

The Imperative

The 16th Congress is faced with these imperatives:

First: It has to enact the BBL in time for signing by June 11, 2015 and for the plebiscite after September 15, 2015. The transition period will be very short but the prospective adverse effect on the Bangsamoro has a remedy.

Second: If the June 11, 2015 target is overshot, the imperative must focus on and not miss December 2015. This will have complications but that can be managed by holding the plebiscite simultaneously with the May 2016 presidential elections. Beyond this, the BBL may have to wait for the 17th Congress.

Third: As the only option, the 16th Congress must win its race against time and hit its targets to avoid more delays. Time will not wait or turn back to allow the 16th Congress to accomplish the imperative.

The first imperative will mean just about three months meaningful transition period; the second, only a meaningless transition period. In either case, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), under the present Draft BBL, will have insufficient time to set up the mechanisms and modalities Bangsamoro must stand on when it is inaugurated by June 30, 2016. Time cannot be turned back for a longer and proper transition. However, the 16th Congress is not without an alternative.

If time is immutable, man is creative, versatile and can adapt to time. The 16th Congress must explore one alternative: Revise Draft BBL Article XVI on “Bangsamoro Transition Authority” to just “Bangsamoro in Transition”. This will entail some revisions of the essential concept of “Bangsamoro” as a political entity and of some essential definitions and of other related provisions in the Draft.

Analogy of Man

Draft BBL connotes two Bangsamoro political entities – the provisional Bangsamoro under the appointed BTA and the regular Bangsamoro under the regularly elected Bangsamoro officials. The BTA, a provisional government, administers the conversion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao into the provisional Bangsamoro. What will be inaugurated in June 2016 is the regular Bangsamoro upon the election of its regular officials regardless of the state of its precursor, the provisional Bangsamoro.

The human being is born a human being“man”, generically, regardless of sex, hence including “woman”. From infancy to adulthood, man passes through childhood, pre-teen and teen-age – the passage under the support and guidance of his parents to make him an adult who can stand on his own. There is no provisional man and no regular man. When the human being is born, he is the same man from birth to death.

Upon the ratification of the BBL, Bangsamoro is created ready to be born. Like man, the Bangsamoro to be born must be Bangsamoro from birth to the end of its time – from its entrenchment until it is abolished. That is the pervading idea in revising Article XVI of Draft BBL.

After Ratification

As man is welcomed into the world joyously upon his birth, so Bangsamoro will be. Its establishment and inauguration right after the ratification of the BBL will be its joyous welcome into the political world. As like man, there is only one Bangsamoro, what will be inaugurated is the regular Bangsamoro.

Like man, Bangsamoro is not expected to be able to stand on its feet alone shortly after its birth. It, too, needs support and guidance in its passage or transition to “adulthood”. To expect it to be able to stand on its own, a few months after the plebiscite is foolhardy. Grant the Bangsamoro until the election of 2019 from its establishment immediately after the plebiscite for its passage or transition to adulthood whether the plebiscite is held after September 15, 2015 or simultaneously with the May 2016 elections.

Instead of the BTA, appoint the Bangsamoro Transition Government (BTG) to conduct Bangsamoro through its passage to adulthood in 2019. This will undo some incongruous provisions. For instance, anticipating the inability of the BTA to fully accomplish the transition, the drafters would let the regular government double as BTA. It is provided that the first Bangsamoro election will be according to the Bangsamoro Election Code; yet, if the BTA fails to enact this on time the Omnibus Election Code is the fall back.

To Elucidate More

Under this set up – three years and nine months transition period if the plebiscite is held in the second half of September 2015; three years one month, if it is held simultaneously with the May 2016 elections:

1. The MILF-led BTG, as a governing body, besides having the time to gel in the basic principles and ideology of the Bangsamoro, will be able to enact those codes necessary for the operation of Bangsamoro Government – Administrative, Revenue, Electoral and Civil Service, (include Local Government) Codes – and organize the bureaucracy fit for the ministerial form of government and its asymmetrical relation with Manila.

2. The BTG will have enough time to make the people in Bangsamoro appreciate good governance and its benefits as their guide in electing the Bangsamoro officials starting in its first election in 2019 and see the need for change or reorientation in the Moro society.

3. The political leaders, the MILF and MNLF included, will have enough time to form their political parties according to the Bangsamoro Electoral Code for 2019 and organize them region-wide.

These three vital aspects of transitioning Bangsamoro are impossible for BTA to attain due to the present time constraint confronting the Congress in the passage of the BBL. The end is to enact a BBL that will assure stability, progress and transformation for Bangsamoro not just for its inauguration before President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III before he steps down on June 30, 2016. Let it not be misconstrued this way.

4. Through BTG, the Philippine government, foreign governments, donors and aid agencies can pour fund and technical assistance into Bangsamoro.

The plight of the Moros has drawn so much international concern. Long before the GPH-MILF phase of the Mindanao peace process under the Aquino III government Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States had their aid agencies giving assistance; so had the European Union and international agencies under the umbrella of the United Nations Aide Programme. The World Bank has spearheaded the establishment of a Trust Fund for Mindanao. Pledges of support for Bangsamoro have been intensified.

Obviously, MILF has gained international fame and confidence by its initiative shown in the programs and projects of the Bangsamoro Development Authority set up in 2003 as part of the Tripoli Agreement for Peace of 2001 and in its leadership training program under the government-assisted Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute. The Aquino III government established the Bangsamoro Sajahatra Program to rehabilitate the Moros and their conflict-affected communities.

While Philippine government and international assistance is expected to continue until Bangsamoro can stand firmly on its feet, this is most critically needed during the MILF-led transition period. The three-year transition until 2019 will allow MILF to nurse its Bangsamoro baby with full government and international assistance which is impossible under a very short transition period.

In Retrospect

Three years was the transition period finally agreed by the Aquino III government and MILF when in mid-July 2012 the latter’s chair, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, announced in a press conference in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan that they had agreed to shorten the transition period to three years. “Transition” is construed as “transition proper”.

In that press announcement, Murad stated:

First: “Originally that transition should be around six years because it is our conviction that we need a longer period to prepare the Bangsamoro to govern themselves.” The MILF peace panel original proposed seven years – one year pre-transition and six years transition proper.

Second: Then GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen argued that if the transition period would be six years “then it will be passed on to the next President because the term of President Aquino will end in 2016.”

Third: “So we said we can compromise. We can compromise for three years transition period. We hope we can be able to fast track the implementation of any agreement we will reach with the government [within this period].”

A three-year transition period is now impossible. It’s now the turn of the Aquino III government to agree to extend the Bangsamoro transition period to 2019 and to formally ask the AHCBB to revise Article XVI and other relevant provisions of the Draft BBL for this end. Fulfilling the agreed three-year transition, matching MILF compromise with compromise, is a manifestation of GPH sincerity and good will.

That the provisions on BTA in Article XVI are according to the agreements especially the Annex on Transitional Arrangement and Modalities should not deter the GPH and MILF panels from having it changed to BTG. The BTA to regular Bangsamoro Government scheme has been overtaken by time and can no longer be implemented. Chairman Murad emphasized in his mid-July 2012 press announcement that “an agreement that is not implemented will just be a piece of paper.” So is an agreement no longer implementable.

Resetting the transition until 2019 will not rob President Aquino III of his just legacy, the apparent concern of Leonen when he argued for the shortening of the transition period. With the promulgation of the BBL, the creation of Bangsamoro and its inauguration done before June 30, 2016, President Aquino III will go down in history as a principal patron of Bangsamoro.

Revising Article XVI of the Draft BBL as proposed is a “win-win” proposition: MILF will have its three full years “to prepare the Bangsamoro to prepare themselves” while President Aquino III keeps his just legacy.

(“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