COMMENT: An Ominous Prelude? (1)

I. Take It or Leave It

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, February 21, 2015 – At no other time than at this critical period in the wake of the Mamasapano incident — as reported by The Philippine Star (February 16, 2015: MILF: Pass BBL with no changes; and February 17, 2015: Congress to revise Bangsamoro law) and by The Manila Standard Today (February 17, 2015: ‘No need to rush okay of law on Bangsamoro’) – has it become clear the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill will not pass the Congress as originally provided in Draft BBL.

It is discernable that by finally negotiating within the 1987 Constitution, compromising their “non-negotiable” positions, agreeing to the final revision of Draft BBL by the Office of the President and commending the Draft to the wisdom of the Congress, the members of the Congress must have been impressed of the MILF sincerity in negotiating peace. With this impression the legislators could have scrutinized the Draft with tolerance and leniency. The Mamasapano incident reversed any semblance of all those presumptions.

Ad Hoc Committee on BBL Chair Rufus Rodriguez had read to his committee members the letter MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim had written to him, dated December 29, 2014. This was revealed to the press last February 17 and the Star published excerpts. Why was the letter not revealed earlier? Why do it in the midst of the Mamasapano outrage?

Murad’s Letter

Evidently, Murad was conveying to Rodriguez with forceful reasons the MILF desire and expectation that the BBL would be passed as it is written in the Draft. Rodriguez and his committee were incensed, as they interpreted it as “blackmail”.

Murad said (Star 2/16/14):

[1] His organization trusts “that Congress will pass the mutually agreed BBL draft with no changes and without diminishing, diluting or watering down its provisions, except probably for minor changes or changes that clearly improve it or enhance it” – with emphasis that the BBL “draft” or “text” … was “mutually agreed” by the government and the MILF. (Bold italics ours)

[2] The Bangsamoro Transition Commission, a joint Government-MILF body chaired by MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, wrote the draft with “congressional sanction through congressional resolutions”referring to Congress Resolution No. 971 and Senate Resolution 922 supporting the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and Executive Order No. 120 creating the BTC. (Bold italics ours)

In retrospect, the Congress is now pressing the MILF to prove its sincerity in negotiating peace. This and their objections to key provisions of the Draft BBL prove the insincerity and lack of seriousness of the Senate and the House in expressing their support for the FAB and the BTC when they issued their respective Resolutions 922 and 971. Who is Murad, a Moro, to remind them of their commitments?

[3] “After the BTC submitted the BBL to the President, the legal team of the Office of the President headed by no less than the executive secretary, conducted its legal due diligence with the MILF representatives and its legal team, accordingly making sure that the mutually agreed text of the BBL is within the flexibilities of the Constitution,”

[4] “Thus, the mutually agreed BBL draft was transmitted to Congress by the President as a priority legislation and administration bill.” Since MILF organized its political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party in anticipation of the approval of the BBL, “[a]ny deviation from the mutually agreed text of the BBL may curtail this process of political mainstreaming”.

[5] “We appeal to Congress to do its part in fulfilling the commitment of the Philippine government and the MILF to a politically negotiated settlement of the Moro grievances by passing the mutually agreed BBL draft without watering down its provisions, as feared by many of our constituencies in the Bangsamoro” – the MILF having the impression that President Aquino could bind Congress and the Supreme Court on the BBL. (Bold italics ours)

[6] In entering the peace negotiations, the MILF had the “understanding that it was negotiating with the totality of the Philippine government or ‘whole government,’ especially since, among other reasons, the commander-in-chief powers of the President allow him to bind the whole of government, including its different branches.”

[7] The “onus or the principal burden of implementing the FAB and its annexes and the CAB through the expeditious passage of the mutually agreed text of the BBL” now rests with the government.

The Congress Reacts (Star 2/17/15):

The responses to the letter from the Congress maybe stated tersely: “stinging rebuke”: The MILF will not get what it wants — a BBL “with no changes”.

At the Senate: Murad must also have sent a copy of the same letter to the Senate for Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto also made reference to “blackmail”. He said the senators would not be blackmailed into signing the BBL without changes. This will be elaborated in our discussion to follow on the objectionable provisions of the BBL.

At the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said of the BBL:

One:We cannot pass it on an ‘as is or take-it-or-leave-it’ basis”, and emphasized, “especially with what happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.” The House by taking out – “not only a few but so many” — all provisions that will violate the Constitution, will have a BBL “that is compliant with the Constitution and acceptable to our people in Mindanao.” (Bold italics ours)

Parenthetically, Gonzales should be asked: Who are “our people in Mindanao” to whom the BBL must be acceptable in disregard of the Moro aspirations? Evidently, Gonzales is not referring to the Moros.

Two: Obviously referring to Murad’s statement “[5]” above: Gonzales said the MILF had the wrong impression that Aquino could bind Congress and the Supreme Court on the proposed BBL.

“There is separation of powers among the three branches of government. Malacañang cannot bind us, nor can the Palace and Congress bind the Supreme Court, which will be the final arbiter of any constitutional issue involving anything that we pass here in the House.”

“Take It or Leave It”

The many objectionable provisions of the BBL are on issues of constitutionality, legality and policy. The Congress will revise it – writing its own version. (Star 2/17/15 and MST 2/17/15)

From Rodriguez and Gonzales, the House position is tough. They will do what they want with the BBL. To the MILF and the Palace, they can “take it or leave it”.

Gonzalez: “We cannot afford to give to MILF the provisions that would make Congress violate the Constitution. They may have to contend with a watered down version of the BBL but that’s as far as we can give them.” (Bold italics ours)

Rodriguez: “We will delete the provisions that are unconstitutional. If the MILF and the peace panel would not accept that, wala kaming magagawa (we cannot do anything).” By admitting he was “gung ho” or enthusiastic about passing the BBL until the January 25 Mamasapano bloodbath that killed 44 elite Special Action Force commandos, he was manifesting the depth of his spitefulness.

His is part of the “outpouring of negative sentiments against the BBL” that former GRP peace panel chairman, retired Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, has observed according to The Manila Standard Today (MST 2/17/15). Garcia must be referring to the social media as well as to the members of the Congress.

Objectionable Provisions

Unconstitutional: Rodriguez has listed down the five BBL provisions which the AHCBBL considers as unconstitutional and will rewrite, namely: those authorizing the Bangsamoro its own versions of the (1) Commission on Elections, (2) Commission on Audit, (3) Civil Service Commission, (4) Ombudsman and (5) Human Rights Commission.

The House is looking into the unconstitutionality of the provisions on wealth-sharing and power-sharing. Partylist Rep. Antonio Lejano considers contentious the Bangsamoro having its own flag.

While not mentioned in The Philippine Star and The Manila Standard reports, there are other contentious constitutional issues involving territory, ministerial system of government and the Bangsamoro asymmetrical relation with the Central Government.

Policy Issue: Also objected to, as a policy, are sections that will require the President to coordinate with the Bangsamoro whenever the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Philippine National Police conduct operations there. Such requirement would dilute the powers of the presidency.

Appropriation Bill: Recto sees the BBL as “basically an appropriations bill” that “creates financial obligations in the tens of billions of pesos”. He enumerates the large sums the national government, and ultimately taxpayers, is bound to allocate every year. These must be what he refers to as “legal landmines” to be defused – meaning, as they are contrary to existing appropriation laws and practices, the Bureau of Internal Revenue tax code, and the Local Government Code of 1991, they will have destabilizing effects.

  1. On the first year of the Bangsamoro, the projected minimum cost is P75 billion, a big chunk of which is in the form of a “block grant” estimated at around P27 billion. This is automatically appropriated yearly; it may be open to congressional scrutiny, but not to congressional deletion or even reduction.
  2. A “Special Development Fund” of P10 billion is an amount bigger than the combined budget of the tourism and trade and industry departments, or the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.”
  3. On top of these huge entitlements, the barangays, cities, towns and provinces in the Bangsamoro region will continue to receive their Internal Revenue Allotments. The national agencies will continue undertaking nationally funded development projects.
  4. The Bangsamoro will be able to retain or receive tax payments in the region on a “sharing formula” not enjoyed by other LGUs. Besides automatically appropriated funds, the Bangsamoro can keep in part or in full the taxes it can collect.

Playing Hard Ball

In his letter to Rodriguez, Murad expressed the MILF’s desire that BBL would be passed with minor changes citing the grounds for that desire. Unfortunately, Rodriguez and Gonzales interpreted it as a demand to pass the BBL “as is”, otherwise “leave it”. And they took a hard stance: They will do what they want; the MILF and the Palace can “take it or leave it”. That’s playing hard ball, giving no quarters.

The leaders of the Congress are not only telling the MILF that they must not expect to get the BBL they want — hence, the Bangsamoro of their dream – but by the many provisions they will revise, they are revealing what BBL and Bangsamoro the MILF and the Moros can expect. The BBL can be the second amendatory Act of R.A. 6734, the Bangsamoro the same ARMM dog with the same old collar slightly remodeled in new color.

Are we hearing an ominous prelude? Prelude to what! Only the concert maestro, the Congress, can change the score. Will it?

[Next: II. Prerogative and Compromise]

(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 [email protected].)