COMMENT: An ominous prelude (3)

III. Disturbing updates
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/07 March) — The Bangsamoro Basic Law bill is in a very seriously disturbing situation. In Parts I and II of this series, our comment focused on what had become clear: The BBL will not be passed as originally proposed in Draft BBL that the President transmitted to the Congress on September 10, 2014. Draft BBL will be revised and re-written by the Congress into its own version of the BBL.

In the latest media reports. (1) the Congress set June 11, 2015 as the new deadline to pass the BBL; (2) yet, this new target date is a big “IF”; (3) with support having waned, the bill will nto pass if put to a vote today; (4) whatever BBl is passed will be Draft BBL with many of the basic provisions diluted or taken out — like relyenong (stuffed) bangus; (5) the BBL, Congress version, will adhere to the 1987 Constitution and to the views of the legislators but risks rejetion by MILF and the Moros in the plebiscite.

June 11 deadline

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. and other leaders of the Congress agreed last Monday, March 2, to pass the BBL by June 11 when the Congress adjourns sine die to end the Second Regular Sessions of the 16th Congress (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 3, 2015: Congress to pass BBL in June). This will be the fourth target date (after December 17, 2014, February 27 and March 20, 2015).

If this target is hit and the President signs the BBL Act in June, the plebiscite can be held in September if  the 90-day constitutional requirement is followed; in October if 120-day is applied.

Missing the June 11, BBL will lbe dead. Passing a diluted BBL , the Congress version, may prove futile; it will be rejected as MILF has always been serious in its warning – so will, most likely, the Moros do in the plebiscite. Will President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III sign a diluted BBL? That will test his seriousness in urging the Congress to pass the BBL with just minor alterations of the  original Draft.

Passing the BBL, Congress version, by June 11 appears to be an exercise in futility. The rea. question, however, is not that but:  Will the deadline be met? 

Very Big ‘IF’

Hitting the June 11 deadline has to be done within 29 session days from May 4 to June 11 under dire circumstances: 

First, some leaders are not optimistic of meeting the June 11 deadline. Others think more time is needed to pass the BBl. Foremost among them is Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government that conducts hearings on the Draft BBL (The Philippine Star, March 3, 2015: Senate BBL panel head won’t commit to June OK).  

For various reasons, Senators Grace Poe, Alan Peter Cayetano, JV Ejercito and Vicente Sotto III said they will not be rushed into passing the proposed BBL by June this year as agreed upon by leaders of Congress and Malacañang (The Philippine Star, March 4, 2015: Congress to make BBL comply with Charter). In another Star report, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s stated that the BBL can wait until the next administration.

Second, both the Senate and the House committee chair said their hearings will resume only after they have received the investigation reports of the PNP Board of Inquiry, the military, the MILF and the Department of Justice concering the Mamasapano incident. This is holding the BBL hostage under the circumstances beyond the control of the Congress.

However, Senate President Franklin Drilon has appealed to his colleagues to treat the Mamasapano clash as a separate issue from the BBL. Supporting him are Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Teofisto Guingona III and. Ralph Recto (Philippine Star, 3/4/15: Congress …) Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has also made the same appeal. Can they prevail against the tide?

Third, reversing the waning support to pass the BBL would be an uphill effort for both Houses of Congress after the January 25 Mamasapano incident; it would take a lot of work to convince lawmakers said Belmonte (Philippine Daily Iquirer, March 3, 2015: Congress to pass BBL in June). The lawmakers are now reluctant to pass the bill (Tribune Wires, February 10, 2015: BBL is dying–Speaker Belmonte).

The Manila Standard Today (February 18, 2015: Belmonte’s enthusiasm for Bangsamoro law wanes; also in DZRH and GMA News, February 17, 2015) reported Belmonte of having told reporters that his enthusiasm for the proposed BBL had subsided in the wake of the Mamasapano encounter – thinking that now is not the best time to call for a vote.

Fourth, as preconditions to the resumption of committee hearings and to the passing of the BBL, the House and the Senate have imposed almost, if not outright, impossible demands for MILF to prove their sincerity in negotiating peace – return the guns taken from the SAF commandos; surrender the MILF fighters who participated in the killing of the commando; and surrender the bomb terrorist Abdulbasit Usman. Unless these demands are complied with they will not resume the BBL hearings.

To these demands, MILF responses are seen as more of defiance than compliance: (1) Sixteen guns have been turned in. (2) The fighters who participated in the Tukanalipao encounter will not be surrendered but will be investigated and punished as provided in the ceasefire agreement. (3) They cannot surrender bomb-terrorist Abdulbasit Usman since he is not with them.

Tersely, MILF chief negotiator Iqbal shot back at Rodriguez, “Don’t set conditions. Don’t dictate, let’s negotiate” (PDI, March 4, 2015)

To No Avail

The President and MILF have appealed to the Congress to just make minor changes in Draft BBL. GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer suggested just to have the draft BBL provisions re-phrased if deemed unconstitutional instead of deleting them — improving the language to avoid misinterpretations. For instance, if the Bangsamoro commission on audit is confusing, then call it something else like “an auditing body”. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 3, 2015: Gov’t peace panel urges lawmakers to fix ‘illegal’ BBL provisions)

But the AHCBBL has already removed six provisions deemed unconstitutional — those creating the Bangsamoro commissions on audit, civil service, human rights and elections and office of the Ombudsman; the provision granting the chief minister primary control over the Bangsamoro police force and that allowing contiguous areas to be placed under the Bangsamoro entity upon a petition of at least 10 per cent of its registered voters. (, March 3, 2015)

The Philippine Star (March 6, 2015: 80% of House to back BBL amendments) reported citing Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat and Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles that at least 80 percent of 290 members of the House of Representatives want changes in the proposed BBL or they will reject it.

They said they “are for peace … not anti-peace” but they “want the BBL to be fair, just, acceptable, feasible and, more importantly, consistent with the Constitution and the law.” The committee and the plenary will scrutinize and rewrite the draft “provision by provision, section by section.”

What does the Congress want?

Nograles:“All of us want a law, a Bangsamoro law that we imagine will usher in a new era of peace for Mindanao. So there is really no one blocking passage of such law… except that we have our different concerns with the present version of the proposed law — a just, constitutional and legal Bangsamoro law”.

Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza: “Everyone in Congress is for peace, but peace that is right, just, legal and constitutional.”

The Bigger Issue

The President and MILF on one hand and the Congress on the other want the same chicken but cooked differently according to their taste. As peace panel member Senen Bacani put it, “Nothing will prohibit the changing of the word to properly reflect the intention of both parties.” Ferrer elucidated: “Sometimes it’s not the constitutionality; the bigger issue is our attitude toward this whole problem. What we think they deserve or what we think they are capable of.” (PDI, 3/3/15: Gov’t peace panel …)

Alluding to the concerns of the legislators, Ferrer explained, “We’re afraid that they will be more corrupt than us or they will eventually separate from us. But we don’t know what will happen later.” She said that present goal is for the BBL “to keep us together”.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima corroborated Ferrer’s view that the bigger issue is our attitude rather than constitutionality. Respondingto the request of Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez that she comes up “with a legal opinion on the  matter,” she assured that there is nothing unconstitutional in the proposed BBl which had gone through careful scrutiny by the Department of Justice and other concerned agencies and been approved for presentation in Congress. (The Philippine Star , 3/6/15; 80% of House…) 

Will the legislators agree with the Justice Secretary when her statement on the BBL’s constitutionality does not support their views colored by their attitude to the Moros?

Clashing Points 

Of Ferrer’s suggestion, Rodriguez stated that rephrasing the said provisions is not enough to make constitutional the bill to create a more politically autonomous Bangsamoro entity. “No rephrasing will make it constitutional. The unconstitutional provisions cannot be rephrased.” (The Philippine Star, 3/6/15: Rephrasing provisions)

More provisions will surely be deleted or drastically revised. Among these are provisions on power- and wealth-sharing, the parliamentary form of government and the Shariah. It should be wondered what would be left of the original provisions.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago sees as unconstitutional not only certain provisions but also the President’s authority to negotiate. Hence, the negotiation is invalid.

Last Thursday night (March 5) during a dinner he hosted for reporters, House Speaker Belmonte enunciated the present position of the House that “the Palace cannot dictate on the House” on how to pass the BBL as reported by The Philippine Star (March 7, 2015); or, by the Philippine Daily Inquirer of the same date that passing the BBL “is not just about carrots and sticks”— the policy of giving favor to those who vote for the pet bills of the Palace and withholding the same from those who don’t.

The House will do its best to have the BBL passed by June 11 shorn of its provisions that are unconstitutional despite the repeated admonitions from Malacañang and the MILF that the Congress should approve the BBL as soon as possible and without changes. In short, the Congress will pass its version of the BBL.

But this will be the diluted or watered down BBL that MILF has repeatedly said they will not approve. This is not the BBL the Moros are expecting. This is the BBL that MILF has repeatedly warned – the latest in the March 1 Luwaran editorial, “What Diluted BBL Will Bring to Us”–would only legitimize radical groups and would worsen the problems plaguing Mindanao.

This is disturbing: The Congress will pass a BBL that in the view of its members is the BBL that will bring peace and prosperity to the Moros – peace and prosperity also according to their view. But their view differs from that of the MILF and the Moros. If this BBL is rejected by the MILF and by the Moros in the plebiscite, the problems plaguing Mindanao can worsen.

That, indeed, is the most ominous prelude to more Mamasapano.

(Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz has been following the Bangsamoro peace processes for decades — as editor of the Mindanao Cross and later Mindanao Kris in Cotabato City and as columnist 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])