COMMENTARY: Asking the Right Question: Acceptability of a Watered-Down BBL

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/03 March) — Much has been said regarding the incident that occurred on the 25th of January 2015, in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Several versions of the facts have surfaced, and fact-finding investigations have been conducted to shed light on what really transpired and to determine accountability.

There is no denying that the incident has affected the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), particularly the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which the House of Representatives (HOR) and Senate are tasked to deliberate on. In the course of the Mamasapano hearings in both the Senate and HOR, many of our legislators have tried to direct the discussion towards the issue of MILF’s control over their men and areas. The legislators wrongfully view the incident as a preview of what’s to come should the government “hand over control” of the areas covered by the BBL to the MILF. Moreover, they use this argument to justify the need to water down the BBL or, worse, to scrap it altogether. Thus, the question that many ask the MILF is, “Will the MILF accept a watered down BBL?”

The question is misleading, or at best, misplaced. It oversimplifies the surrounding circumstances and the context of the relation of the MILF, as a revolutionary group, and the GPH vis-à-vis the peace process.

It is worth noting that by negotiating with the MILF and identifying it as a belligerent group, the government impliedly recognizes that the revolutionary group represents the Bangsamoro people at the negotiating table. Consequently, the BBL is not for the MILF but for the Bangsamoro people. Anyone who has read the BBL in its entirety and understands the peace process, knows that the BBL lays the foundation and institutionalizes an arrangement that allows the Bangsamoro people to have genuine autonomy – something that both parties believe R.A. No. 6734, as amended by R.A. No. 9054, has fallen short of.

Thus, the right question that should be asked is, “Will the Bangsamoro people accept a watered down BBL?” or more appropriately, “Will a watered down BBL address the genuine aspirations of the Bangsamoro people?”

The BBL is the work, not only of the MILF and the GPH, but of civil society organizations, different peoples, and the international community. It is a product of 17 years of negotiations. Men and women have literally and figuratively shed blood and tears to finally arrive at the opportunity to address the Bangsamoro Question.

In submitting the draft BBL to both Houses of Congress with the firm stand not to water down the BBL, the MILF is not implying that the HOR and Senate should serve as mere “rubber stamps”. Rather, it stresses the importance of the process that both parties went through to come up with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the BBL, and all other gains over the course of negotiations, and the need for our legislators to respect and consider the same.

The Mamasapano incident is not a preview of what may come should the BBL – as it is submitted – be enacted. It is an illustration of the risk that people of the region, most especially conflict-affected areas, continue to face in the absence of genuine autonomy. It is a reality that people of the region face in the absence of the BBL.

It is my humble submission that if the legislators are indeed “for peace”, and if all these hearings are truly “in aid of legislation,” then they must deliberate on the BBL while taking into account the entire peace process, the realities on the ground, the genuine aspirations of the Bangsamoro people, and the history of injustices and neglect that many in the region have been subjected to. After all, the peace process and the drafting of the BBL are premised on the failure of the state to provide genuine autonomy to Muslim Mindanao through the ARMM.

No one is saying that the BBL is the end-all-be-all of the peace process; no one is saying that its enactment will solve all problems in the region. What is asserted is that the BBL lays the foundation for the Bangsamoro people’s self-rule under one state – an opportunity to carve out their own social, political, and economic development. In the end that is what the Bangsamoro people want, an opportunity.

Enacting a BBL that does not substantially improve on the ARMM is tantamount to maintaining the status quo. It is, therefore, fitting for our esteemed legislators to ask themselves as they deliberate on the BBL, “Will a watered down BBL address the genuine aspirations of the Bangsamoro people? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Abu Al-Rasheed T. Tanggol is a 4th year Law student at the Mindanao State University and works as executive assistant at the Legal Services Office of MSU-IIT. He describes himself as of Moro, Lumad and settler descent.)