MIND DA NEWS: BBL Guessing Game

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 13 May) – The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law pending in the Congress since early September 2014 is now the subject of a guessing game. Fate must be having a good time – amused at seeing the supporters of Draft BBL sit on edge trying to figure out how much the House Ad Hoc Committee on BBL has watered down the Draft and wondering if the BBL can be enacted by June 11.

Who are the supporters of Draft BBL?

They are not just the millions of Moros and Indigenous People who expect the uplift of their socioeconomic life under the promised realm of justice, peace and progress upon the establishment of Bangsamoro. They are not just the officials of the government under the Office of the President and of Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders who negotiated the peace for 17 years.

They include, in fact as leaders, prominent members of different sectors of Philippine society – civic, religious, academic, business, women, youth, etc. Among them are two active living Filipino Cardinals of the Catholic Church, three members of the 1987 Constitutional Commission one of them a retired Chief Justice, former cabinet members and diplomats, three retired Army generals two of them government peace negotiators under past administrations, and leading Moro leaders.

The Philippine Star (May 12, 2015: House panel defers voting on BBL) identified pro-BBL groups that rallied at the Batasang Pambansa and attended the AHCBBL hearing on Monday, May 11 – 1-Bangsa, Mindanao Alliance for Peace, Friends of Peace, Friends of the Bangsamoro, All-Out Peace, Akbayan Party-list, Anak Mindanao, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Sanlakas Party-list, and CODE-NGO.

What have they been doing?

Besides holding public rallies, they lobby at the Congress asking legislators to enact into law Draft BBL keeping intact, as much as possible, the original; or, amending, to improve it, not to water it down. Some cajole the lawmakers to pass the BBL as their legacy; others warn of the regrettable consequences of a watered-down BBL; and still others, suggest criteria for the enactment of a BBL that will establish a meaningful autonomy. (MindaNews, May 11, 2015: “Vote for our future, Vote for Peace,” House Committee urged as it votes on BBL)

Will they get the BBL to establish meaningful Bangsamoro autonomy?

It’s anybody’s guess. Will AHCBBL change its position?

Repeatedly reported by media, the latest with some elaboration, AHCBBL is resolved in deleting or amending portions of Draft BBL. Sixty of the 221 sections have been marked for amendment or deletion, the remaining sections to be retained in full (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 11, 2015: Committee vote on BBL begins Monday in House).

Of the 60 (The Philippine Star, May 11. 2015: P-Noy: House panel to pass BBL this week), at least eight provisions would be removed including five that would undermine the functions of independent constitutional bodies, two that would affect operations of the national police and military, and one that would allow a “creeping expansion” of the envisioned new Bangsamoro region to the “detriment of other regions and local government units”.

The deletion of the eight and the amendment of the 52 others – depending on how they are amended – can water down the BBL to insignificant autonomy. That will be a rebuke to the supporters of Draft BBL, including President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Why do AHCBBL members adamantly stick to their position?

Egotism among them is evident. They say they welcome inputs from their resource persons and the peace advocates. But they know better! They will enact the BBL they believe will establish the “right” Bangsamoro. To the Palace, the MILF and peace advocates they say, “Just wait for our BBL version. Take it or leave it.”

How serious are the AHCBBL members?

The critically active among the 75 members are those who think that the establishment of the proposed Bangsamoro would adversely affect their political interests; or, that by taking adversarial positions strictly adhering to the 1987 Constitution and existing laws, they are serving the best interest of the country and people – granting the Moros not more than what other Filipinos have. Otherwise, what do they care?

Only 56 were at the AHCBBL session last Monday to vote on the Committee Report. Two, the House Speaker and Majority Leader, are not members. That was an anemic 72 percent attendance. If as Committee Chair Rufus Rodriguez exhorted, We owe it to our people already that we should vote”, that’s how much they care for what they owe. There should have been at least 95 percent – if not l00% – attendance.

The implications are deplorable. If they did not care to attend the voting session – in all probability they did so also in previous committee hearings – would they have cared to study the Draft BBL and the background of the Moro Problem? How will they take part in the deliberation? How will they vote? They will go with the flow of the majority carried by the critical few in the Committee.

Should this “seriousness” reflect the “seriousness” of the whole House, guess what the House version of the BBL will be that will establish the Bangsamoro.

Will a BBL be passed by June 11 and signed by the President?

The AHCBBL will submit its report for second reading or plenary debate on Monday, May 18. The House may be able to pass HB 4994 within the week. Will the BBL be ready for signing by May 29?

That will only be half the job done. The approved HB 4994 has to be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence. If the House passes HB 4994 on May 21, at the latest, it can transmit the final copy to the Senate by May 29. Will the Senate be able to pass its own bill, SB 2408 in eleven days – by June 11?

Instead of guessing, ask for a miracle. The Senate Committee on Local Government under Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. will still finish it hearings – in Zamboanga City on May 13 (today) and in Jolo on May 14 (tomorrow). When will the Committee submit its report for the Senate plenary?

By Marcos’ earlier statement to the media, there’s no chance. MILF’s official website, Luwaran.com (Editorial, May 8-15: Appeal to Senator Marcos not to delay BBL) cited Marcos as saying “he is unsure if his committee will be able to submit a version of the BBL” by June 11 contrary to the expectation and assurance of Senate President Franklin Drilon. Marcos has his own “decision” that will tie down the Congress.

President Aquino III (The Philippine Star (May 11. 2015: P-Noy: House panel to pass BBL this week) expressed satisfaction with the expected passage by the House of its version of the BBL but admitted “the Senate version will have to be looked into” and “he remains clueless on whether the BBL has chances in the Senate”.

How serious is the President?

It should be most uncalled for to doubt the seriousness of the President pertaining to the establishment of Bangsamoro. But by the report of The Philippine Star (May 11. 2015: P-Noy: House panel to pass BBL this week), that “seriousness” can be part of the guessing game – unless he was misquoted. What did the report state?

[1.] Aquino believes the timeline set for approval on the measure dovetails with the June deadline the executive department had set for the purpose, especially because passing the priority measure a little longer might only be an exercise in futility.

[2.] He was quoted saying, “I keep pushing them that the value of this is – the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) – is able to demonstrate the effectiveness of their new governance mode, otherwise (it would) be too late in the day.”

[3.] By his assessment, if the BTA will be given a chance to perform only in January 2016 then “there is very little thing they’ll be able to do”.

[4.] The timeline has been set by the Congress: “More or less, I think, we’re still following the timeline that Congress told us to expect even before the Mamasapano and they were talking about June then the Senate proceeds after that,.”

[5.] He stated what appeared imperative: The enactment by the House of HB 4994 has to be finished before the House adjourns on June 11 – days before he delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27.

[6.] But ended with a dumper: After the House has passed its own version of the BBL the Senate version will have to be looked into. And, he admitted that “he remains clueless on whether the BBL has chances in the Senate”.

By statements “[1]”, “[4]” and “[5]”, does he just want the Executive and the Congress to look “good”? The “timeline” he is referring to is actually a “desperation timeline” after earlier timelines since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro on March 27, 2014 had failed (napalpak). Then, by “[6]” he makes the timeline uncertain.

Even if the BBL is signed in June and ratified in September, it will already be “too late in the day” for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to show its “effectiveness”; “[2]” is inconsequential. So is the futility of “[3]”. Does the President know the importance of the BTA? That also is open to guessing. The only sensible thing for the President to do is to order the amendment of Article XVI of Draft BBL to extend the Transition Period to May 2019.

This too can make the President’s seriousness open to guessing. By Article VII, Section 7 of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro, the President is committed to certify to the Congress as urgent an urgent legislation Draft BBL. The Congress is still waiting for the certification.

Will the BBL to establish a meaningful Bangsamoro Autonomy passed by June 11, signed by the President and ratified in September?

What’s your guess? Mine? You guess!

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at patponcediaz@yahoo.com.]