MIND DA NEWS: Heed Those Statements

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 20 Aug) – The leaders of the Congress, the Palace and the President, especially, must heed the latest statements from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front concerning the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Those statements are an earnest appeal to review the government policies and commitments on meaningful autonomy to solve the Moro Problem and to reexamine the legislative actions now being taken by the Congress on the BBL, the agreed measure to implement these policies and commitments.

House leaders – and more so will Senate leaders do – have flatly denied the petition of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission for the restoration of the provisions deleted from the original Draft BBL, at least 28 in HB 4994 now HB 5811. The BTC members led by its chairman Mohagher Iqbal were told “over and over again” that restoring the deletions will risk the BBL’s nullification by the Supreme Court on ground of constitutionality.

The Senate and the House leaders should not take the BTC – by extension the MILF and Government peace panels – as simpletons. They know whereof they stand and what they are talking about.

In its August 17, 2015 editorial, “From BBL to BAR, Luwaran, the MILF Central Committee website, stated: “Another important point to stress is that both government and MILF have seen to it that the BBL does not contain any provision repugnant to the Constitution. The BBL has passed through various discussions including long sessions with constitutional experts like Fr. Joaquin Bernas, former Supreme Court Justice Hilario Davide Jr., and many others to ensure that it is compliant to the Constitution.”

We will discuss this in our forthcoming comments. Suffice it now to say that a close comparison of Draft BBL and the two substitute bills, HB 5811 and SB 2498, would show that most of the provisions deleted or revised are not unconstitutional but, due to the political self-interest, pro-status quo biases and anti-Moro biases and prejudices of House representatives and senators, are unacceptable. We will discuss these later.

The honesty and sincerity of the authors of Draft BBL – the peace panels and the drafters – to have a Bangsamoro Basic Law compliant to the 1987 Constitution, as well as to relevant existing laws, and their eagerness and resoluteness to have the deleted provisions of Draft BBL restored must not be dismissed. In the same vein, that MILF top leaders are wary of regrettable consequences should be properly appreciated.

The latest MILF statements in the Luwaran editorial and news report follow:

Besides defending the constitutionality of Draft BBL, the Luwaran August 17 editorial, “From BBL to BAR”, is a commentary on the change by “both the House and the Senate” of the original “Bangsamoro Basic Law” to “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” with emphasis on the connotation of “BAR” in the acronym “BLBAR”.

On the reason for the change: “Their arguments hinged on stressing the autonomous character of the entity, as indetachable part and parcel of the Philippine state. They want to erase any hint of so-called substate status for the Bangsamoro new entity and, finally, any justification for secession. Fear has now become the prime enemy of peace through the BBL.”

The fallacy: “Well and good! But … never in signed agreements, much more the BBL itself, [is there] any hint that the BBL does not seek to establish an autonomous entity, real and functional one. But alas! Both the House and Senate versions will only establish an entity lower than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”

On the acronym “BAR”: After explaining the history of BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), the editorial stated how the “imposed wars from the Spanish period to the advent of the Americans in the 19th century and onto the declaration of Martial Law in 1972 have compelled the Moros to defend and arm themselves or perish”. Then, the revelation: “It is only now under the Aquino dispensation that they see the peace process as genuine.”

Symbolism and reminder: “Perchance, the legislators failed to realize how strong the effects of symbolism in determining the mindsets and attitudes of people. By using BAR, it continuously reminds the Moros of their martial history as an unconquered people and the BAR as a very reliable weapon in their wars with government forces in early 70s.”

What many lawmakers refused to heed: “… In fact, they seemed to have ignored it at all. The BBL is designed to solve the Bangsamoro Problem or Question, which is the only agenda of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations way back in 1997. They overstressed the so-called constitutional infirmities of the BBL, which are disputed by other people including lawyers.”

MILF will reject: “What then is the use of a law passed by Congress only to prolong the miseries and sufferings in Mindanao, because it violated the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) – and the MILF is forced to reject it? Come to think of this, dear anti-original BBL solons? (Bold italics ours.)

The editorial states points for the Congress as well as the President to urgently consider:

First: The alleged reason for the change of “BBL” to “BLBAR is “to erase any hint of so-called substate status for the Bangsamoro” – a manifestation of unfounded fear if BBL is read closely.

Second: But “BAR” will perpetuate rather than erase the memories of the bitter wars and injustices in the minds of the Moros. This is not the road to peace.

Third: In ignoring the real purpose of the BBL and overstressing BBL’s “so-called constitutional infirmities”, the Congress will pass a BBL the MILF will reject. That will prolong the miseries and suffering in Mindanao.

Luwaran.com is the official website of the MILF Central Committee on Information. Luwaran editorials reflect the thinking and position of MILF. The present editorial reiterates the thinking and position in the several editorials posted lately.

The news report, Government answerable to international community if congress fails to pass good BBL”: MILF Chief Negotiator Iqbal, by Arland Abubakkar and posted August 17, 2015, features the statements of Iqbal when he spoke at the forum “Peace at last” organized by the Moro Christian People’s Alliance and the Pilgrims of Peace held at the National Council of Churches facility in Quezon City.

Of the national media, only The Manila Times reported the event on August 15. Like the Luwaran report, that of the Times mentioned no date of the event – only referring to it as “in a recent forum”. All the social media comments in the Times scorned Iqbal.

Iqbal’s salient points:

Item: “Ninety-nine percent of the international community is supporting the passage of a good BBL. If the MILF does not accept the BBL, the government will have to answer to the international community.”

Iqbal: Stating the international community’s “a deep involvement” in the peace negotiations, he said: “The international community would take the government to task if war breaks out,” – a reminder, not necessarily a warning, of the possible resurgence of war from hot-head rebels.

Item: When he said, “We will have the moral ascendancy if the exit agreement is not signed…We will blame and shame the GPH for not complying with agreements signed by both parties”, did he mean the obligation of MILF to join the international community in blaming the government?

Item: He told his audience of “the exit agreement, the final document to be signed by the two parties, and to be validated by the third party monitoring team, headed by former European Commission envoy to the Philippines Alistair McDonald”. The signing of the exit agreement signifies the end of the Peace Negotiation. Iqbal implied that MILF can reject the BBL passed by the Congress by not signing the exit agreement.

Item: He reiterated that the MILF will not accept a BBL based on HB 5811 and SB 2498. The first is “50 percent bad” and “lower than the ARMM” or the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; the second, worse than the first, has most of the original provisions of Draft BBL either deleted or amended.

The Luwaran editorial and news report reiterated the MILF resolve not to accept a BBL based on HB 5811 and SB 2498 unless the 28 provisions deleted from HB 4994 are restored into HB 5811. The Congress and the Palace must study this seriously and act.

But there is a stalemate here. The House has flatly rejected the petition of the MILF and the BTC; it means no room for compromise. Even if the House would, MILF top leaders, from Chairman Murad, have repeatedly stated MILF has nothing more to compromise.

The government appears amenable to a BBL based on HB 5811 – meaning, SB 2498 must adopt HB 5811. This can be gleaned from the statement of government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer that “passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before President Aquino’s term ends will benefit the next administration” (The Philippine Star, August 19, 2015: Ferrer: BBL passage to benefit next administration) and other recent statements from the Palace.

However, asking the Senate to adopt the House version is an impossible proposition. Will the government accept a compromise version of the House and Senate bills?

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. expressed optimism the House of Representatives will be able to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law next month (The Philippine Star, August 20, 2015: SB confident House can pass Bangsamoro law next month). He met with leaders of the parties belonging to the majority coalition last Tuesday to ensure the quorum during the plenary. The lack of quorum has been hampering the legislation.

He said that HB 5811 “is somewhat close” to SB 2498. It would be easier for the House and the Senate “to reconcile their respective versions once they are approved and brought to the bicameral conference committee”. If the Senate can pass its bill in September and Belmonte makes good his assurance, there is the possibility of BLBAR to be signed by the President before the Congress goes on recess on October 10.

That BLBAR will be acceptable to the Supreme Court. Chances are that President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III will sign it. But unless they soften their position, the MILF will reject that BLBAR.

Then come the paradox and the “lose-lose” proposition. Of what good is that BLBAR that is acceptable to the Supreme Court; that the President will accept; but that the MILF will reject? What will the international community say?

[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.]

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