PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Can we afford further delays in the deliberation and passage of the BBL?

(Privilege speech delivered by Lanao del Sur Rep, Pangalian M. Balindong, the Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, at the House of Representatives on December 1, 2015).

Mr. Speaker, esteemed colleagues in this House of Representatives, ladies and gentlemen:

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to address you all today, to assert, and to plead for the cause of peace, for this House of Representatives to do what is right and finish the deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Do we in the 16th Congress have the luxury to leave such an important task unfinished? The timetable for the passage of the BBL is running fast. If nothing is done today, the remaining window of opportunity we have may be closed.

The 16th Congress, through the passage of the BBL, has the historic opportunity to leave an enduring legacy of peace in the Mindanao region. Shall we leave to the next Congress the grave responsibility of putting an end to decades, nay centuries of underdevelopment! Or shall we ourselves rise to the occasion today and move forward with what needs to be accomplished?

Pray tell, what may be the cause of this long inaction on the BBL? Let me emphasize three points.

One, it seems that the Government through its leadership has wavered more than quite a bit. Whereas Government had been in high gears before, its comparative silence today with regard to the clamor for the enactment of a new law is remarkably deafening. To my mind, the BBL will not only benefit the Muslim minority, the Muslim people, but all Filipinos.

Two, it is not only the Government but a number of our own in the House of Representatives who now appear lukewarm and unconcerned on whether the BBL is passed or not. Moreover, I do not observe a strong sense of urgency from most of the lawmakers both in the House and the Senate on this matter.

Three, the Bangsamoro people (Muslims and other indigenous tribes) have spent more than 400 years, or more than four centuries waiting and seeking recognition of their right to self-determination under the Philippine government. How much longer must they wait?

How many generations have died without seeing the light of peace and justice triumphant? Only recently it seemed that the end to their waiting had come and they would finally be given their right to live as true citizens of our nation through the BBL’s passage. But as fate would have it, once more, their hopes are now dimmed by continuing inaction.

Let not my words sound ungrateful. For in the deepest recesses of my heart, there is gratitude – gratitude to my Colleagues here in the House who have worked so that the BBL would see the light of day, gratitude to both the Government and MILF peace panels, gratitude to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission – gratitude to all who have worked for peace and with the very best intentions for the Bangsamoro people.

But apart from gratitude, I possess a firm resolve to see and ensure that this good we have started together will endure to the very end.

I hold that governance is the key to uplifting the socio-economic conditions faced by the people of Muslim Mindanao. The BBL is still the proper and effective vehicle for the granting of authentic, meaningful and functional autonomy to Muslim Mindanao. With this genuine autonomy, institutions can be effectively built to secure our identity and posterity, while being responsive to the unique needs of our people.

Let me emphasize that we have already exerted a great deal of work in seeing the BBL through. The House Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro has, in no easy fashion, engaged various stakeholders and legal experts in the discussion of issues concerning the proposed BBL.

No other legislation has gone through a process that is as consultative and inclusive. The Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, under the chairmanship of the Hon. Rufus Rodriguez, already conducted a total of at least 47 meetings, close to half of which constitute regional public hearings held in different parts of Mindanao, and some in Luzon and Visayas? Shall we ignore and put to waste all the valuable resources, time and efforts that we have invested in this matter?

It remains within our power and our responsibility to finally bring peace in Mindanao, especially in the Bangsamoro area. War is costly and takes from us what we value most – the lives of our people and our families, our homes and our livelihood, and our opportunities for forging a future for ourselves and others.

Consider these facts:

  • The war in Mindanao, based on estimates, resulted in an estimated P640 billion in economic loss over a period of 31 years – from 1970 to 2001 – in terms of damages to business and properties, and potential investments in the region. Annually, this translates to about P20 billion in economic losses.
  • The National Government also incurred about P73 billion in combat expenses from 1970 to 1996 for the war with the MNLF. And in 2000 alone, the all-out war policy under the Estrada Administration cost the national government P1.3 billion.
  • Moreover, the war between the government and the MNLF from 1970 to 1996 claimed nearly 120,000 lives, 24,000 of which came from a civilian population that did not even want the war in the first place.
  • A total of 982,000 Filipinos were also displaced in 2000 during the all-out war with the MILF.

Hundreds of billions of pesos in economic losses. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost and displaced.   How much more costs are we willing to endure? Will our delayed action on the passage of the BBL today lead to more costly losses in the future?

Given this context, Mr. Speaker, given the fact that we are now on the tail-end of our terms, can we afford further delays in the deliberation and passage of the BBL?

Since June 1 this year, the BBL has been scheduled for plenary deliberation. However, unfortunately, from that time on, the BBL has found itself relegated to the dustbin – to the limbo of “unfinished business”.

Hopefully, this December, before the year ends, lawmakers would finally make up their minds, finish the deliberations, and decisively cast their vote.

For long years, I have watched. I have waited. I have prayed that this would be the time when unity between all Filipinos would be realized.

While I have earned the respect and trust of my people as their warrior ready to give up my life for their dreams and aspirations, I would rather that my people remember me as a peacemaker.

My dear colleagues, please join me in this quest for lasting peace in Mindanao. Let us all be peacemakers. Let us work earnestly toward the passage of the BBL.

Yes there are concerns and issues to be resolved, rightfully so. But this is why deliberations and democratic debates are necessary in the first place. If need be, let us review as soon as possible what needs to be reviewed. But let us not further delay this process of peace we have embarked upon.

My Dear Colleagues, remember well that this is the farthest point we have reached in our peace journey with the MILF. Shall we go back to where we have started after all our hard toil and efforts?

Mr. Speaker, it is upon our hands today, whether or not there shall be a solution to this conflict in Mindanao. The keys to more genuine and lasting peace and development are what we hold.

Remember that justice delayed is justice denied. And inaction is just another word for delay. After more than 400 years of waiting, another delay is simply not acceptable.   Now is not the time for complacency. Today is the time for action.

Let us pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law once and for all! (Privilege speech delivered by Lanao del Sur Rep, Pangalian M. Balindong, the Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, at the House of Representatives on December 1, 2015).