COMMENT: Bangsamoro: Fulfillment or Denial Anew? (7)

7th of a series

III. BEL Minus “BBL Objectionables” and Time

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 November) Crafting a convergent BEL, the correct solution to the Moro Problem and acceptable to all Moros and IPs, is only half the challenge met. The uncertainties posed by time and the acceptability to MILF of a BEL without the “BBL objectionables”, the must-option in the Duterte plan are the other half.

President Duterte assured the Moros he would implement the GPH-MILF agreements converged with the GRP-MNLF agreements and other relevant laws simultaneously with the plan to shift the government to federalism. The Bangsamoro is to be established upon the election of its regular officials in 2019; federalism in 2021.

To meet the 2019 timeline, BEL must be submitted to the Congress by July 2017 in order to have it passed during the Second Regular Session of the 17th Congress; have it ratified by July 2018 so the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) can have one year to set up the ministerial system of the Bangsamoro government. The timeline is tight; the EO creating the new BTC to craft BEL has just been signed – November 7, 2016. Can it submit BEL to the Congress on time?

To expedite the passage of BEL, President Duterte proposed the BEL must be shorn of the “BBL objectionables” – those provisions objected to as unconstitutional, contrary to law and politically unacceptable that blocked its passage in the 16th Congress. These provisions will be considered in the amendment of the Constitution to shift government to federalism and, if favorably considered, they will be integrated into the BEL.

BEL minus “BBL objectionables” will practically be the same as the BLBAR (Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region), the drastically watered-down Draft BBL vehemently objected to by MILF and their allies.  Will they take the must-option? What, if the “objectionables” are not favorably considered?

This will put the Moros in a dilemma: Reject BEL minus “BBL objectionables”, there will be no Bangsamoro; accept it, the Moro Problem will remain unsolved.

Is there a way to skirt the must-option and avoid the dilemma?

Why the Must-Option?

BEL as enhanced BBL – still CAB-compliant – will contain most, if not all, the objected provisions of Draft BBL, originally adopted as HB No. 4994 and SB No. 2408. President Duterte was right in foreseeing the same difficulty such BEL will have in getting the nod of the Congress. Most members of the 16th Congress are back in the 17th Congress. Don’t expect the new members to differ much from the old.

President Duterte is telling MILF and the other Moro leaders to be practical. In crafting BEL, just adopt the BLBAR for enhancement through convergence. Let the BTC submit the “objectionables” to the Congress for inclusion among the proposed amendments to the Constitution. In this option, the odds are high that the Bangsamoro will be established by 2019 with a one-year transition period.

This is asking MILF and the other Moro leaders to accept the must-option and tackle the dilemma later.  

Is the Must-Option Justifiable?

The must-option is actually for political convenience. President Duterte has promised the Moros to establish Bangsamoro soon. To avoid the obstacles ahead, cater to the temper of the members of the Congress – arrogance. It was arrogance laced with anti-Moro biases and prejudices not “objectionables” that compelled the drastic revision of Draft BBL into BLBAR – according to MILF, by more than 40 percent. There could have been no “objectionables” had there been no arrogance.

What are these “objectionables”?

These are provisions seen as contrary to the 1987 Constitution and some laws; viewed to diminish powers of existing national agencies; and deemed by local government leaders as diminishing their jurisdiction and in conflict with their political interests.

How did arrogance figure in?  

Draft BBL was a special measure from Malacañang that transcribed the peace agreements in the CAB negotiated by the government with MILF for 14 years to solve the centuries old Moro Problem or Question. Government had the obligation to enact Draft BBL in order to establish the Bangsamoro – the political embodiment of the negotiated settlement — as agreed. Hence, Draft BBL had to be CAB-compliant.

Under our Constitution, the Executive Branch led by the President is solely empowered to negotiate peace; the Congress or Legislative Branch, to enact laws. Since the GPH-MILF peace agreement called for an enabling law to fully implement it, the Congress had the responsibility to enact Draft BBL into an enabling law to establish the Bangsamoro. By that the Congress was equally responsible as the President to have a BBL enacted that would solve the Moro Problem as agreed in the CAB

The Congress did the opposite. Revising Draft BBL, it proposed to enact BLBAR to establish a Bangsamoro according to its members’ perceptions of the Moro Problem in radical disagreement with the CAB,

Besides seeing Draft BBL as full of “objectionables”, the Congress considered the GPH-MILF peace negotiation virtually illegal for having not been authorized by a resolution of the Congress.  This was arrogance.

Yet, the Congress was oblivious of its concurrence. The President created the BTC through an executive order which was supported with resolutions from the Senate and the House of Representatives as provided in the CAB.  While drafting the BBL, on several occasions, the BTC consulted leaders of both Houses. Why concur then denounce?

The President submitted Draft BBL to the Senate President and the House Speaker during a brief ceremony in the Palace on September 10, 2014. Three months before that, the Draft was thoroughly reviewed, revised and refined to ensure its constitutionality, legality and compliance with the CAB.

According to official reports, this was done by the Office of the President together with the Chief Presidential Counsel, the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice; the Philippine National Police Commission, the Commission on Audit, the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Elections were consulted regarding the creation of their regional offices in the Bangsamoro and their comments were adopted. The OPS closely consulted the GPH and MILF peace negotiating panels and the BTC.  

Yet, in the Congress, Draft BBL was declared full of unconstitutionality and illegality. Considering how thoroughly the OPS had reviewed, revised and refined Draft BBL, the “objectionables” showed arrogance; the “must-option” is unjustifiable.

Tomorrow: Inter-branch courtesy