COMMENT: Good! Enough? In All Honesty … (1)

I: Signal to Start

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 22 February) —  President Rodrigo R. Duterte finally ordered the much-awaited release of the names of the 21 members of the New BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) last February 9 – three months and two days after he issued on November 7, 2016 of Executive Order No. 08, s. 2016 that reconstituted the BTC under the Aquino III administration. (MindaNews and OPAPP Website, 2/10/17)

The GPH and MILF implementing panels will launch the New BTC in Davao City in “the last weekend of February”  (the launch has been scheduled for February 24 in Davao City – ed) giving the body four months and three weeks to re-draft the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) into the BEL (Bangsamoro Enabling Law). Set for submission to the 17th Congress in July 2017, the President must have the draft when he delivers his second State of the Nation Address on July 24.

MindaNews and OPAPP quoted Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza stating that the release of the appointment papers “will signal the start of the work to come up with an inclusive Bangsamoro law that will truly reflect and address the clamor for a genuine political autonomy for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao.”

The “clamor” refers to the political settlement embodied in the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) and its four Annexes that were consolidated into the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro) together with other key agreements signed during the 17-year negotiation (1997-2014) of the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. BBL or BEL has to be CAB-compliant.

The “work to come up with an inclusive Bangsamoro law” refers to “convergence”, a process of consolidating with the CAB the GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement, R.A. No.9054 and the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1995 as mandated in Duterte’s Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap (BPDR).

Can the New BTC accomplish its task in four months and three weeks starting March including time for organizing?

Plus Factors

There are favorable circumstances that can be of much help to the New BTC.

Capable New BTC members: The New BTC members must have been chosen for their capability, professionalism and dedication. Six of the eleven MILF members are carry-overs from the first BTC. The five others and all the ten Government appointees are new but they are most dedicated to the Moro and the Minority Cause and they know well the Problem and its roots. All the Moro members must have been active participants in the Moro liberation movement since the 1960’s.

To offset the time-constraint, MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, still BTC member but no longer its chair, told MindaNews (MN 2/10/17: GPH, MILF peace panels set date for BTC launch but who will take oath?) that the New BTC can have “twice monthly sessions with the rest of the month spent on consultations and committee meetings”; or “they can meet every day if necessary”.

Existing working drafts: It took more than a year for the first BTC to finish Draft BBL. However, it was under an odd situation. Only one Annex was finished when it started drafting. The other three Annexes came in slow sequence and it had to wait for the signing of the CAB to wrap up its work.

This New BTC is not starting from scratch, Iqbal said “there are existing drafts that can be made as the working draft to hasten the process of the final drafting” that, being already CAB-compliant, will be in line with the desire of MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. (MN 2/10/17: GPH, MILF …)

As we see it, the New BTC’s work can be clear-cut if not simple:

First, restore Draft BBL as closely as possible to the original copy — that which has the imprimatur of President Aquino III and Chairman Murad — by reconciling the 40 percent or so deletion, revision and substitution done by the House and the Senate of the 16th Congress with the provisions the MILF study group had petitioned the two Houses to be restored. The Supreme Court’s November 20, 2016 decision of the petitions against the CAB and the FAB will be most helpful.

Second, examine what provisions of the 1996 FPA, R.A. No. 9054 and IPRA had already been converged with the CAB in Draft BBL. Determine what more are to be converged.

Third, add new provisions derived from public consultations and committee meetings.

Draft BBL had been vetted — it can be safely said — thoroughly for its constitutionality, legality and CAB-compliance for four months by the Office of the President and the GPH-MILF negotiating panels with the assistance of the Secretary of Justice, the Solicitor General and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (the last two now members of the Supreme Court). It can be assured that with its six lawyer-members, the New BTC can easily safeguard the constitutionality, legality and CAB-compliance in the ensuing BEL.

On these grounds, Secretary Dureza is right in foreseeing that the New BTC will “come up with an inclusive Bangsamoro law that will truly reflect and address the clamor for a genuine political autonomy for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao”.

Yet, right can go wrong. If the New BTC is the only body that will write the Bangsamoro basic law and the BEL that it will craft is the only bill to be submitted to the Congress, all will be well as assured by Secretary Dureza. But this is not so. The Duterte master plan laid out in the BPDR has evidently been modified.

Tomorrow: “Worrisome Consequences”