COMMENT: Grave Reservation

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 19 September) –– A year ago, to the month, we wrote  “Bangsamoro: Fulfillment or Denial Anew?”, published in series as “COMMENT” in MindaNews. The first of the series was published on September 25, 2016; however, due to changing developments calling for revisions to update the commentary the last of the series was published on December 5, 2016.

The commentary was on the prospect of establishing the Bangsamoro under the Duterte administration after it had been denied by the 16th Congress that failed to pass the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) bill. President Rodrigo R. Duterte promised to fulfill what had been denied under Aquino, premised on a roadmap to resurrect and tend the BBL through the 17th Congress. By the end of 2016, there surfaced worrisome roadblocks to Duterte’s peace roadmap.

In that series and in subsequent articles, we discussed these roadblocks many of them the consequences of miscues, inconsistences of words and actions, procrastination, et cetera which could be attributed to the President himself. Last May 5, speaking to an assembly of police officers of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), he said he was pessimistic about the Bangsamoro — that nothing would come out of peace process We sensed the President was asking WHY – with only himself to ask and only himself to answer.

On the following July 17, when the New BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) submitted the new BBL Draft or Draft BBL 2017, the President renewed his assurance to the Moro Front leaders that he would “husband” the BBL – there must be a “Bangsamoro country”. Present at the turn-over were the Senate President and House Speaker. They joined the President in assuring the passage of the bill.

But words have remained words, empty of action. What have gone awry?

  1. According to an earlier official statement, Draft BBL 2017 was to be submitted to the Congress immediately after the July 24 State of the Nation Address of the President; yet, it was not mentioned in the SONA. It was officially transmitted by PLLO (Presidential Legislative Liaison Office) to the Senate and the House on August 14. However, as of September 9 (MindaNews, September 10) it had not been calendared for first reading in both the Senate and the House; no one would sponsor it.

What happened to the draft during the 28 days in the Office of the President? Was the copy transmitted officially to the Congress the same draft the New BTC had given to the President?

For a month now after the Draft had been officially transmitted to the Congress, no one would sponsor it. It has become a hot potato. Why?

That in action is the assurance of support from the President, Senate President and House Speaker.

  1. The President did not certify the Draft as an urgent bill. According to the PLLO, the President will issue his certification after Draft BBL 2017 has been consolidated with the other BBL bills. As of this writing, three BBL bills have been filed and calendared for first reading — HB 0092 or Bangsamoro Basic Law, by Rep. Sandra Sema (June 30, 2016); HB 6121 or Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, by Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (August 3, 2017); and HB 6263 or Bangsamoro Basic Law, by Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo (August 24, 2017)

An urgent certification of Draft BBL 2017 would have been a signal to the Congress that it is the only bill the President would like the Congress to consider as the basic law for the “Bangsamoro country”. Of the PLLO statement: What is he “husbanding” – the BBL he has ordered drafted by Executive Order No. 08, s. 2016 or a diluted BBL?

  1. Draft BBL 2017 was not among the 28 priority bills of the Duterte administration that the LEDAC (Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council) released last August 29 (MindaNews, September 6). It will be included in the next LEDAC meeting in mid-September, said Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella; Speaker Pimentel had told MindaNews it would be added to the LEDAC list “per motion by PLLO”.

The President has assured not only once the Moros that BBL is a priority bill. LEDAC says otherwise. Why is this so? The President has not certified Draft BBL 2017 as URGENT to emphasize his assurance. Why?

  1. Obviously, the non-inclusion of Draft BBL 2017 in the LEDAC priority list raised serious apprehension among the Moros. Luwaran, the MILF Central Committee official website, in its September 2 editorial, “Marawi crisis spill over”, noted this state of the Draft, expressed the MILF and MNLF frustrations over the failure of the government to comply with its commitments in the CAB and the 1996 FPA, and warned of “the spill over of the Marawi crisis [as] the natural consequence”.

Last September 4, President Duterte met the MILF leaders led by Chairman Murad Ebrahim and the 20-member BTC to address these concerns and set another meeting on September 14 together with Senate and House leaders led by Senate President Pimentel and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. In that meeting, President Duterte vowed again “to push for the passage of the BBL”.

  1. In the September 14 meeting, as expected, Duterte assured the Moro and Congress leaders that he would ‘continue to husband the approval of BBL until its implementation”. But, as seen in the GMA News and ABS-CBN News reports two hours after, there was nothing conclusive and reassuring. Peace Secretary Jesus Dureza, who spoke to reporters, assured – as he usually does – that all was well and will be, contrary to his narrations.

GMA News quoted Dureza’s quotation of what Duterte had “just said” (in Italics) that in his brand of Pilipino is incoherent, rambling, tentative.

“Meron akong plano at tawagin ko uli kayo. Mag-usap tayo. It’s really how to nurture na talagang papasa iyan kasi ‘pag pakawalan mo iyan, certify mo lang iyan, pagdating doon may mga question pa iyong ibang mga members of Congress dahil may Constitutional issues pa iyan,”

“Diba dati akala natin merong mag-author lang, bahala na. Pabayaan mo na ang Kongreso diyan. Naku, ‘pag pakawalan mo iyan at hindi mo gawan ng game plan from the executive, baka hindi mo ma-ano…”.

In an ABS-CBS News report. Dureza spoke of “a discussion on both sides” but regretted he could not reveal “[a]ll the other details”. He elaborated what the President had said in his own brand of Pilipino.

The President has “a game plan that is still being worked out by the Office of the President, in coordination with leadership of Congress, on how to see to it that the BBL will see its implementation.” It will ensure that Draft BBL 2017 will not suffer the same fate of Draft BBL 2014.

Is the “game plan” now “being worked out” by the OP? Duterte’s quoted statement in the GMA News report does not show it. Besides, Dureza said “Duterte and the MILF will again meet to discuss more details about the President’s plan”. How can the OP “work out” on the plan when “more details” are still to be discussed by the President and the MILF in another meeting? By “again”, Dureza implied there had been a “first” meeting? Was there? When?

The above was also reported by the and The Manila Bulletin.

  1. Draft BBL 2017 had no sponsor as of September 9 (MindaNews September 10). That could be the reason why it was not in the priority list of LEDAC At this writing, there is no sponsor yet (MindaNews, September 16, 2017: Draft Bangsamoro` Basic Law still in limbo).

In the Congress, the bill has to be followed up. The Implementing Panels are mandated to do this task with  Section 2a of their TOR stating the division of labor between the GPH and MILF panels – the first “shall work for the passage of the proposed BBL in Congress” while the second “shall monitor the progress of the legislative process”. This should start with the transmittal of the Draft to the Congress.

  1. What the Panels can do is like climbing the Himalayas. The task has become harder with the filing of three other BBL bills. While these three may be the exact or rehashed copies of Draft BBL 2014, they are bound to dilute Draft BBL 2017 – the revision of the Old Draft by refining the provisions objected to in the 16th Congress and furthering the convergence of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro-Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, 1996 Final Peace Agreement, RA Nos. 6734 and 9054, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, and more. This must be one reason for President Duterte to intervene with his new “game plan”
  2. However, the “game plan” is still nebulous. Despite Dureza’s elaboration, it is still in the idea stage revealed to the MILF — “Meron akong plano at tawagin ko uli kayo. Mag-usap tayo.” It follows Duterte’s penchant for the incoherent, rambling and tentative.

The implication to Bangsamoro is worrisome. Duterte vowed to establish Bangsamoro, NOT according to the mechanisms and modalities agreed in the CAB-FAB but to what he wants. To do it his own way, he had the BPDR (Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap) formulated. Evidently, the BPDR had not worked as he had wanted. But he himself modified it to accommodate his friend, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari. He did translate it as the mandate of the New BTC in EO No. 08. s. 2016.

Draft BBL 2017 is not exactly what he wants. This is inferred from his statement at the turn-over rite, “There will be no objections (to) the provisions of all that is consistent with the Constitution and the aspiration of the Moro people.” (MindaNews, July 18, 2017, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star). This explains why the Draft was detained at the OP for a month before transmitting it to the Congress. His support of the Draft is in reality conditional.

  1. MindaNews Editor Carolyn O. Arguillas, to have a meaningful report of the September 14 meeting asked key officials of the Congress, particularly Senate President Pimentel III and House Speaker Alvarez, and the BTC chair the following questions:

(1)Will the draft BBL finally have authors / sponsors so it can be filed as a bill in both houses of Congress?

(2) Will the President certify it as urgent?

(3) Has the Duterte administration’s Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap which targeted the passage of the BBL by end of 2017, been abandoned in favor of a new roadmap?

(4) If yes, what is this new roadmap? Will the draft BBL be subsumed into the federalism track?

In her September 16 article, she wrote: “A number gave carefully crafted vague answers or did not answer these very simple questions” – concluding in bold headline, “Draft Bangsamoro Law still in limbo”.

OUR GRAVE RESERVATION: Draft BBL 2017 is being tossed in treacherous waters. Will the “game plan” work this time to bring it safely ashore? What if it does not?

Will what had been denied under Aquino III be fulfilled under Duterte? We can hang on to vows and promises and speculate on new roadmaps and game plans until the day of reckoning by the end of the 17th Congress.  The MILF and MNLF will cooperate as much as and as long as they can – perhaps compromise more. But will the Moro extremists and militants? – (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to