TO THE POINT: BBL Soon in Moro Court

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, June 11, 2018 – From media reports since May 31, it is most indicative that neither of SB No. 1717 and HB No. 6475, the Bangsamoro Basic Law bills as respectively approved in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, sits well with the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and of the Moro in general. The original BTC BBL 2017 has been drastically revised.

The three top MILF leaders – Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim¸ BTC Chair Ghazali Jaafar and Bangsamoro Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal – were reserved in their comments with hopes that the deleted and drastically revised provisions of BTC BBL 20217 would be restored by the Bicameral Conference Committee (BCC) during its meeting on July 9 -13. Moro civic leaders – mostly from Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao – expressed openly their disappointment through the regular and the social media.

What hope is there that the 28-member BCC, composed of senators and representatives who amended BTC BBL 2017 to be compliant with the 1987 Constitution and to satisfy what they wanted, will restore the deleted provisions and reconsider their amendments? To the positivists it’s clinging to hope eternal; to the negativists, wishing for a miracle.

Will the same members of the BCC who ignored during the plenary deliberations the appeals to pass a CAB-compliant BBL reverse themselves at the BCC?

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BTC BBL 2017, the original version of the BBL proposal submitted by the President to the Senate and the House in September 2017 was crafted by BTC 2017 using BTC BBL 2014 as the working draft. The 2014 BTC BBL was crafted by the BTC 2012 from the cumulative agreements forged by the Government and MILF negotiating panels based on the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) of 2012 – which agreements together with other key agreements since 1997 were consolidated into the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) of 2014.

During all those negotiations, the negotiating panels tackled contentious issues on “How to solve the Moro Problem” – focused on Moro demands for their rights to self-determination and redress for centuries-old historical injustices. Without specifically referring to the 1987 Constitution which the MILF had rejected as a term of reference, the negotiators in consultation with their legal panels forged their agreements embodied in the FAB and the CAB within the liberal interpretation of the Constitution.

BTC BBL 2014 drafted in compliance with the CAB was reviewed and revised by the Office of the President with the cooperation of the BTC 2012. The MILF Central Committee accepted the revision in conformity with the Constitution and Philippine laws. However, both the Senate and House of Representatives of the 16th Congress drastically revised BTC BBL 2014 and adjourned sine die without passing the substitute bills.

BTC 2017, while using BBL 2014 as the working draft of BBL 2017, considered some revisions done by the 16th Congress and made BBL 2017 more inclusive as directed by President Duterte in his Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap and more convergent as also urged by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Just like BBL 2014, the Office of the President reviewed and revised BBL 2017 which the MILF likewise accepted.

In mid-April, President Duterte called the leaders of both Houses to expedite the passage of the BBL. The Senate committee submitted to the plenary session SB 1717, the slightly amended version of BTC BBL 2017; the House joint committee disregarded the reports it was consolidating and adopted HB 6475, original BTC SB 2017, for submission to the plenary. Both moves were cautiously hailed by the MILF.

Within the eight session days remaining of the Second Regular Session of the 17th Congress – President Duterte having certified the bills as urgent – both Houses amended the bills and passed them on May 30. The Bi-Cameral Conference Committee (BCC) will meet on July 9 to 13 to reconcile the two bills, very much more different than similar.

As amended, SB 1717 and HB 6475 are “very much diluted”, said MILF Chairman Murad, which would make Bangsamoro less autonomous than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). However, hoping that the BCC can come out with a CAB-compliant BBL, he said, the MILF Central Committee will wait for the BCC version before taking its final option then consult the Moro people (MindaNews, July 9, 2018).

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Arguably, BTC BBL 2017, when submitted to both Houses of the 17th Congress, was compliant not only with the CAB but, above all, with the Constitution and Philippine laws. Yet, the Senate and the House had to cleanse BTC BBL 2017 of its unconstitutional and illegal provisions.

How unconstitutional or contrary to laws are the deleted or revised provisions? Let’s take a look at just five of the many amendments listed down in the report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 2, 2018: ‘Bloody’ BBL bicam debates seen: More differences than similarities:

  1. What is unconstitutional with the provision allowing five plebiscites within 25 years from the ratification of the BBL for contiguous to join Bangsamoro should they like to? Both Houses struck down the provision.
  2. What is unconstitutional or illegal about the 6 percent block grant? But it’s okay to reduce it to 5 percent. Its automatic release is necessary to make Bangsamoro truly financially autonomous. The House clipped this provision.
  3. What’s unconstitutional or illegal about the 75-25 tax revenue sharing?  The House retained this provision; but the Senate reduced it to 50-50 – much lower than the 70-30 under R.A. No. 9054 of the ARMM.
  4. What is unconstitutional or illegal about the inclusion of Palawan in the historical territory of the Bangsamoro? It is in the Tripoli Agreement.  MinSuPala (for Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan) has long been the political aggrupation of Moro leaders dating back to independence in 1946. The Senate deleted this.

5. “All powers, functions, responsibilities not granted by this Constitution or by law to the autonomous regions shall be vested in the National Government (Art. X, Sec. 17 of the 1987 Constitution).

Does agreeing to distinguish the reserved powers of the Central Government, exclusive powers of Bangsamoro and their concurrent powers violate the Constitution? The Senate deleted the entire provision in the BBL.

The above are just five of the many deletions, revisions, substitutions and insertions – evidently arbitrary amendments done in the name of “constitutionality and legality and to satisfy political interests and anti-Moro biases and prejudices. There are more in other media reports. A matrix comparing BTC BBL 2017 with the amended S.B. No. 1717 and H.B. No. 6475 would surely show hundreds of such amendment.

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The clear message of the legislators to the Moros – unchanged from that of the 16th Congress—is this: We appreciate knowing what you want. But we cannot grant all that the President has granted you. Trust us. We know better.

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No matter how disparate are S.B. No. 1717 and H.B. No. 6475 as amended, the BCC will reconcile them. They have to present to President Duterte a BBL Act to sign on July 23. Their request for an urgent certification of the bills was granted. They no longer have any excuse to not pass the BBL Act. The fast-tracking of the BBL bills last May 30 was the proverbial “washing of hands”.

President Duterte can tell the world, I certified the bills as urgent. By July 13, both Houses of the Congress can wave high the BBL Act ready for the President’s signature. They have done their part – in fulfillment of the confidence the MILF had repeatedly reposed on their wisdom.

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Starting July 23, the BBL Act will be in the MILF court. If they reject it, the President and the Congress will say, “Sorry! But we did what we believed was good for you”. If they accept it and make a success of it, good! But if Bangsamoro becomes a fiasco, the President and the Congress will wash their hands.

The MILF is in a very precarious, agonizing situation. As Chairman Al Haj Murad explained (MindaNews, June 9, 2018: Murad says BBL versions passed are “very diluted” but hopes to regain what they lost during bicam meet) “they will analyze the impact and consequences of their decision on the final version of the Bangsamoro law”.

“Tingnan namin.. kung hindi namin tatanggapin, anong mangyayari? Kung tatanggapin namin, ano rin ang mangyayari? (We will see … if we do not accept, what will happen? If we accept, what will happen?). Now, alam natin that the BBL is intended to solve not only one problem but multifaceted problems. Maraming problema kailangang i-address now, how … will this BBL that will be passed … become instrumental in solving these problems? So basically ang decision namin will lie on how much the BBL can address the problem that we are confronting.”

The final decision is theirs alone. And there’s no room for a mistake.

How will 21 years of negotiations end? In fulfillment or in denial still?

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