PEACETALK: A visionary Congress may still save the peace process even if the bills for BTA extension are not certified as urgent

As of this writing, the latest session of Congress has just adjourned, and it is scheduled to again resume on May 17, 2021 and again to adjourn sine die on the first week of June this year. Is there life for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) if the bills pending in Congress, calling for the three-year extension of its term, will not be certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte?

Well, probably!

But, only if the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives (HoR) painstakingly summon the better angels from the core of their beings, and start to act not as politicians, but as visionaries.

As things are right now, these various bills, now pending for consideration in both the Senate and HoR still hang, rather precariously, in the balance, leaving us in a continuum where we are not sure whether the peace process can still proceed or fall altogether.

If, by inaction, the ongoing peace process eventually falls into the deadly abyss of no return, as it delicately navigates near the finish line, this despicable accident may yet emerge as the saddest event across many strands in the people’s journey towards the attainment of genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao and the whole nation.

But, we still continue to hope that President Duterte, within this remaining short period, will still find time to perform his noblest act of saving the ongoing peace process and preserving the gigantic gains that have been derived, thus far, from the almost three decades of peace negotiation by certifying as urgent the many bills now pending in congress, all seeking for the extension of the term of the BTA for another, but final, three years.

As is well known, the issuance of such certification by the President will not only fast-track the legislative process, but it will also serve as a powerful signal for Congress to double their efforts for the consolidation of these bills into one bill, and for its immediate passage before Congress comes into mandatory recess within the next few session days.

Thus, it is the hope of the Bangsamoro people, and also the hope of the whole nation, that President Duterte will lose no time in responding to our solemn, but now frantic, call for him to save the peace process as it pedals near towards its final phase.

Countless of lives and dreams have been shattered and lost for the cause of peace in Mindanao, and it now behooves upon us, the living, to honor the sacrifices of our forefathers who willingly fought and died so we may live in prosperity and peace.

However, if by unfortunate twist of fate, President Duterte, for whatever reasons he has in mind, will not or refuse to certify as urgent the bills now pending in Congress, I remain hopeful that the consolidated bills that seek to extend the term of the BTA for another three years can still be passed, and, eventually, signed into law.

Congress may actually act on these bills and pass its consolidated version within the next few days if it wants to. The reason for this is that these pending bills, once consolidated into one bill, are just but simple and succinct measure.

Its main substance can be stated just in a very short paragraph, like “The term of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) is hereby extended until June 30, 2025, or until the members of the Bangsamoro Parliament elected in the May 14, 2025 elections may have been qualified or have assumed office.”

By simply passing this simple and succinct measure, the work is already done.

This proposed amendment to a single specific provision in the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) does not actually require any complicated and kilometric debate. Precisely, the reason is that the import of the bills, after having been consolidated into one measure, is made very simple and succinct in order to avoid delving into the substantial provision of the BOL so as to preclude the necessity of subjecting it for ratification by the people in plebiscite.

As we all know, the BOL is not just an ordinary law. It was subjected to ratification by the people in the Bangsamoro in a plebiscite conducted for that purpose. Thus, tinkering on this law substantially may necessitate its ratification by the people in plebiscite for the second time.

Considering its ordinariness and succinctness in form, this measure can still be passed by the Senate and HoR before it adjourns sine die few days after it shall have resumed its session on May 17, 2021.

It is our contention that the remaining number of days left before the next congressional recess is still sufficient for both houses of Congress to pass the measure, and work together to hammer down its final version, for submission to the Office of the President.

Nevertheless, granting arguendo, but without admitting, that the few number of days left is not sufficient to pass the measure, both houses of congress may still request the president to call for a special session to enable them to tackle the pending measure, and for them to eventually pass the same measure into law.

Thus, even if the President does not certify the measure as urgent and just wants it to pass the ordinary legislative process so that it could be subjected to judicious scrutiny, both houses of Congress can still take some necessary options for the passage of this very important measure.

There is an old adage which states: “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Of course, I pretty well understand that, with the advent of the prevailing election season, the options that we have detailed and advanced for the members of the Senate and the HoR are really easier said than done.

This is because politicians, during the election season, are trying to avoid embroidering themselves in controversial and divisive issues that may cause them to lose some votes, and, in effect, put into jeopardy their reelection or their other electoral plans, no matter how important and socially significant are these measures pending for their consideration.

As always, any issue related to the Moro question that may crop up in Mindanao is always divisive not only because of the prevailing prejudices amongst the Christian population in Mindanao and whole country, but also among the Moro population in the BARMM and in other parts of Mindanao.

Traditional reactionary forces amongst the Moro population, whose stranglehold to political power may be loosened arising from the transformative agenda attached to the political settlement between the Philippine Government and the MILF, remain very strong in the BARMM.

Also, the peace process is yet to concretely result in the building of complete trust between the Christian and Moro population in the BARMM and in other parts of Mindanao. Sadly, however, these prejudices are much more entrenched and stronger among the Christian population.

Former General Santos City Mayor and now City Councilor Rosalita T. Nunez, in her book “Roots of Conflict: Muslims, Christians and the Mindanao Struggle” published in 1997, presented empirical data that Christians nurture in them much greater prejudices against the Moros, than the Moros against the Christians.

These prevailing prejudices among the Christian population in Mindanao, coupled with the antagonism of the traditional Moro elite against the institution of any political reforms in the BARMM, make every issue pertaining to the Moro struggle in Mindanao a divisive one.

This and all are the things that every politician is trying hard to avoid during the electoral season, especially during this prevailing electoral season.

This we fully understand as a normal human tendency. But, I hope that our Honorable Senators and our Honorable Congressmen and Congresswomen will also understand that the bills on the extension of the term of the BTA now pending for their respective actions have their legal time-frame as embodied in the BOL.

Their legislative action on these pending bills for the extension of the term of the BTA cannot be postponed and set aside to some future time, or, specifically, after the May 9, 2022 elections, without flirting with chaos.

These bills must be acted upon before the 2022 national and local elections; otherwise, the BARMM will be plunged into a dangerous political interregnum which may, eventually, result to political chaos and disarray.

The nation, still reeling through the hard pounding of the Covid-19 pandemic, cannot afford this.

In our previous article, we have outlined the reasons why the regular elections for the members of the Bangsamoro Parliament cannot be simply held, in the absence of an electoral code governing such elections, considering the peculiarity of the governmental system that the political settlement intends to establish in the region.

In that same article, we also brought to the fore the chaotic consequences if this government would fail to extend the term of the BTA.

As it now appears, with the electoral season starting to heat up, a visionary Congress may still act, and act fast, to save the peace process in Mindanao by preventing it from going kaput, and from finally tearing it into pieces, putting to waste all the efforts and government resources invested to it while it is nearing its completion.

We believe that our politicians in the Senate and the HoR, despite the many bad characterizations labeled against them, are capable of becoming visionaries. Their being politicians do not disqualify them from rising beyond their political vested interests and convenience, and from acting for the best interest of Mindanao and the whole nation as honorable men and women of vision.

As politicians, they are capable of doing noble things not only for the elections, but for the future generations. Doing noble things for the elections are what makes politicians, but doing noble things for the welfare of the generation yet to come are what visionaries are made for.

History teaches us that leaders of this country and the world are remembered and revered not by their feat of winning every election, but by serving the welfare of the current generation and the next, even though they lost in the election.

We remain hopeful, however, that President Duterte, with all his displayed shenanigans, will also summon a visionary in him by losing no time in allowing the peace process to reach the finish line and in ushering the peace settlement to its completion.

But, finally, in any event, we bend our hope on the Senate and the HoR, acting as visionary institutions, for them to perform their inter-generational duty for the interest and welfare of the people in the BARMM, in Mindanao and the whole nation.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ben Sumog-oy is the Action Officer of the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement , General Santos City Chapter (IDEFEND-GenSan), Volunteer Head of the Para-legal Unit of the Sentro ng mga Progresibo at Nagkakaisang Manggagawa-SOCSKSARGEN (Sentro-SOCSKSARGEN) and of the Local Mass Struggle (LMS) Unit of Akbayan-GenSan]