SPONSORSHIP SPEECH: The aspiration and attainment of peace is not only for the benefit of the BARMM but the whole country

(Sponsorship speech on House Bill 10121, in substitution to HB numbers 8116, 8117, 8161, 8222, and 8277, delivered online by Maguindanao 2nd district Rep. Esmael G. Mangudadatu, chair of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, at the plenary session of the House of Representatives on 13 September 2021). 

Maguindano 2nd district Rep. Esmael G. Mangudadatu delivers on 13 September 2021 his sponsorship speech online for HB 10121 consolidating five bills seeking the extension of the Bangsamoro transition period to 2005 by resetting the date of the 1st Bangsamoro Parliament election from May 2022 to May 2025. (Screenshot from House hearing on 9.13.21)

Speaker Lord Alan Velasco and our deputy speakers; Majority Floor Leader Martin Romualdez and Minority Floor Leader Stephen Paduano; officers of the House; our joint committee lead Chair Rep. Ferrer and Co-Chairman Rep. Adiong; distinguished colleagues in the House of Representatives; ladies and gentlemen:

A pleasant afternoon to one and all and may the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah (swt) be with you.

Even prior to the referral to the Joint Committees on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms; Muslim Affairs; and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity of the five House Bills seeking for the resetting to 2025 of the first BARMM Regional Parliament elections, the Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, which this representation chairs and within the purview of its jurisdiction, has conducted a series of briefings on the status of implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and RA No. 11054.

The GPH-MILF peace process and the Bangsamoro situation has already gone a long way, as demonstrated unto us by the passage and gradual but unwavering implementation of the CAB and RA No. 11054. No less than the independent Third Party Monitoring Team’s chairman Heino Marius has stated that “The TPMT is pleased to note that the peace process in Mindanao is fundamentally on track.”[1]

But then, however positive and optimistic we are in the implementation of agreements as part of the peace process, the information we culled from the series of special committee briefings and joint committee hearings we have had has painted for the need to give more time for the transition period to take place; thus our submission to Congress of the substitute House Bill No. 10121, which seeks to amend Section 13 Article XVI of RA No. 11054 so to reset and synchronize with the 2025 national elections the conduct of the first regular election for the BARMM Regional Parliament.

Mister Speaker, it is said that the distinctive mark of a democracy is the conduct of elections. Yes, we cannot contest that and we shall get to that later on during the course of this discourse. However, we cannot also discount that the underlying principle of the rule of law is the respect for tradition and history, most especially when we are talking about a peace process that has in its narratives the snuffing out of hundreds of thousands of Christian and Moro lives; the intermittent displacement of hundreds of thousands of Moro, Christian and Lumad people caught in between crisscrossing bullets and mortars; the loss of tangible and intangible economic capitals and opportunities on both the government and private sectors and individuals; and the collective horrors and pains of a five decade war on all sides of the Philippine societal spectrum.

With your indulgence and with due respect to everybody concerned, I wish to remind the body that the Muslim community in the country has long been waging a war for independence or self-rule, even before the Spaniards came to the country. In contemporary history, the MILF and MNLF have started to wage war for an independent Moro state in the archipelago since the 1970s, which have seen the sacrifice of 120,000 lives for the Moro cause.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen; too much lives, potentials, opportunities, and tangible and intangible capitals have been lost not only by the Muslim community but by the whole country because of the war that was waged by our Muslim brethren in the south for the Moro cause. And when we speak of the Moro cause, we are referring not only to their political aspirations vis-à-vis other cultures or people, but more so about their identity as a people and their right and freedom to live a life of dignity where they can practice their culture, traditions, and religious convictions without discrimination or ridicule, but common respect for all.

Ito po ang buod ng ipinaglalaban ng mga kapatid nating mga Muslim to the point that many of them have chosen to pickup arms, leave their respective families, and risk sacrificing their life and limbs. In the name of freedom, of identity, of rights, of respect, of dignity…so that the future may see their children and grandchildren living a life that is much better than what theirs had to offer during their time.

At ngayon na nga po, sa pamamagitan ng RA No. 11054 o yung tinatawag na Bangsamoro Organic Law, ay binigyan na sila ng pagkakataon para gawing katotohanan ang noon ay aspirasyon lang nila. Mula “In Shaa Allah” or “Allah be willing” ay naging “Alhamdullilah” or “Praise be to Allah” na.

Things were going well. The implementation of the peace agreements was on track. But then, some things are simply out of our control, just like the advent of the COVID19 pandemic that suddenly slowed down almost to a halt the grinding of the mill since March 2020 or barely fourteen months since the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Act.

We all know what the months of lockdown did to the operation not only of private establishments but even in government offices. But still, even the independent TPMT has noted overall positive development in the that the political track of the peace process. This is all the more significant as the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic has confronted the BARMM BTA with a double challenge in dealing with a health emergency and the transition at the same time.

The essential point here is that during the series of briefings that we have had, the OPAPP and TPMT, together with various documents we have received from CSOs and LGUs, speak one common language, and that is for the need to give more time for the transition period to take place. Thus, our submission of the substitute HB No. 10121.

Ladies and gentlemen of the House, allow me to state this for the information of everybody: The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which has been signed by the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014, is composed of the normalization track and the legal or political track of the peace agreement. The enacted RA 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is in the political track, while the implementation of the normalization track includes the disarmament and decommissioning of the combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). And though the Bangsamoro Organic Law has provided for the continuation of the normalization track even after 2022, the reality on the ground is that the mujahideen deem their leaders as their moral compass. It just so happened that the Phase 3 of reintegration and decommissioning, for example, cannot proceed to without the full implementation of Phase 2, and so on. This by-the-phase notching is something that the MILF leadership cannot be lax on because their commitment to the peace process is at par to their commitment to their mujahideen when they decided to cast their faith that lasting peace, autonomy, communal dignity, and inclusive development in the Bangsamoro Region is indeed within reach with their agreement and active participation in the CAB and RA No. 11054. To date, only 12,000 combatants have been decommissioned. This is still a long way from the targeted decommissioning of 44,000 combatants.

Mister Speaker, aside from the resounding calls of the people for the resetting to 2025 of the first regular BARMM Regional Parliament election, we also have to acknowledge that there are calls opposing for the postponement of the same. It is noteworthy to mention that the Joint Committee had been receiving position papers on the subject matter from various stakeholders. Aside from the favorable endorsement of key national government agencies to the proposed bills, there is also an upsurge of support from the BARMM local government units, including those from the BARMM provincial governments and League of Municipalities BARMM provincial chapters, various civil society organizations, and even the well-documented support to the bills and accompanying pleas of more than a million private individuals for the President to certify as urgent the bills seeking for the resetting to 2025 of the BARMM Parliament elections. Be that as it may, the Joint Committee continued to maintain its objectivity by accepting all position papers of other stakeholders with a contrary perspective and concerned government agencies that enabled the joint committees to address all issues comprehensibly and deliberate on the measures accordingly.

This representation therefore takes this opportunity to further speak as to why the joint committees came up with the substitute bill that seeks for the postponement of the first regional elections:

I. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines is sincere in its commitment for lasting peace and sustainable development in Muslim Mindanao

OPAPP Secretary Carlito Galvez has spoken: As the Chief national government implementer of the peace agreements aside from being the vaccination czar of the country, he believes that three years is not enough for a full transition to take place, more so given the damning effects of the COVID19 pandemic not only to the mobility of ALL people but even in the finances of the country. Thus, the transition must be extended for a longer period.

In line with this, I wish to remind the body that RA 11054 is a product of 17 years of peace negotiations between the national government and our Moro brethren who have initially waged a secessionist war for an independent Bangsamoro state, but have later on agreed to accept a broadened autonomy in a region that is now BARMM. Five decades of conflict; one hundred twenty thousand lives sacrificed; seventeen years of peace negotiations; fourteen months in operational existence then suddenly COVID19 struck, thus giving a blow and setback to the three short years of transition period. And now these people, who have waged war for five decades, are left with only but sixteen months to hurry up and deliver on the agreements as contained in the political and normalization tracks of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the BOL. Kahit pa madaliin at pilitin ng national government at ng MILF-led BTA na magdeliver sa mga napagkasunduan, the remaining nine months before the May 2022 elections or one month before the October 2021 filing of candidacy is not enough for both sides to deliver on the remaining 65 – 70% tasks in the political track alone, not to mention the huge task left in terms of the decommissioning of combatants, the transformation of camps, and the dismantling of private armed groups.

The establishment of the BARMM is the crowning glory of the five decades of MILF’s and MNLF’s mutiny. Is it not JUST, if not of humanitarian consideration, kung ipagpaliban na lang natin ang eleksiyon para mabigyan sila ng mas mahabang panahon para i-institute nila ang fundamental changes na gusto nila mailatag muna sa BARMM para maging guide ng mga susunod na mamumuno sa regional government? Can we not understand that the MILF and the MNLF, together with the National Government, must be at the helm of ensuring that their comrades are properly decommissioned and are well-reintegrated into the civilian society before they pass on the reins – the product of those long decades of their struggle and sacrifices – to the more politically-entrenched people who just happen to hail from the same region as these mujahideens, who not only sacrificed their time and presence in their respective families, but also willingly sacrificed their life and limbs for their then vision which now came to realization through these legal entities that we now refer to as the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the socio- and geopolitical zone Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao?

Furthermore, the national government and the MILF-led BTA have been working hard, and postponing the first regional government elections is a recognition of their need for more time to work harder in order to turn dreams into reality. Thus, the proposed postponement under question is also one way for the Congress of the Philippines to send a message to the Muslim community and the Organization of Islamic Conference that the Duterte administration is NOT keen on upholding politicking and bickering over the much greater humanitarian considerations and government’s commitment to the peace process so much so that the resetting of the first regional elections is NOT to be done simply out of whim.

II. The postponement of the first regional government election is not a curtailment of the peoples’ constitutional right to suffrage

If there is the notion of the constitutionality of a law that has been passed by Congress, then how much more if there are more than ten that the Congress of the Philippines have passed into laws?

Mister Speaker, postponement of elections is not new to the people. As a matter of fact, there are twelve laws that have been passed by the Congress of the Philippines since 1989 that postponed supposedly scheduled elections in the area pre-ARMM and during the time of the now defunct ARMM. Specifically, I am referring to

  1. RA No. 6734 that was promulgated on August 1, 1989;
  2. RA No. 7647 that was promulgated on March 5, 1993;
  3. RA No. 8046 on June 7, 1995;
  4. RA No. 8176 on December 29, 1995;
  5. RA No. 8746 on March 4, 1999;
  6. RA No. 8753 on September 8, 1999;
  7. RA No. 8953 on September 1, 2000;
  8. RA No. 9012 on February 28, 2001;
  9. RA No. 9054 on March 31, 2001;
  • RA No. 9140 on June 22, 2004;
  • RA No. 9333 on September 21, 2004; and
  • RA No. 10153 on June 30, 2011.

Furthermore, allow me to read a few paragraphs that were culled in a Supreme Court En Banc Decision on various cases lodged against the passage into law of RA No. 10153[2] entitled AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE SYNCHRONIZATION OF THE ELECTIONS IN THE AUTONOMOUS REGION IN MUSLIM MINDANAO (ARMM) WITH THE NATIONAL AND LOCAL ELECTIONS AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”, which, during its deliberation into law by Congress, was supported by four governors from ARMM:

“The grant of legislative power to Congress is broad, general and comprehensive. The legislative body possesses plenary power for all purposes of civil government. Any power, deemed to be legislative by usage and tradition, is necessarily possessed by Congress, unless the Constitution has lodged it elsewhere. Except as limited by the Constitution, either expressly or impliedly, legislative power embraces all subjects and extends to all matters of general concern or common interest.” 

Thus, reading through Article X of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, specifically Section 17, the Constitution has vested Congress the power for all purposes of civil government – the postponement of elections included – especially on interim measures pertaining to newly created local government units.

Going back to the En Banc decision regarding RA No. 10153, allow me to read two related paragraphs:

“The creation of local government units also represents instances when interim measures are required. In the creation of Quezon del Sur and Dinagat Islands, the creating statutes authorized the President to appoint an interim governor, vice-governor and members of the sangguniang panlalawigan although these positions are essentially elective in character; the appointive officials were to serve until a new set of provincial officials shall have been elected and qualified. A similar authority to appoint is provided in the transition of a local government from a sub-province to a province.

In all these, the need for interim measures is dictated by necessity; out-of-the-way arrangements and approaches were adopted or used in order to adjust to the goal or objective in sight in a manner that does not do violence to the Constitution and to reasonably accepted norms. Under these limitations, the choice of measures was a question of wisdom left to congressional discretion.”

Mister Speaker, given that the BARMM is still under transition period and no officials have been elected yet to office, the proposed postponement of the first election for the regional government is therefore still part of the interim measures. This stand has been reiterated to the joint committees by the House of Representatives’ Reference and Research Bureau in a comment and opinion dated April 21, 2021.

Moreover, the Supreme Court En Banc decision regarding RA 10153 has also this to say:

“The gravest challenge posed by the petitions to the authority to appoint OICs under Section 3 of RA No. 10153 is the assertion that the Constitution requires that the ARMM executive and legislative officials to be “elective and representative of the constituent political units.” This requirement indeed is an express limitation whose non-observance in the assailed law leaves the appointment of OICs constitutionally defective.

After fully examining the issue, we hold that this alleged constitutional problem is more apparent than real and becomes very real only if RA No. 10153 were to be mistakenly read as a law that changes the elective and representative character of ARMM positions. RA No. 10153, however, does not in any way amend what the organic law of the ARMM (RA No. 9054) sets outs in terms of structure of governance. What RA No. 10153 in fact only does is to “appoint officers-in-charge for the Office of the Regional Governor, Regional Vice Governor and Members of the Regional Legislative Assembly who shall perform the functions pertaining to the said offices until the officials duly elected in the May 2013 elections shall have qualified and assumed office.” This power is far different from appointing elective ARMM officials for the abbreviated term ending on the assumption to office of the officials elected in the May 2013 elections.”

House Bill No. 10121 is entitled “AN ACT RESETTING THE FIRST REGULAR ELECTIONS IN THE BANGSAMORO AUTONOMOUS REGION IN MUSLIM MINDANAO. AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE, SECTION 13 ARTICLE XVI OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 11054, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE “ORGANIC LAW FOR THE BANGSAMORO AUTONOMOUS REGION IN MUSLIM MINDANAO.”

From its title alone, HB No. 10121 does not seek to amend RA No. 11054 in terms of structure of governance, but to postpone the conduct of the first election for the regional government, thus, in a way, providing for sufficient time for the transition to be fully implemented.

Mister Speaker, this representation further posits for the postponement of the elections under question because the BAR Electoral Code is yet to be passed into law by the BTA. The question on districting BARMM’s constituent LGUs and setting up their representation in the BARMM Parliament must be clearly outlined, too. Furthermore, even if the ARMM Local Government Code of the defunct ARMM and other subsisting laws on elections and electoral matter shall be applied, there is still this question on what to do with the sixty-three barangays from North Cotabato that opted to join BARMM.

More to that, this representation wishes to underscore that HB No. 10121 does not seek to postpone the elections for the local government units under the jurisdiction of BARMM. The election for provincial governor down to the municipal or city councilors shall proceed on May 2022, but it is the intent of HB 8117 to postpone only the election of officials to run the regional government for reasons I have stated earlier.

In closing, allow me to emphasize that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fought against the Philippine Government for more than four decades, and had peace negotiations with the government for 17 years before the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed in 2014. Finally, another four years passed before the legislation of the then Bangsamoro Basic Law and now the Bangsamoro Organic Law was enacted in 2018. The people of the BARMM had overwhelmingly ratified the BOL, with their full knowledge of the interim mandate of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to prepare the new autonomous regional government for the benefit of the Bangsamoro. Thus, extending their mandate to 2025 is a realization of our promise to the Bangsamoro people.

Let me also take note of MP Lorena’s statement that the BTA basically became operational only in August 2019, when its members were only able to hire their staff-complement because of prior funding constraints. If this is accurate, then I would even venture to say that everyone of us was remiss in our duties in seeing to it that the BARMM should have gotten its due even before the start of the pandemic.

As such, Mister Speaker, for purposes of expediting the signing of House Bill No. 10121 and Senate Bill No. 2214 into law, it is my ardent prayer and hope that the House of Representatives Committee Report No. 1183 shall be immediately approved by this august body. This earnest request stems from the fact that the October 1-8, 2021 filing of certificates of candidacy in relation to the upcoming May 2022 national and local elections is fast approaching and the COMELEC, in its position paper dated February 8, 2021, has submitted, among others, that should Congress pass the bills seeking to reset to 2025 the BARMM Regional Parliament elections, then it should do so “in the earliest possible time to afford sufficient and ample time for the Commission to make the necessary adjustment in its preparation.”

Ladies and gentlemen of the House, there is also a lingering question about Section 2 of House Bill No. 10121 that reads

“SECTION 2. Upon the expiration of the terms of the incumbent members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the President shall appoint the eighty (80) members of the BTA who shall serve up to June 30, 2025 or until their successors shall have been elected.”

In understanding the intent of this Section, allow me to inform the members of the House that during the deliberation of the substitute bill in the joint committees, Rep. Balindong has raised three questions, particularly

  1. When does the term of the incumbent members of BTA expire?;
  2. Considering the power of the president to appoint and at the same time the power to remove, can the president remove the incumbent BTA members at any time?; and
  3. Suppose, after this bill becomes a law, President Duterte removes the incumbent members of the BTA and appoints new members, will the new members serve until June 30, 2025?

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to emphasize that Section 2 does NOT in any way affect the authority of the sitting President to appoint new members of the BTA and end the term of present ones. The BTA members are Presidential appointees, thus the established tradition that the appointees serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority. Meaning, the co-terminous nature of the appointment of BTA members is still being upheld. Should the President decide to end the term of a particular BTA member even before June 30, 2022, then he can always do so because, being the appointing authority, the President can always cause the expiration of the term of any of his appointees. In the same manner that once the reconciled version of HB No. 10121 and SB No. 2214 is signed by the President into law, he can always make changes in his appointment of the eighty (80) BTA members, who shall serve until June 30, 2025 or until their successors have been elected. Again, I wish to reiterate that this intent of Section 2 does not clip the authority of the next President to make changes in BTA appointments, but such changes must be for a cause. Meaning, the expiration before June 20, 2025 of the term of a BTA member, as to be declared by the President to be elected during the May 2022 elections, must be for a valid cause meriting such expiration or end of term.

This is the intent of the joint committee in crafting Section 2 of HB No. 10121, as well as the current jurisprudence of the Supreme Court with respect to coterminous appointments made by the President, as upheld in the case of Ong vs the Office of the President (G.R. No. 184219 dated January 30, 2012).

Finally, let me just remind our colleagues that it is incumbent upon us in the government to hold on to what we already have – a peace agreement with the MILF that shows visible signs of enduring. And the key part of that agreement is the appreciation of our Bangsamoro brethren of our sincerity and commitment to help them in their quest for self-determination. We cannot let them down and break their enduring trust to us.  An extension of another three years for the transition period is not only justifiable, but an avoidable necessity. The aspiration and attainment of peace is not only for the benefit of the BARMM but the whole country, as well. Thus, this appeal again to my dear colleagues to support these measures.

Thank you very much, Mister Speaker, and Wasalam.

[1] Heino Marius. Chairman’s Introductory Statement. Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) 6th Public Report. 14 Dec 2020

[2] G.R. 196271, G.R. 196305, G.R. 197221, G.R. 197280, G.R. 197282, G.R. 197392, and G.R. 197454. https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri2011/oct2011/gr_196271_2011.html. Last accessed on January 20, 2021

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