Mindanao reps confident Congress will pass Bangsamoro Basic Law

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/25 January) —  Rep. Jesus Sacdalan, the governor of North Cotabato whose province petitioned and got the Supreme Court to stop the August 5, 2008 signing of the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is now actively campaigning among his colleagues in Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would govern the future Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 24-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and would have a ministerial form of government.

Sacdalan, who arrived at the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel, venue of the talks, on Friday afternoon, said House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte sent six of them here to assure the GPH and MILF peace panels of their support to the peace process.

House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur said he is confident they have the numbers in the House to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law because “this is our last chance for peace.”

But questions have been hounding the peace process if, indeed, the Aquino administration can muster the required number of votes given that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel, has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on November 19. The pork barrel has been used by several administrations to push for their pet bills.

Balindong told MindaNews that the pork barrel should not be a consideration in voting for peace. “Regardless of PDAF or not, this is our last chance for peace,” he said.

The House of Representatives has 289 members. A simple majority of  145 votes is required to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Balindong arrived at the talks venu  shortly before noon Saturday with Jim Hataman-Salliman of Basilan, chair of the House Committee on Peace and Reconciliation; Zajid Mangudadatu of Maguindanao; and Rep. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao in northern Luzon. Zamboanga City Rep. Lillia Nuno  has been here since Day 1 of the talks. Balindong’s son, Yasser, a member of the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly is also here.

For others, the number of votes is not a problem. If the election for the House Speaker and Senate President last July is a gauge, Belmonte won 245 votes from  out of 279 congressmen present while Senate President Franklin Drilon got 17 votes against former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s 6.

Congress might easily pass the law but the question remains if it will carry the provisions of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is presently drafting.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a Final Peace Agreement with the Philippine government in 1996,  had complained that Republic Act 9054 which amended RA 6734, the Organic Act creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) did not reflect the provisions agreed upon in the 1996 peace pact and MNLF chair Nur Misuari had repeatedly said that RA 9054 had rendered the ARMM less autonomous than it was.

 Last Annex

The panels signed on Saturday afternoon the last of the four Annexes – the Annex on Normalization — and the Addendum to the wealth and power-sharing annexes, on the Bangsamoro waters — paving the way for the completion of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012,  the panels agreed that the status quo is unacceptable and that they would work for the creation of the Bangsamoro which would have a ministerial form of government.

The panels have set a 15-step roadmap to June 30, 2016, the day President Aquino steps down from office and hopefully the same day when the first set of elected officials in what the President wants to leave behind as “legacy” — the Bangsamoro — begins office.

After the signing of the CAB in the Philippines in February or March,  the next step on the 15-step roadmap to the Bangsamoro is the completion of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law which the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission, headed by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal hopes to finish by April 2014.

The BTC was created by Executive Order of the President on December 17, 2012, based on what the parties had agreed upon in the FAB.

Once the draft BBL bill is transmitted to Congress (Step 6),  the President will certify the bill as urgent (Step 7).  Congress will then act on the bill (Step 8).

PNoy to Congress: pass BBL before end of  2014

In his State of the Nation Address on July 22 last year, President Aquino urged Congress to pass the BBL before the end of 2014. “Maipasa po sana ninyo ito bago matapos ang 2014. Sa gayong paraan, may sapat tayong panahon para makapaghanda sa paghalal ng bagong pamahalaang Bangsamoro sa 2016” (I ask you to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014. This way, we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government come 2016).

But Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chair of the Committees on Justice and Human Rights, and Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation, told MindaNews “we should not be obsessed with deadlines. We’ll try our best.”

Pimentel said what is important is to “pass a good law that is acceptable to all, acceptable to the constituents and which would be constitutional.”

He said he is also confident of getting the support of  the people. “Explanation na lang yan. Those who will be voting against (the Bangsamoro Basic Law) believe that their constituents would be against so if we explain directly to the constituents and convert them, their congressmen will be converted. So it’s just a matter of explanation.”

He said the situation now is so different from 2008 when the public was surprised about the announcement that there would be a signing on August 5 of the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

In 2008, he said, people were shocked to hear there would be a signing. It was so sudden, he said.

Consultations, Doubts

Sacdalan said that in North Cotabato, where some villages that voted yes in the 2001 plebiscite on the expanded ARMM said yes to inclusion, and whose areas are part of the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro, consultations are being held.

“Everybody wants to be enlightened but they’re all praying and hoping na magsa-succeed,” Sacdalan said, adding “there is nowhere to go but peace.”

Like Balindong, Sacdalan is confident they have the numbers although he admitted that some congressmen had expressed doubts when the Zamboanga tragedy in September happened.

Over a hundred persons were killed, at least a hundred residents hostaged and later freed, and at least 100,000 displaced when elements of the MNLF under Nur Misuari laid siege initially on four barangays in Zamboanga City, leading to a 20-day standoff that civil society representatives maintain, could have been avoided had government treated it as a peace process problem and not just an internal security problem.

The MNLF signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1976 and a “final peace agreement” in 1996

Mindanao Bloc

Sacdalan said Belmonte told him to relay the message to the public that he is “for peace” and for the success of the peace process.

He said that aside from Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, who has repeatedly been asking for assurance that the current negotiations will seal a deal that would bring peace,  “wala akong nakikitang vocal” (I don’t see anyone as vocal as Celso).

He said the Mindanao Bloc will meet in the next two weeks and that the congressmen who came over will report to them on their observations here.

Mindanao has 59 district representatives and eight party-list members who are Mindanawons.

In the Senate, there are two Mindanawons there – Senators Pimentel and Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the Senate Committee on Peace, Unity and Reconciliation, who arrived here Saturday noon.

Other steps

The seven other steps in the GPH-MILF roadmap:  9. Bangsamoro Basic Law bill submitted to the President for approval; 10. President signs the bill into law; 11. Plebiscite is held for the ratification of the law; 12. Promulgation and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law;  13. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is created. ARMM is deemed abolished; all devolved authorities are vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; 14. Ministerial form and Cabinet system of government will commence once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place; and 15. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is replaced upon the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)