Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law not yet done but submission set for Monday

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 April) — The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) has yet to meet in plenary on Sunday to deliberate on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but has set Monday for submission of the draft to President Aquino, raising possibilities that the draft law will not be signed by all 15 members of the Commission.

MindaNews sources said some commissioners are complaining that the process is being “railroaded” by the MILF-dominated Commission, especially since several controversial provisions have yet to be resolved. The BTC has eight MILF members including the chair, Mohagher Iqbal, and seven members nominated by government.

“Hindi naman (No). Do you think the commissioners will agree to a railroad?” Iqbal, concurrent chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel, told MindaNews in a text message late Saturday afternoon.

The BTC, which first convened in April last year, targeted April 2014 as the deadline for submission of the draft law but changed this to March 31 during the courtesy call on President Aquino on January 30. The President will certify the bill as urgent and has asked Congress to pass the law by yearend 2014 to allow enough time for the transition until the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro government in 2016.

The BTC failed to submit the draft law on March 31.

After the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in Malacanang on March 27, the Commission worked until April 4 in a luxury hotel in Pasay where they were initially billeted for the signing, and in the BTC’s office in Cotabato City thereafter.

But rumblings and grumblings about alleged disregard for internal rules of the Commission as well as non-resolution of controversial issues have been hounding the BTC, even as Iqbal denies it.

“Everything is smooth,” he told MindaNews in a text message on Friday night.

Iqbal kept mum on the date for submission but MindaNews sources said the commissioners have been booked for the flight to Manila on Monday morning.

The Mindanao CSOs Platform for Peace (MCSOPP) preempted the BTC in announcing the submission of the draft law, even as the BTC has yet to meet in plenary.

In a press statement on Saturday, the MCSOPP, composed of 120 groups and networks earlier tapped by the BTC to conduct consultations on the BBL,  announced that the BTC will submit the draft to President Aquino in Malacanang on Monday, April 14.

BTC Communications chief Abdullah Cusain  confirmed the Commissioners would go to Malacanang on Monday “in full force.”

BTC insiders told MindaNews that some commissioners will not sign the draft law and are preparing a minority report.

“Serious discussions”

On Wednesday, the draft law was among the topics tackled during the “Conversations on Peacebuilding in Mindanao” organized by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue (CBCP-ECID) and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) at the Ateneo de Davao University.

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer admitted before 70 participants, including eight Mindanao bishops and archbishops, officials of Catholic schools, seminaries and peace centers that “to be honest, there are serious .. discussions that will still be needed to resolve on the matter of ancestral domain as this pertains to the Bangsamoro and as this pertains to other indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro.”

Indigenous peoples (IPs) within the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro (presently within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) have been raising concerns about their ancestral domains as well as in asserting their own identity separate from the Bangsamoro identity. Iqbal and other MILF officials have repeatedly said there is “only one ancestral domain in the Bangsamoro.

In an open letter to President Aquino dated April 7, the “Timuays, Datus Fintailans, Baes of Teduray, Lambangian, Dulangan Manobo, Erumanen ne Manuvu, Obo Manobo,” reminded the President that while the GPH-MILF’s Framework and Comprehensive agreements “may have answered consensus points for the Moro peoples… it raised a lot of crucial questions for us indigenous peoples.”
They asked, among others, why the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) “the very law that protects our rights as Indigenous Peoples, (is) not included in the FAB, Annexes and the CAB?”

According to a survey of the IPDev (Indigenous Peoples in the ARMM for Empowerment and Sustainable Development) in 2013, there are 122,914 individuals in 18,135 IP households within the proposed Bangsamoro. They reside in 80 barangays in 11 towns in Maguindanao – Ampatuan, Datu Abdullah Sangki, Datu Blah Sinsuat, Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Guindulungan, South Upi, Talayan, Upi — and one town in Lanao del Sur – Wao.
The Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo’s claimed ancestral territory within the ARMM “spans a total perimeter area of 215,941 hectares plus 93,779 hectares coastal waters,” IPDev said.

“Only Bangsamoro”

Ferrer was asked during the open forum on Wednesday about an alleged provision in the draft law defining who is Bangsamoro, specifying that only a Bangsamoro can become Chief Minister or run for public office.

She said there is “no need to put that into the law” in the same way that “you don’t see in the Constitution a definition on who are Filipinos, who are Ilocanos.”

“But I think the main question is whether in fact you can have a law that says only a self-ascribed Bangsamoro can run for office or be chief minister or something like that. That’s patently discriminatory. It cannot fly even if it’s put in the draft. It will not go anywhere to be frank about it. And there’s that kind of processing that we’re trying to do now to ensure that these things that can be very emotional for all sides, their side, other side, be processed smoothly so that it does not leave more divisions,” Ferrer said.

“Legally speaking, it can not be legalized,” she said, adding it’s like saying no black person can run for President of the United States.

“The Chief minister can be a Teduray, can be a Christian (within the Bangsamoro) who knows, especially over time when these differences are no longer the most important differences when we look whether one is Christian, Muslim or some other IP,” Ferrer explained.

On the question of ancestral domain, Ferrer said they had several discussions on it and while the matter of ancestral domain and other natural resources is within the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro government, “there are already good national laws that can protect groups of peoples.”

“Oppressed won’t oppress”

Ferrer shared with the audience that during the courtesy call on the President on January 30, “maybe now it can be said, as this is part of the history,” that when the question on the IP’s ancestral domains was raised by an IP member of the BTC, the President replied, “Maybe the people who have been previously oppressed will not be the ones to oppress.”

The primer released by the Joint Advocacy Group of the GPH and MILF in 2006 stated that the”legitimate rights of the IPs and the settlers will be respected” and that “the parties believe that one cannot right a wrong by committing another wrong.”

B’laan Datu Antonio Kinoc, an alternate member of the MILF peace panel who represented Iqbal at the “Conversations,” said: “If you put that in the law that only self-ascribed Bangsamoro or those who call themselves Bangsamoro can run for public office in Bangsamoro, that will never hold water. Because that itself, that is illegal. It is against law, it is against the Constitution of giving equal opportunity to all citizens and as Bangsamoro, they are not citizens of Bangsamoro per se they are Bangsamoro by identity but they are Filipino citizens.”

“These people who are propagating this idea are the very people who do not want peace,” he said.

On the issue raised by the IPs, Kinoc said he has always told his fellow IPs that “kung magpa-oppress kayo (if you allow yourselves to be oppressed), you will be oppressed.”

Atty. Haron Meling, Iqbal’s executive assistant at the BTC who also represented Iqbal at the “Conversations,” said the BTC has completed “more than one half” of the draft.

He acknowledged that there are “pasulpot-sulpot na problema” (problems that crop up) and that sometimes the commissioners cannot agree, but added Iqbal is personally managing the situation.

Shared future

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., former President of the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, said the historical narratives must contribute to a “coming together,” a shared experience, a shared future.

“Make it a shared identity. If identity is not a shared one, the problem would be sustainability. So long as there is separate development in the area, it will be a subtle form of apartheid,” he said.

“Until we come up with a shared identity, then perhaps we can look forward to a common future. Perhaps this common future will be the one to sustain our peace in this area,” he said .

Social anthropologist Fr. Albert Alejo of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University reiterated that the IPRA, which was passed in 1997, should be implemented in the Bangsamoro area.

“I look at IPRA as peace agreement between government and the IPs,” crafted through peaceful means. “This is an affirmative action. It is meant to correct historical injustice.”

The MILF had earlier repeatedly said that the IPs will get a better deal in the GPH-MILF peace process, as it will allegedly offer them “much more than IPRA.”

“Can the MILF be more generous than the state in really going beyond the IPRA?” Alejo asked. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)