ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/29 November) — Warning that the rejection of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would mean “more killings and destruction,” a lawmaker appealed to some 500 people who attended the House public hearing Friday on the proposed law to “listen to your hearts” and try to reach a compromise on conflicting positions.
Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a member of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL said that while he said it here the same request holds true for the rest of the country.
Biazon, a former soldier who had a long stint in Mindanao, observed that for the past 21 public hearings by the committee, “we have heard at least 600 position papers read before us, many of which have opposing views on many different issues and concerns.”
Among these, he pointed out, is on the definition of the territory of the future Bangsamoro political entity, which was the subject of opposition by the local government.
In the draft law, areas contiguous to the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro may petition to join the plebiscite to ratify the charter of the regional government. Eight of the city’s hinterland barangays share borders with towns in either Lanao del Sur or Lanao del Norte which are in the proposed core territory.
This city of some 250,000 people hosts a sizable number of Moros—mostly Maranaos—either as transients (students, traders and shoppers) or as permanent residents.
In 2008, local leaders were among those who questioned before the Supreme Court the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that included eight of the city’s hinterland barangays in the proposed Moro homeland.
The case led to the declaration of the MOA-AD as unconstitutional.
Iligan City Rep. Vicente Belmonte said that while the draft Bangsamoro law no longer includes the city in its proposed territory, the provisions allowing contiguous local government units to opt to join the Bangsamoro threatens the city’s territorial integrity.
Former mayor Lawrence Cruz, who spoke before the public hearing, said the eight barangays comprise some 65,000 hectares of the more than 82,000 hectares of the city’s land area.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process has consistently said that the issue of inclusion or non-inclusion in the Bangsamoro is best left to the people to decide through the plebiscite as a democratic exercise.
Biazon emphasized that the matter should be resolved based on the Constitution.
Standing from his seat and turning to the audience, Biazon said: “I am asking you, is it possible to reconcile these positions? Can we reconcile? Are you willing to compromise?”
Some participants gave a resounding “Yes”, some fell silent, and still others just muttered to themselves.
“You answer with your hearts. I hope what we are hearing now are answers from your heart,” Biazon said. “What we hear from your minds can change. What we hear from your hearts cannot easily change. So I ask again, Is what we’re hearing what you feel?”
“The keyword, my friends, is compromise. (Only) one thing cannot be compromised, that is, the issue of constitutionality,” he added.
Biazon then waxed sentimental: “I have seen so much violence in my life as a soldier.”
He recalled that his first tour of duty in Mindanao followed the November 1971 massacre in the village of Tacub in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte.
“I was fighting (Tupay) Loong in Jolo… We were killing each other, and we are tired of these,” Biazon said.
Loong is a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front who saw action in Jolo in 1972 when the rebel group fought a war for secession from the Philippine state.
“Since then the condition of unpeace has become a disease in our country, a disease we are trying to look a cure for. And I hope this (Bangsamoro) will be the cure,” said Biazon.
Both Loong and Biazon are now members of the House of Representatives and belong to the ad hoc committee on the BBL, a law that is expected to address the Moro people’s aspiration for self-determination and bring about lasting peace in Mindanao.
“We thought the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) was the cure. But we continue to pile up the number of those killed in battle, accounting to some 120,000 already,” Biazon, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, noted.
“What is painful is that sons of poor farmers are fighting each other in the battlefield, whether for the rebel group or for the government,” he said.
“(But) the most painful of all, the farmers themselves are caught in the crossfire,” he added.
The former general ended his remarks by jokingly telling Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat and local lawyer Moises Dalisay: “What happened to the MOA-AD cannot be allowed to happen to the BBL because the alternative will be more destruction. And most painful of all, more killings.”
Lobregat, a member of the ad hoc committee, used to be Zamboanga City mayor in 2008 while Dalisay used to be Iligan city councilor. Both were among the petitioners against the MOA-AD in the Supreme Court.
During the hearing, Lobregat and Dalisay, along with Cruz, said they oppose the BBL because it contains provisions that are unconstitutional. (See related story)
On Friday the House held three simultaneous hearings, one in Iligan, one in Tubod, Lanao del Norte, and another one in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur.
On Saturday, another hearing took place in Cagayan de Oro City. (Ryan Rosauro/for MindaNews)