DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /17 May) – The fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) — whether it is one that adheres to the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) or one that may render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) – is in the hands of 98 representatives, majority of them from Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities.
All representatives from Mindanao’s 59 congressional districts are members of the 75-member Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL).
The Committee’s 75 members plus 23 ex officio members – or a total of 98 representatives — are expected to vote in open session on May 18, 19 and 20.
There would be no explanation of the vote, said AHCBBL chair Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez. That will be done at the plenary, which he expects to begin on May 25 “from 4 p.m. to midnight or from morning to evening” and last for about two weeks.
Rodriguez said they want to ensure the BBL is passed before Congress adjourns sine die on June 11.
He added that the BBL’s approval will require a majority of those who are present. The Committee’s quorum is 15.
Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, the Archbishop of Cotabato and lead convenor of Friends of Peace, has been repeatedly urging members of Congress to look at their role in the passage of the BBL as “eminently one of peacemaking.”
“Our legislators are in the enviable position to crown 17 years of peacemaking with the approval of the BBL. To my mind, they are not only legislators. Regarding the BBL their legislative role is eminently one of peacemaking,” Quevedo said in an article he wrote on May 12, a day after attending what was supposed to be Day 1 of the voting.
Akin to a spiritual crossroad: life and death
He explained that legislators “can either ignore the painstaking achievement of 17 years of peacemaking by emasculating the BBL in such a way that the aspiration of self-determination becomes once more a hollow dream. Or they can strengthen the BBL, refining its letter and preserving its spirit, such that the issues of constitutionality, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, devolution of power, the nature of a regional autonomous region, the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Christian minorities, as well as peoples of other faiths, and other issues, are resolved.”
He acknowledged that the BBL “will not solve all the problems of criminality and lack of peace” and will not end all armed conflict due to rido or land disputes. “Small groups will continue to fight for secession. But the BBL is the alternative for the greatest majority of the Bangsamoro and for our own military and security forces who are tired of war. It is the alternative to radicalization and extremism now spreading towards Southeast Asia and creeping into our shores,” he said.
The Cardinal added: “The Lord of history has brought us to a crossroad on the journey to a just and lasting peace. The crossroad is akin to the scriptural crossroad. One way leads to death. The other leads to life.”
Legislators as Peace-builders
The Peace Council, which presented to President Aquino on May 4 its report on its findings and recommendations on the BBL noted that the BBL must be understood in its proper context, that it is not an ordinary legislation but a product of a peace agreement that was “forged after decades-old peace negotiations, borne out of the country’s exhaustion with war,” and that negotiations wee done with the participation of international facilitators and observers.
“This does not mean, however, that the Congress, as the repository of legislative powers, is deprived of the exercise of its constitutional prerogative. On the contrary, understanding the nature of the BBL will place greater significance on the legislative process and put it in the proper perspective,” the Peace Council’s report said.
The legislative process, it added, “must be seen as an indispensable and final step to complete and implement the agreement. Legislation must be seen, therefore, as a continuation and finalization of the peace agreement. Legislators are not only policy formulators, they become peace-builders.”
“More than an alternative to independence or secession, the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region through the BBL must be seen as an alternative to war. Again, this is not to say that the threat of war is a Damocles sword that hangs above the Legislative’s head. This is just to emphasize that legislation, in this context, should be seen as a peace-building exercise,” the Peace Council said.
The core territory of the future Bangsamoro is the present composition of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan; the cities of Cotabato and Isabela; the six towns in Lanao del Norte (Balo-i, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal) and 39 barangays in the North Cotabato towns of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigcawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted “yes” to inclusion in an expanded ARMM in 2001; and “all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10% of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the process of delimitation of the Bangsamoro.”
Residents in the present ARMM, Cotabato and Isabela cities, the six Lanao del Norte towns and 39 villages in six North Cotabato towns will vote in a plebiscite to ratify the BBL.
Party list reps from Mindanao
In addition to the 59 congressional district representatives, there are at least nine party-list Representatives who are from Mindanao, eight of htem members of the AHCBBL: Luz Ilagan of Davao City who was been representing Gabriela Women’s Party since 2007; Edgardo Masongsong of 1CARE (1st Consumers Alliance For Rural Energy, Inc); Mariano Piamonte of Padada, Davao del Sur who represents A Teacher (Advocacy For Teacher Empowerment Through Action Cooperation And Harmony Towards Educational Reforms); Maximo Rodriguez, Jr. of Cagayan de Oro City who represents Abante Mindanao, Inc. (Abamin); Sitti Djalia A. Turabin-Hataman of Basilan, representing Anak Mindanao (AMin); Carlos Isagani T. Zarate of General Santos City who has been based in Davao City since the late 1980s, representing Bayan Muna.
Three of the 23 ex officio memers are from Mindanao: Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur, Carol Jayne B. Lopez of YACAP (Youth Against Corruption and Poverty), and former Justice Secretary Silvestre Bello III of the party-list 1-BAP (Banat and Ahapo party list coalition).
Piamonte founded the St. Michael’s College in Padada, Davao del Sur and was former executive director of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines Rodriguez is president of Abamin. He worked previously at the National Police Commission, Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Customs and before becoming party-list representative, worked at the Congressional Office of his brother Rufus,who was elected to a third term as representative of the second district of Cagayan de Oro City.
Sitti Djalia A. Turabin- Hataman founded Pinay Kilos (PinK), an organization based in Zamboanga City that focuses on peace, health, and women’s rights in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi- tawi, and Zamboanga Sibugay. She is the wife of ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman.
Luz Ilagan of Davao City taught English at the Ateneo de Davao University before becoming city councilor and later Gabriela paryt-list representative.
Bello, who hails from Isabela, rose to national prominence in Davao City during the fight against the Marcos dictatorship, after the assassination of President Aquino’s father, Ninoy in 1983. After the Marcoses were ousted in February 1986, he was named Justice Undersecretary and later as Justice Secretary. He also served as peace panel chair in the negotiations with the National Democratic Front.
Lopez, a graduate of De La Salle University, is co-founder of Yacap. She is now based in Sarangani and General Santos City.
Masongsong was former manager of the Bukidnon Second Electric Cooperative.
Zarate, a human rights lawyer and a former journalist, is on his first term as Bayan Muna representative.
MindaNews prepared a table (see attachment) containing the list of the 98 voters: 75 members of the AHCBBL as well as the 23 ex-officio members. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)