Committee-approved BBL: Is it faithful to the peace pact? Is it more than ARMM?

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 22 May) — By a vote of 50 in favor, 17 against and one abstention on Wednesday afternoon, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) approved its substitute bill, HB 4994, providing for a Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, in what Committee chair Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro described as a “historic vote,” an “affirmative action to fully correct centuries of neglect and injustice.”

But is the substitute bill, which has been forwarded to the Committees on Ways and Means, and Appropriations before Rodriguez delivers his sponsorship speech on Wednesday, May 27, indeed, historic? Is it faithful to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on March 27, 2014? Does it give the future Bangsamoro more autonomy than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it seeks to replace? Is it inclusive enough? Does it address historical injustice and the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro? Is it going to end or perpetuate the “unacceptable status quo?”

It is the third time in the post-Marcos dictatorship Congress that an autonomy law for the Moro is being deliberated upon by Congress, the second time it is based on a peace agreement.

THE VOTE. By a vote of 50 in favor, 17 against and one abstention, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law approved it substitute bill for deliberations at the plenary. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo
THE VOTE. By a vote of 50 in favor, 17 against and one abstention, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law approved it substitute bill for deliberations at the plenary. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

RA 9054, intended to amend RA 6734, the Organic Act creating the ARMM, to incorporate the provisions of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), was passed in 2001, with the MNLF then, led by founding chair and ARMM Governor Nur Misuari, repeatedly complaining that the amendatory law rendered the ARMM “less autonomous that it was.”

Initial reactions to the Committee-approved bill point to provisions that, if not addressed during the plenary deliberations, will make the future Bangsamoro region “less autonomous than the ARMM.”

Quantitatively 90%, Qualitatively 50-50

MILF peace panel chair told MindaNews Wednesday that the Committee-approved version is “90% okay but added he is deeply concerned about those in the CAB and FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro) that were deleted or transferred or superimposed.”

“Very hard to describe,” Iqbal, also chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, admitted.

Asked to elaborate on his “90% okay” statement Iqbal replied: “quantitatively, 90% but qualitatively, baka 50% lang.” He said they were still making an accounting of the provisions won and lost.

For government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the Committee-approved version carried three major substantive elements: “the structure of government, automatic block grant, and the layered voting process where the majority vote in thex six  Lanao Norte municipalities and 39 North Cot barangays shall be determined at the level of the LGU (local government unit).”

“Most other articles, especially on fiscal and economic matters were preserved. Promotion of women’s  and IP’s welfare were enhanced.  However, there were cutbacks on the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro government over natural resources, albeit not on the wealth-sharing from the exploration, development and utilization of these resources. In short, far from independence but much more than the ARMM and with sufficient werewithal to exercise meaningful autonomy.”


Lawyer Raissa Jajurie, BTC Commissioner, told MindaNews there are “problematic provisions” in the substitute bill, one of which is Section 2, Article 12 on Economy and Patrimony.

“The Committee used the same problematic language found in RA 9054. If it is problematic, why use it again? What, who defines what is ‘strategic minerals’? And more importantly, this goes against what was painstakingly negotiated,” said Jajurie, who was in the MILF peace panel’s team that negotiated Wealth-Sharing.

“In the peace agreement, it couldn’t be any clearer: the Bangsamoro Government and the Central Government shall jointly exercise the power to grant rights, privileges and concessions over the exploration, development and utilization of fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) and uranium in the Bangsamoro.”

Adhoc committee chair Rufus Rodriguez talks to members of the Friends of Peace after the voting on Bangsamoro Basic Law on May 20, 2015. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Adhoc committee chair Rufus Rodriguez talks to peace advocates after the voting on Bangsamoro Basic Law on May 20, 2015. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Rodriguez’ Chairman’s Working Draft released on May 13 retained the provision but the Chairman’s and Vice Chairperson’s Working Draft, distributed towards noon of May 18 and which, hours later, became the basis for the voting despite objections from Committee members who wanted to be given time to study the new draft, has been amended to read “The Bangsamoro Government shall have the authority, power, and right to the control and supervision over the exploration, utilization, development, and protection of the mines and minerals and other natural resources within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in accordance with the Constitution and the pertinent provisions of this Basic Law except for the strategic minerals such as uranium, petroleum, and other fossil fuels, mineral oils, and all sources of potential energy, provided that the Bangsamoro Government shall be consulted.”

Naguib Sinarimbo, former ARMM Executive Secretary and a member of the MILF peace panel’s legal team said “thiss concept of strategic minerals has been a source of problem in the (peace agreement between the government and Moro National Liberation Front) and in RA 9054 and the subject of extensive discussions in the Tripartite Review of the GPH-MNLF Peace agreement and was never resolved. The phrase is problematic as the list of strategic minerals can go beyond the enumeration and before you know it. almost all resources would now be classified as strategic and therefore now outside the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro Government. What is even funny is that the genus ‘all sources of potential energy, besides including the water in Lake Lanao as a potential source of energy, may also include your fart. Yes, even your fart is outside the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro because it is methane gas and a potential source of energy.”

Even Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) noted the change from joint management to mere consultation. “Strategic resources tinanggal. Then audit power is internal auditing lang… Sana may ngipin konti. Sana sa strategic resources may compromise.”

But Hataman said the substitute bill is “better than ARMM.”

“Nothing to celebrate”

For Muslimin Sema, chair of one of the factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who was Secretary-General during the peace negotiations from 1992 to 1996, “there’s nothing to celebrate.”

“The strength stipulated in the 42 consensus points and co-management of strategic minerals and the 50-50 shairng were even lost. Appropriate discussion or consultation has to be done if the intention is to go back or even connect the CAB/BBL with the mother agreement or the use of the products of the Tripartite Review (government-MNLF and the OIC or Organization of the Islamic Cooperation).

Sema’s son, Omar, a lawyer, describes the substitute bill as “very way below the ARMM.”

“In the stalled Tripartite Review, the GPH and MNLF agreed that the autonomous region shall have 50-50 sharing in the proceeds and to a joint management in Strategic Minerals, the non-inclusion of these provisions not only proves the MNLF’s allegations that GPH (Government of the Philippines) has left them out in the peace process. These provisions are one part of the 42 consensus points which the GPH boastfully alleges to have taken into the proposed BBL. With the non-inclusion of these provisions, the BBL is the same dog with a ‘wang-wang’ collar.”

The younger Sema explained that “the very absence of that provision makes the BAR lower than ARMM. The resources are not only potential sources of energy such as water and fossil fuel, and they can make or unmake our quest for relative independence. Without having any say in their exploration, exploitation and utilization, we will remain dependent on the central government.”

He also said the specification of the powers of the future Bangsamoro region “does not make it more powerful than the is more apparent than real. In reality, the specification effectively limits the powers of the BAR.”

He added that the Bangsamoro Paliament uncer Article XVI “has no power to initiate amendment and revision of the Basic law in contrast to the power to do so under Article XVII of R.A. No. 9054.”

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, spokersperson of MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari said he has yet to read the bill in its entirety but from his initial reading, “it seems not adequate to address remaining issues in the Tripartite Review on strategic minerals, territory and provisional government.”

“Gains should not be lost”

Undersecretary Jose Lorena of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said the gains of the peace process “should not be lost because if the gains are lost, the people will not be satisfied and people will again clamor for genuine autonomy. If we remove the powers already in ARMM, we will go back, we will not move forward.”

ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia, wonders why the provision on a human rights commission was weakened in the substitute bill when this is already provided for in RA 9054, and in fact, there is a Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) in the ARMM.

Under the substitute bill, the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission shall be supervised by the national Commission on Human Rights.

Alamia, the first chair of the ARMM’s RHRC told MindaNews that the RHRC is “independent from CHR national though part of its charter passed by the Regional Legislative Assembly states that it has institutional partnership with CHR national. But it’s not under CHR.”

“Mas independent ang RHRC also because is it not the Regional Governor who appoints its commissioners but the President with graduated number of years as term. So no commissioner is appointed under the same president or the same regional governor to keep it away from political influence,” Alamia said.

“Very, very sad day”

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, who raised the most number of questions during the section-by-section deliberations said, “I am not anti-Peace but we need a BBL that is just, fair, acceptable and feasible and most important consistent with the Constitution and the existing laws.”

"A very, very sad day," said Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo
“A very, very sad day,” said Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

“We have listened to the voice of the people, those who are for and those who are against. Unfortunately, there are many, many, many provisions in the basic law that really go against our Constitution, that make it very difficult for adjoining areas and also there are many provisions that are very ambiguous,” he added.

“I think I have made more than 150 amendments, principled amendments, logical amendments. There was basis in law and Constitution; I explained each and very amendment… It is really a very, very sad day. I am for peace but I am not for appeasement at the expense of the Republic.”

“A strong and unequivocal No dahil hindi maghahatid ng kapayapaan ang BBL” (because BBL won’t bring peace), Senior Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, said.

Colmenares said the BBL won’t bring genuine peace to Mindanao because “it does not address the roots of the conflict.”

Makabayan bloc members Neri Colmenares, Antonio Tinio and Carlos Isagani Zarate scrutinize the draft of Bangsamoro Basic Law during a marathon hearing on May 19, 2015. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
Makabayan bloc members Neri Colmenares, Antonio Tinio and Carlos Isagani Zarate scrutinize the  Chairman’s and Vice Chairperson’s working draft during the marathon hearing on May 19, 2015. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

“BBL failed to do this BBL failed to address the roots of conflict that is why there will still be war. Sayang na sayang.”

Colmenares blamed the “yellow version” of the BBL or what he has been referring to as the Malacanang version, which became the basis for voting instead of the consolidated report of the Committee.

“There was a hearing but Malacanang was not listening. We missed our chance for peace . We missed our chance to peace because Malacanang corrupted it,” he said.

Status quo

Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, also of Bayan Muna also voted No because “hindi nito sasagutin ang historial injustice committed agiasnt the Bangsamoro people. Our promised autonomy is hunghang,” He said the control, specifically on resources, still lies with the central government, making it “an empty victory for the Bangsamoro people.”

Zarate said RA 9054, the law governing the ARMM and which the substitute bill intends to repeal, contains a provision on agrarian reform, but there is no similar provision in the substitute bill.

Zarate proposed to insert “agrarian reform” in one of the provisions but his motion was defeated.

“Paano magkaroon ng development sa Bangsamoro area kung ang resources kino-control ng iilan? Hindi pa rin mai-implement ang totoong pagbabago sa Bangsamoro,” he said.

Rep. Antonio Tinio of the party-list ACT Teachers, also voted No because the bill, particularly its “malabnaw na bersyon ng Malacanang” (diluted Malacanang version) won’t bring peace.

He said the Bangsamoro needs genuine autonomy but BBL is giving it limited autonomy. “Binawasan pa ang poder na binigay sa Bangsamoro sa larangan ng defense and security, public order, et.c. natural resources. binawi pa ng Malacanang version ang control ng Bangsamoro sa kagubatan , fossil fuels, minerals, etc…”

He said the substitute bill “will perpetuate and won’t change the status quo” as he expressed fear the Bangsamoro “will be subject to more exploitation.”

Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, deputized by Deputy Minority Leader Lino Cayetano,  said the BBL is “not a solution but will perpetuate the status quo.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)