DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 May) — “The future of Mindanao and the Philippines is in your hands,” a Catholic priest said as he and other supporters of the peace process urged the 75 members of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law to cast their vote in favor of a Bangamoro Basic Law (BBL) that is faithful to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the peace panels of the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Font (MILF) signed after 17 years of negotiations.
The Committee will begin voting on May 11 and 12, and according to Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the AHCBBL, May 13, “if necessary.”
Once approved, the Committee Report is expected to be brought to the Plenary on May 18 for debates.
Monday’s voting, which will begin at 1:30 p.m. in open session, will be greeted by a mass action of peace groups marching from St. Peter’s Parish along Commonwealth Avenue to the House of Representatives from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Fr. Amado Picardal, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Basic Ecclesial Communities, said the BBL “is the fruit of the peace negotiation between the government and the MILF that can lead to a lasting peace based on justice in Mindanao. The future of Mindanao and the Philippines is in your hands. Please pass the BBL without watering it down. We are all tired of war. Peace is our only option.”
Last week, Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato, said legislators “are the key holders to a just and lasting peace in the Southern Philippines.”
“In the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the peace process of more than 15 years is in their hands. They can lock the door to lasting peace if they so emasculate the BBL as to make the Bangsamoro self-determination a meaningless word. Or they can unlock the door to a just peace if they act as the final crowning peacemakers who will create a Bangsamoro self-determining territory worth its name, as part and parcel of the Philippine republic,” he said.
An entire nation’s future
Addressing the Committee members, Gus Miclat, Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) and co-convenor of the Mindanao Peaceweavers, said: “One is not given such a rare opportunity in his or her lifetime to help shape someone’s, nay, an entire people’s– an entire nation’s future. That is where you are at today. But even with such an awesome responsibility and a ton of expectations either way, you are already blessed,” he said, adding he prays that “you will pass on your blessing to Mindanao as you soberly deliberate and decide on passing an inclusive and just Bangsamoro Basic Law that not only adheres to the spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, but that will also finally unshackle the Bangsamoro people from the bondage of bigotry, the barnacles of underdevelopment and the cuffs of colonialism.”
“May you be guided by the divine wisdom that reside in the tears of the mothers and widows in Maguindanao, the wry wrinkles and dry throats of evacuees in the makeshift camps in Pikit and Parang, the calloused fingers and throbbing hearts of soldiers and mujahideens in the fastness of Lanao and Sulu, and the smiles and soft laughter of the children in the fields, backyards, classrooms and streets all over Mindanao. Pass the BBL. It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Samira Gutoc of the Young Moro Professionals and Friends of Peace, has a simple message to the legislators: “Let your name carve out in memory as one who pushed and signed the basic bill that fundamentally altered the lives of conflict-battered civilians.”
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer is asking Congress to “please make a good BBL your legacy to the country” while MILF peace panel and concurrent BTC chair Mohagher Iqbal says legislators “should rise above selves and respond to the call of peace by passing a good BBL.”
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said the country is“faced with the historic opportunity to finally fulfill the constitutional mandate and promise of true autonomy; bring to an end four decades of violent conflict in Mindanao; install and strengthen democratic institutions to overcome deprivation and lawlessness; and collectively embrace and celebrate the richness of our multiple identities, cultures, and narratives.”
She said she hopes legislators will “wholeheartedly claim – and not deny nor squander – their key role in fulfilling this opportunity that may not come again within our lifetime.”
“We need a BBL that will embody our best hopes and not give in to our worst fears. In the coming vote on the BBL, please let the children be the focus of attention and concern – their lives, their future – the children of Mamasapano equally with the children of Metro Manila.”
For Datu Michael Mastura, a former congressman of Maguindanao and an active member of the MILF negotiating peace panel until November 2012, “it’s not for the 75 representatives to decide the future political status of the Bangsamoro people. That right belongs properly to the Bangsamoro only.”
Mastura said the Committee’s draft bill “must reflect but not supplant three intertwined documents,” citing the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), CAB and BBL.
“A full House debate must be substantial on the negotiated provisions,” he asid.
The Committee Report, he stressed, “must contain various legal due diligence review by the Office of the President and take into consideration the Ad Referendum by GPH and MILF negotiating panels to their respective principals.”
“A plenary debate is essential to give broader constituency perspectives. To engage in a line by line voting is a form of ‘vetocracy’ that arrogates to a few House members the cut and paste process of legislative mill,” he said.
Mastura explained that during the negotiations, he insisted that the President certifies the bill as urgent; and that a congressional resolution be passed to support the BBL “as enabling means to flesh out the negotiated provisions.”
“Both resolutions expressing ‘the sense’ of Congress were passed, though not jointly but separately. This was done when now Justice (Marvic) Leonen (then government peace panel chair) and I were actively serving in the opposite sides of the Peace Panels! I am putting this on record as an important reminder to that honorable ‘sense’ of both Chambers of Congress where once I sat as an elected member.”
Congressional resolutions, Certified Urgent
The FAB, signed October 15, 2012, provided for the creation of the Transition Commission, the body that would draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, “through an Executive Order and supported by Congressional Resolutions.”
The Senate and the House of Representatives passed resolutions separately but on the same day – on December 19, 2012 – House Resolution 971 and Senate Resolution 922 — in support of the December 17 Executive Order creating the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the 15-member, MILF-led GPH-MILF body tasked to draft the Basic Law.
The FAB also provided under Article VII, Section 7 that the draft BBL submitted by the BTC “shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.”
Congress resumed sessions on May 4, after a six-week break to deliberate on priority legislations, including the BBL. But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. told MindaNews on May 4 that President Aquino has yet to issue a certificate of urgency on the matter of the BBL.
“I think he wants to take a look at it first before he does. As of now, wala pa,” Belmonte said.
Rodriguez told MindaNews last month that he expected the certificate of urgency to be issued by the President “when sessions resume.”
MindaNews’ sources privy to the Bangsamoro peace process said Murad met with the President on January 13 this year to express concern over the absence of a written certificate of urgency. At that time, Congress was expected to pass the BBL before Congress took a break in the third week of March.
Fr. Roberto Layson, OMI, head of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s Inter-Religious Dialogue and co-convenor of the Grassroots Peace Monitors Network, urged Committee members to “please, listen to your heart first before you make your decision, a heart full of compassion and not full of hatred. I hope the BBL is not diluted in substance but just refined in words to make it constitutional and acceptable to the MILF and the government and also to Lumads, Muslims and Christians. It should be a win-win solution for all.”
In addressing the lawmakers, Dean Tony Lavina of the Ateneo School of Government and the Xavier University’s College of Law, said: “This is a critical decision you are about to make. Mindanao is so ready to move forward, to fulfill its promise, to fly like the Philippine Eagle it is home to. Please make that happen. The wrong vote that leads to the wrong BBL will stop that and ground us again in war conflict and despair.”
On the kind of BBL he hopes the Committee would pass, Lavina said, “I would like an improved BBL that preserves most of the ideas in the draft and that complies substantially with the CAB. I do expect changes, even deletions, but hopefully not too many and especially not the provisions on power and revenue sharing if lowered, form of governance and fiscal autonomy. I would like an elaboration of IP (Indigenous Peoples) rights, an assurance that IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act) rights would be recognized and not diminished and that FPIC (Free and Prior Informed Consent) of lumads be followed. At the very least, the BBL should strengthen and expand ARMM’s autonomy and not reduce it. Any reduction of the current powers of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) makes the BBL a failure and, if that happens, let’s just keep the ARMM law and amend it piece meal.”
Christian Monsod, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted what would be the 1987 Constitution and a former chair of the Commission on Elections, said the BBL vote by the Committee “will decide if it will die an early death or will move on to plenary.”
“A BBL which gives real autonomy is part of the social justice reason for Bangsamoro. Without that as the platform, the more difficult part of the Bangsamoro story, the human development of its peoples, will not happen. The good men and women of the House Committee, and there are many of them, are aware of this and I believe that they will give the BBL the chance it deserves,” he said.
“As you cast your vote tomorrow, vote with the heart of a mother. Like a mother, vote to nurture, protect and stand for the happiness and well being of your children,” lawyer Mary Ann Arnado of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus said.
Arnado said she hopes the Committee members will “pass a BBL that is consistent, faithful and compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Anything short of that will be an exercise in futility. BBL will legalize the peace formula. If you remove one ingredient or add another that will destroy the formula, that will be a recipe for disaster.”
Addressing roots of conflict
Drieza Liningding of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development urged Committee members to seriously consider the sentiments and suggestions of the Bangsamoro People during the hearings they conducted. “They should pass a BBL reflective of what the FAB and CAB contains. The Bangsamoro People will be the ones affected by this law, not those living outside – -Moro sentiments should weigh more than those who oppose who have no interest in the Bangsamoro. BBL is meant to solve the conflict in Mindanao that has claimed more than a hundred thousand lives already.”
Liningding said Committee “should pass a BBL in the spirit of CAB or the draft that the BTC Submitted to the President and Congress. They should bear in mind that the CAB is the result of decades old negotiation and hard bargaining. Any deletion of important provisions like the provision on inland waters is tantamount to treachery.”
Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsmaoro Civil Society (CBCS) said he would like to appeal to the Committee members “that their version of the BBL must do the following: address the roots of the Mindanao conflict; provide appropriate response to the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro; address the historical social injustices against the Bangsamoro; and address the need for harmonious co-existence of the peoples in Mindanao. The BBL must therefore be attuned to that. The draft BBL is consistent with that goal.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)