DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 May) – The House of Representatives will meet in plenary on Monday, June 1 until Congress adjourns sine die on June 11, to deliberate and vote on the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law’s substitute bill that, if carried by the majority, will create a new autonomous political entity that is “less than the ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace.
This, as former Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin, warned Congress against passing a “recipe for disaster.”
“If Congress will give another failed experiment, do not expect the Bangsamoro to produce miracles. The same failed experiment will also be the result of the kind of law that Congress will enact for the Bangamoro,” Salapuddin said at the Experts’ Forum of the Cotabato City-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG) held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City on Friday, May 29.
The Ad Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) voted for the substitute bill on May 20, with 50 in favor, 17 against and one abstention. Afer the voting, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, committee chair, told MindaNews that the proposed law they approved is giving more to the Bangsamoro what the present ARMM has. “We’ve given more powers,” he said.
At the Experts’ Forum, the Cotabato City-based Bangsamoro Study Group (BSG) presented a list of provisions in the House Committee’s substitute bill – the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” — that allegedly violate the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on March 27, 2014, as well as provisions that took out powers already granted the ARMM under RA 9054.
“The proposed amendments change the framework of the agreement of the parties on changing the status quo and of redefining the relation between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro to a point that the Bangsamoro has been reduced into the category of an LGU (local government unit),” lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, a co-convenor of the Cotabato City-based BSG said.
“In our analysis, the block grant is not a substitute for economic provisions. You’ve een how it’s framed. All the good economic provisions were removed. What was left to us is the block grant, half of which is for the Department of Education,” Mastura said.
“Ibig sabihin, kawawang-kawawa ang investors namin, private sector namin,” he said, adding that if the Committee-approved BBL is passed by the plenary, they’d be better off under RA 9054, the law governing the present ARMM.
Sinarimbo, who served as ARMM Executive Secretary from December 2009 to December 2011, made a presentation on the political aspects of the BBL while Mastura, head of the ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments, focused on the economic provisions.
The two served as lawyers and members of the technical working group of the MILF peace panel, with Mastura, who finished his Master of Law in Petroleum Law & Policy at the University of Dundee in Scotland, serving as technical consultant on natural resources.
Sinarimbo listed at least 45 problematic provisions in the Committee draft while Mastura listed at least 18, two of these from the Committee on Ways and Means where the Ad Hoc Committee-approved bill was forwarded and where major amendments to the taxation provisions were made (see presentations in separate files – BSG-Autonomy-Political-wordfile and BSG-Autonomy-Economic-wordfile).
Mastura said provisions in the original BBL draft were lifted verbatim from the CAB so a lot of provisions changed by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL) and the Committee on Ways and Means “also directly violated the CAB provisions.”
“Changes in the BBL may violate not just the CAB but the peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),” he said.
The government and MNLF signed the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with RA 9054 as the enabling law of the latter. Like the draft BBL, a number of the provisions in the 1996 peace agreement were lifted verbatim into RA 9054.
Efforts are being undertaken, with the assistance of the 57-member nation – Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to harmonize the tracks of the peace agreements they signed separately with the Philippine government. Last week, the OIC met in Kuwait at the sidelines of the 42nd Council of Foreign Ministers conference, with the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) composed of leaders from the MILF and the MNLF factions.
Salapuddin, principal author of RA 9054, said at the Expert’s Forum that it would be “disastrous” to pass a law that is not acceptable to both the MILF and the MNLF. Salaapuddin was a former MNLF commander who later served as Basilan Governor and lone representative to Congress.
“That is why I told the Senate… during the hearing last week that if you do the same thing over and over again, do not expect another result. Therefore if Congress will give another failed experiment, do not expect the Bangsamoro to produce miracles. The same failed experiment will also be the result of the kind of law that Congress will enact for the Bangamoro,” Salapuddin said.
If the BBL is “not successfully passed, as much as possible as a true expression and reflection of whatever is in the CAB… I don’t think the Moro mujahideen will accept their fate to be cheated twice — from the MNLF to the MILF. If in case this one will still fail, then it’s not only going to be a recipe for disaster but it might be the glue that will reunite all the different factions … to continue the struggle not anymore for autonomy but even if I don’t have to tell you this, but I know you will be guessing the same as I do, but for independence,” he said.
Dean Antonio La Vina of the Ateneo School of Government said, “with apologies to my colleagues in OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process), who’d really want this closed, I actually think a BBL that is owned by the next President is much better than a BBL owned by this President.”
La Vina, who served as a member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the MILF in the last days of the Arroyo administration, explained that it is necessary for the next President to own the process, to “champion this” because transitions that do not have the support of the President, will not work.
“Under the circumstances now, it’s gonna work with President Aquino totally committed but President Aquino will no longer be there” next year, he added.
President Aquino steps down from his six-year term on June 30, 2016.
“Very, very rationally…. we’re probably better off taking time and really getting this right than have to push a law that ‘s not only imperfect but worse than what we have here,” he said.
La Viña proposed that the government and MILF peace panels return to the negotiating table to agree on a new timeline and not peg the establishment of the Bangsamoro government to the May 2016 polls since “no real transition can happen.”
He proposed at least one year transition from the ratification of the law.
La Viña said passing on to the next administration the passage of a BBL may also be considered instead of rushing under the Aquino administration the passage of law that may create a “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” with “lesser autonomy and powers than the ARMM.”
Ad Hoc Committee chair Rodriguez has remained confident the House would pass the proposed law before Congress adjourns sine die on June 11.
At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon announced on Saturday a new timeline for the passage of the BBL – in October.
But passing the BBL in October means the plebiscite would be in January 2016 . “No real transition can happen” La Viña told MindaNews, as it is too close to the May 9 elections and by March, it would already be campaign period for the synchronized national, local and regional elections. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)