Civil society supports BTC reso; says HB 5811’s autonomy is “weaker than ARMM”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 July) – Representatives from civil society on Thursday expressed support for the resolution passed by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) rejecting HB 5811, saying the House of Representatives’ substitute bill to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), will only produce yet another “failed experiment” as the Bangsamoro that it envisions is “less than” the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it seeks to replace.

Dean Antonio Lavina of the Ateneo School of Government said, “any analysis would show  that the current version on the table in the House is weaker than ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) and will just retard the project for greater autonomy.”

Thousands march from St. Peter Parish Shrine of Leaders along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to the House of Representatives to call for the passage of an undiluted Bangsamoro Basic Law on May 11, 2015. MindaNews file  photo by Toto Lozano
Thousands march from St. Peter Parish Shrine of Leaders along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to the House of Representatives to call for the passage of an undiluted Bangsamoro Basic Law on May 11, 2015. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

“The BTC resolution makes a lot of sense in that respect,” Lavina told MindaNews in a text message, adding that “politically, it’s a good thing to lay down markers, that Bangsamoro can’t be weaker than the ARMM.”

For Amina Rasul, President of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID), “no BBL is better than a flawed BBL which will cement the weaknesses of ARMM.”

Former Rep. Gerry Salapuddin of Basilan, who once served as Deputy Speaker for Mindanao in the House of Representatives, told MindaNews he shares and supports the position of the BTC.

Salapuddin said the Bangsamoro law must be an improved version of R.A. 9054, the law presently governing the ARMM, because if it is “substantially and literally weaker than what it replaces, it’s not just the same failed experiment but a ‘big political joke,’ making a mockery of the inalienable rights of our people.”

He said the law must not only be an improved version but also consistent with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that government and the MILF signed in October 2012 and March 2014, respectively.

He said the BBL that would be passed “must also be an effective instrument for good governance, peace and development” and “must address the centuries old grievances of our people and injustices committed against our people by imperial Manila. If it’s otherwise, it’s an exercise in futility.”

Salpuddin said President Aquino’s administration will have “no tangible legacy to the people, particularly of Mindanao,” if Congress passes a law that will create a Bangsamoro “less than the ARMM.”

“Original form”

Although it did not categorically state it was junking HB 5811, BTC Resolution No. 005, Series of 2015, approved by all 14 members of the BTC in its session in Cotabato City on July 29, “in effect” did, BTC chair Mohagher Iqbal, said as the BTC “strongly” expressed support to the “passage of the BBL in its original form,” referring to what was HB 4994 and SB 2408.

It said the provisions of the “original form” are consistent with the letter and spirit of the FAB and the CAB.

The two-page resolution attached a three-page “partial list of substantial issues on House Bill No. 5811,” as the BTC said the substitute bill “bears substantial modifications and/or replacement of the details of the BBL.”

The BTC said it “stands firm” that HB 4994 “is the most appropriate version based on the FAB and CAB and considering that it is the one that underwent the legitimate process of consultation with the people and engagement with the Office of the President.”

It implored the “better judgment of the leadership of both Houses of Congress to pass the BBL in its original form and to henceforth act according to the terms of the peace agreements.”

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, had said he would submit his substitute bill next week or the following week. Last month, he SB 2408 would “lead us to perdition.”

On Thursday, MindaNews asked Marcos and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, to comment on the BTC resolution. As of 6 p.m., they had yet to reply.

“Disastrous experiment”

Gabriela party list Rep. Luz Ilagan told MindaNews the BTC resolution “must be taken seriously by the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL and the leadership of the House must consider how it will impact on the debates and how its self-imposed deadline will be affected.”

Ilagan recalled how in her interpellation on June 9 she said the amended version of HB 4994 or what had become HB 5811, “has become so diluted.”

“So, now we go back to the more basic concerns. Will the BBL address the root causes of the Mindanao problem? Will real autonomy be granted to the Bangsamoro?” Ilagan asked.

Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) and executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation, said “this is our advocacy, too, because a weak autonomy will not effect transformation. It wil be a disastrous experiment.”

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, spokesperson of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus said she is glad the framers of the BBL have spoken. She said it will be “useless” to push for the passage of a Bangsamoro that will have less than the powers that the ARMM is already enjoying.

Arnado noted that if HB 5811 is passed, “it will not solve anything and will only become the biggest joke of this century.”

“It’s a complete waste of time and it will be the triumph of the warlords, druglords, and landlords in Mindanao. What a big shame to PNoy’S legacy,” Arnado said, adding they “fully support” the BTC resolution.

No repeat of mistakes

Drieza Liningding, Secretary-General of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development said, “Finally, the long wait is over! Now they’re talking. Alhamdulillah! Takbir! This is a test of time not to repeat the same mistakes committed in the past. Looking back in 1996, a Brother once said that he would rather go fishing than accept ARMM only to end up accepting it later. Now, it’s the turn of our Brothers in the MILF not to repeat the same mistake. My salute to all those BTC Commissioners who signed the resolution.”

But even before the BTC passed a resolution, civil society groups had already questioned the amendments introduced by the Ad Hoc Committee into what is now HB 5811.

Kaloy Manlupig of Balay Mindanaw said “Balay Mindanaw, Tulay KaMi and other civil society groups had issued a similar call last July 15.”

Sister Marie Arnold Noel of the Servants of the Holy Spirits (SSps) and Balay Rehabilitation Center and Mindanao Solidarity Network in Manila, told MindaNews she is “glad BTC has spoken.”

“I wholeheartedly agree with BTC. HB 5811 makes the Bangsamoro less autonomous than ARMM,” the nun said.

“Time extension”

Lawyer Jesus Dureza, former Presidential Adviser on Mindanao and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and the first civilian chair of the government peace panel n the negotiations with the MILF (2001 to 2003), said BTC is “absolutely correct and within its right to pass that resolution” but Congress, “within the bounds of its plenary powers has also the prerogative to pass the enabling law exercising collective legislative wisdom.”

Dureza cautioned against squandering the hard-earned milestones in the peace process, noting that a “time extension” may be “most appropriate.”

“From the initial statements coming from both sides, there is still a lot more work to be done. The effort to find a common mutual ground will have to continue for as long as we, the Bangsamoro and all other stakeholders are all one in forging  peace with dignity to all,” Dureza told MindaNews.

Dureza said he would prefer a “time extension” rather than push for the BBL to be passed under the Aquino administration.

“It’s foolhardy to set a rigid timeline that (the BBL) be passed to be a legacy of the present Aquino administration. In fact, President Aquino can already rest on his laurels in forging the CAB,” he said.

The former chief peace negotiator said the “peace mechanisms are in place and are sustaining the peace equilibrium. Let’s not squander those hard-earned milestones. Forcing the ball in the ‘last two minutes’ to break a tie may not be wise. A time extension may be most appropriate. Peace will come in God’s own time,” Dureza said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)