What people have forgotten about the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 July) – Which BBL? Whose BBL? For whom is the BBL?

The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted to Congress in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang on September 10, 2014, has been criticized for its alleged unconstitutional provisions and had in fact been the subject of a petition filed before the Supreme Court, but many have forgotten, legislators among them, that this is the same BBL for which the Office of the President spent at least five months of “due diligence” to ensure its provisions are “within the flexibilities of the 1987 Constitution.”

VOTE FOR BBL. Members of the House ad hoc committee raise their hands to proceed with the voting onf the Bangsamoro Basic Law  on May 20, 2015.  The Committee approved a substitute bill now called HB 5811. MindaNews file photo By Froilan Gallardo
VOTE FOR BBL. Members of the House ad hoc committee raise their hands to proceed with the voting onf the Bangsamoro Basic Law on May 20, 2015. The Committee approved a substitute bill now called HB 5811. MindaNews file photo By Froilan Gallardo

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III said during the handover rites that the proposed law is “in accordance with our Constitution and with the principles of our Framework Agreement, and that it reflects our shared efforts towards growth that leaves no one behind.”

He said it took “a long and thorough process” before the draft could be submitted to Congress because “we went through every detail involved in fulfilling our shared desires for the Bangsamoro region.”

“I assure you: the Bangsamoro Basic Law was crafted to be fair, just, and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumads, or Christians,”

The Basic Law serves as the enabling law of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014, to pave the way for the creation of the “Bangsamoro,” a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Fourth draft

The draft submitted to Congress was, in fact, the fourth consolidated version.

The first, consisting of 97 pages, 18 articles and 244 sections, was drafted by the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) comprising eight members rom the MILF and seven from the government.

It was submitted to the Office of the President (OP) on April 14 and 22, 2014 .

This was revised by Malacanang (OP) with inputs from the Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor-General, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and all other national line agencies, including the military and police, that had been previously consulted and involved in the drafting of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four annexes. This consolidated version was the version sent back to the BTC.

This version cited in its comments on the retention, deletion or revision of provisions, references to a “draft BBL prepared by OPAPP.”

The BTC draft, the OPAPP draft and the Malacanang-reviewed draft were never made public.

The Malacanang-revised BBL was handed over to the BTC on June 21, 2014. Three days later, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, also the BTC chair, raised their “concerns” about the Malacanang-proposed revisions in a “15 to 20 minute” meeting with President Aquino at the Sheraton Hiroshima Hotel in Japan, before Aquino delivered his keynote address at the Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao (COP-6).

Murad declined to disclose details about their “concerns” but said “inisa-isa ko sa kanya yung concerns” (I cited the concerns one by one). The President, he said, told them he would check with those who reviewed the draft, but promised to look into these “concerns.”

“Worse than ARMM”

None of the “concerns” was made known to the public until June 29 when the MILF’s website uploaded a copy of the speech of Iqbal in a peace forum in Turkey on June 26, with government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer also in attendance.

Iqbal said the BTC’s draft BBL “mainly copy-pasted the essential elements of the CAB” and explained that the rationale behind the approach was “simply to avoid or minimize debates and oppositions especially from the government itself, knowing fully well that not all in the government service are fully on board the peace efforts of President Aquino.”

Iqbal said Malacanang’s proposed revisions “heavily diluted the original proposal coming from the BTC” and added it would be “worse than the ARMM which in every bit is an administrative arrangement.” President Aquino had earlier described the ARMM as a “failed experiment.”

Iqbal said he found it “amazing” that the OPAPP, the office that oversees the conduct of the peace process, “instead of defending the essence of this historic document or at least inhibited itself out of delicadeza, virtually led the review team of the OP to overhaul almost the entire proposal of the BTC.”

He said the MILF has a “very simple and straightforward” position on the BBL: “All those explicitly expressed and provided for in the CAB will no longer be the subject of negotiations. They are finished and settled. It is therefore nonsensical to raise them anew. However, all those, which are not expressly provided but fleshed out by the BTC, as part of its mandate, could be the subjects of subsequent engagement between the Parties. If reasons and consistency prevail, there is no way this controversy cannot be settled.”

In Iloilo City a day after Iqbals’ speech in Turkey, the President expressed hope that both parties can work on a draft that “both sides can fully support and endorse” so that this would be submitted to Congress on or before his July 28 State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The BTC passed a resolution on July 3 expressing “serious concerns over some major revisions, modifications and alterations that deviated from the significant contents of the (CAB)” and elevated these to the peace panels for “clarification, discussion and resolution” of the issues affected by the proposed revisions “… in the higher interest of finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Mindana

“Mutually acceptable”

The panels met for a total of 11 days in July — in Kuala Lumpur on July 8 to 11, in Manila on 18 to 21 and again in Manila on 25 to 27 — but failed to come up with a “mutually acceptable” draft before the SONA.

In his SONA, President Aquino asked for “pang-unawa” (understanding) while the draft was being scrutinized per provision so that what would be submitted to Congress would be a draft bill that is “makatuwiran, makatarungan, at katanggap-tanggap sa lahat (fair, just and acceptable to all).

“If we are able to legislate the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of the year and conduct the necessary plebiscite, we will be able to give the Bangsamoro Transition Authority one and a half years to show positive change,” he said.

“Should this be delayed, however, the period for proving that it was right to choose the path of peace will naturally be shortened,” the President said.

The MILF had earlier pushed for a seven-year transition period, one year of that as pre-interim – but agreed to a shorter period following that historic meeting in Tokyo between President Aquino and Murad on August 4, 2011 where they agreed to fast-track the peace process, sign the peace agreement in the first half of the Aquino administration (2010 to 2013) so that the second half will be for implementation (2013 to 2016).

The panels scheduled a 10-day meeting in Davao City in August that still did not yield any mutually acceptable draft.

On the 10th day, however, the two parties announced in a press conference that they had set a deadline to “finish an agreed draft” by “August 18, 2014, in sha Allah” (God willing).

The deadline was set after Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa arrived at noon and met the two chairs separately to discuss “immediate ways forward.”

Ways forward

The panels returned to Davao City on August 13 but no panel-to-panel meeting happened. Instead, a press statement was issued at noon of August 15 that after a three-day exchange of papers and conversations between Ochoa and Iqbal, they “concluded discussions” on the “various issues” involving the draft BBL and that the resolutions arrived at would be incorporated into the final draft “that will be prepared and submitted to President Benigno S. Aquino.”

Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said the final draft would be submitted to the OP on or before August 22 and to Congress before the end of the month.

On August 28, Iqbal told MindaNews that they could not meet their self-imposed deadline of “end of August” for the submission of the draft BBL to Congress but was confident it would be “soon” as they were already “99.99% done” with the final text.

Notes, however, were still being exchanged to resolve the remaining issue which Iqbal declined to name but which he told MindaNews is “no longer as problematic” as the other issues that were finally resolved between August 10 and 27 with Iqbal’s team and Ochoa and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

Final text

“We are ready to adhere to our understanding to work on the final text of the proposed BBL after its review by the President,” Iqbal’s cover letter to Ochoa on the revised draft – the third version — said.

The final draft BBL, the fourth version, was submitted to Congress on September 10, six days after the President and MILF chair Murad met “to clarify and resolve issues” in the draft law.

In his 10-minute speech after the handover to Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, President Aquino assured that the draft BBL was crafted to be “makatwiran, makatarungan, at katanggap-tanggap sa lahat, Moro man, Lumad, o Kristiyano” (fair, just, and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumads, or Christians).

He urged Congress to examine the draft bill and asked that it be passed “sa lalong madaling panahon” (as soon as possible).”

“At the beginning of our term, we told our countrymen that it was possible, once again, to hope. Today, we have proven that not only did we hope, we fulfilled our collective aspirations. We have taken yet another step towards a more peaceful and more progressive Mindanao. Through this proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, we are giving shape to the enactment of the principles behind our Framework Agreement,” he said.

The President acknowledged that “while we have no control over the future, I am confident, and I know that others present here today will join me in guaranteeing: it is through our full trust and our refusal to let go of hope that we will be able to realize our dreams.”

“Turning point”

In a statement addressed to legislators during the handover rites, ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, a former party-list representative, said “the future of a people who for centuries have fought for self-determination now lies in your hands.”

“This law is for the children who wish to run across school grounds instead of running for their lives. This law is for families who want to put life into the earth through crops and produce, no longer to dig graves for their fathers and sons who have fallen in war. This law is what will help them realize their wishes and dreams,” Hataman said.

All five governors in the ARMM member-provinces – Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi – were also present.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, other congressmen, senators and members of the Cabinet, as well as military and police officials also attended.

Deles described the handover of the draft BBL as “a turning point in our national quest for peace in Mindanao.”

“This political roadmap is firmly on track, and we hold our congressional leaders to their promise to prioritize the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

She said she looks forward to a “vigorous public debate arising from a thorough and sober review of every provision contained in this draft document.”

“Every word, line, and provision shall be subjected to the sunshine of democratic debate, where all voices will be heard, with our Constitution as the guiding light,” she added.

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the Bangsamoro’s proposed form of governance, a parliamentary system, “would allow for a broader base of political representation and participation in governance” and “would compel the formation of competitive and sustainable political parties in the region.”

Ferrer commended the MILF’s efforts to form a political party and urged “other groups and sectors “to consider forming their political parties that would equally enable them to participate fairly and peacefully in the Bangsamoro elections in 2016 and thereafter.”

House and Senate versions

The draft BBL took on a new name in Congress – as HB 4944 in the House of Representatives and SB 2408 in the Senate.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic law (AHCBBL) held several public  hearings and consultations and on May 20  junked HB 4994 and approved in its stead substitute bill, HB 5811 or the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, the eighth version of the BBL — the fifth version being the Consolidated Committee draft, the Chairman’s Working Draft as the sixth and the Chair and Vice-Chair’s Draft as the seventh.

HB 5811 is the bill that is being deliberated upon in the plenary, a version that has been criticized as offering an autonomous region that is “less than the ARMM.”

At the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, also junked SB 2408, explaining in a privilege speech in early June that in its present form and substance, would “lead us to perdition.”

Marcos said he would submit a substitute bill before the President delivers his State of the Nation Address on July 27, when Congress resumes session.

That will be the ninth version. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)