Pass the BBL now or pass on to next administration?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 Aug) — Congress is rushing the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with only 15 session days left from August 24 until the national budget debate goes to the plenary on September 28 and before Congress goes on recess from October 10 to November 2. But various sectors, including former members of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), say the Aquino administration might want to consider passing this on to the next administration given the time constraints, quorum problems and  the fact that the House and Senate substitute bills envision a Bangsamoro that is  “less than the ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace.

But Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, told MindaNews on Sunday that the Office of the President and the leadership of both Houses of Congress “remain committed to the enactment of a meaningful and mutually acceptable BBL within President Aquino’s term of office.”

“Towards this end, we expect legislative action to move rapidly in the next few weeks,” she said.

In the past three weeks, quorum problems have been hounding the House of Representatives. Only two out of the remaining 16 representatives who want to interpellate, had finished since August 4.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez told MindaNews Sunday that they “still have time to finish the bill by September 15” (11 session days from August 24) and that “there will be quorum tomorrow (Monday) up to Wednesday.”

“I agree with Rufus,” Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur, said. “Never say die,” he told MindaNews.

Best efforts but..

Lawyer Jesus Dureza, government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF from 2001 to 2003, said he expects “best efforts to pass ASAP but if not attainable, Congress as a continuing institution will pass it at its own mandated pace and time and collective judgment.”

“We should not all be transfixed at whether it is the  ‘present’ or the ‘next’ administration,” Dureza, a former Representative of the 1st district of Davao City, told MindaNews.

“No administration or any negotiating player or self -proclaimed ‘do-gooders’ for that matter should claim monopoly of competence or good intentions. A meaningful and significant piece of legislation must not be bound by political timelines. Achieving ‘legacies’ is a good motivator but it should not be a ‘get-it-at all-cost’ proposition at the expense of achieving a real milestone,” said Dureza, who also served as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and held several positions under the Arroyo administration.

Tony La Vina, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and a member of the Arroyo peace panel from January to June 2010 said “significant work still needs to be done in fixing the two versions.”

Common sense

“This is not just a question of debating and then voting on the provisions but actually brainstorming to solve difficult and legitimate issues. If the legislators are willing to work 12 hours a day for the next few weeks, a good BBL is still achievable but if not, then perhaps other options have to be considered. I personally think we are better off with a BBL that is pushed by the new President and which provides a much longer transition than both versions currently anticipate. That’s really common sense,” La Vina said.

La Vina explained that the most difficult issue is the allocation of powers since both House and Senate versions “diverge substantially from CAB and makes the BAR (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) less autonomous than the ARMM.”

Bangsamoro Study Group's slide shows Power-sharing as agreed upon by the government and MILF peace panels.
Bangsamoro Study Group’s slide shows Power-sharing as agreed upon by the government and MILF peace panels.

“There must be a debate and consultations on each of these powers with the executive branch making the case that they had studied the concessions they made to the CAB very well before committing to them. Other sectors might need to weigh in and the legislators would need to validate the assertions of the executive branch/GPH panel. That requires much more time than is currently available,” he said.

New problems

Gabriela partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan said rushing the passage of the BBL now will end up with a lot of unresolved provisions.

“I say only fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Better to err on the safe side than to waste time and effort on a bill that obviously, many congressmen do not want to touch with a ten-foot pole. Their staying away from the plenary sessions is an indicator. Despite  text reminders from the Speaker and repeated rings to go down to the session hall, they hibernate in their offices. Next administration na yan,” Ilagan added.

Ilagan said rushing it “may even create new problems.”

“Kung ipasa ang watered down version, the hands of the next administration will be tied and will be obliged to implement this version,” she said.

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said, “you don’t quit when you’re almost there. You fight the good fight.”

“We should do this with the Aquino administration,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews on Monday.

Limited time

But Iqbal, also chair of the GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, has repeatedly said “no BBL is better than a bad BBL.”

“Let me assure you once again that the MILF will not accept a bad BBL,” Iqbal said during the “Dialogue on House and Senate Bills on BBL” organized by the Institute of Autonomy and Governance on August 20 at the Dusit Thani hotel in Makati.

He acknowledged the limited time left to pass the Basic Law, but added, “for me I still believe it can be done.”

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio, spokesperson of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari and spokesperson as well in the Tripartite Review and in the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum, told MindaNews it is better to pass it on to the next administration “to give time for the MNLF track to be resolved and the merger of the peace tracks (MNLF and MILF) which will be all inclusive.”

Parcasio served as ARMM Executive Secretary during the Misuari administration.

Confused, Stressed

Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society is “confused” and “stressed.”

“If you pass a weak BBL, it makes things worse. If you wait for the next administration, you don’t know who they will be. But the same people in Congress who don’t like the BTC draft will still be there… Every which way is a losing proposition. To invoke UN resolution to resolve the Bangsamoro question will take generations. For now, I don’t have any proposal to move forward. I am confused, I am stressed. My hope for peace is running out,” Alim said.

Alim said government can save face by saying the draft BBL is severely mangled “but by all indicators, Congress will pass a BBL that is acceptable to both houses of Congress and to the Supreme Court and also the larger Filipino population regardless of whether it is acceptable to the MILF and the Bangsamoro.”

From the statements of Rodriguez and Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, “only a miracle can bring back the 28 provisions taken away or reduced by the substitute bills. Accordingly, these provisions make the draft law better than the ARMM. But prayers can make miracles happen,” he said.

Like a province

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” lawyer Ishak Mastura of the Cotabato City-based Bangsamoro Study Group, told MindaNews.

“Marcos and Rufus and their ilk hijacked the BBL agenda with a watered down version less than ARMM and just a mere local government unit like a province. Marcos publicly admitted it is no longer a BBL but another thing altogether. So if we continue along the hijacked agenda what does that say about PNoy (President Aquino) and MILF and supporters of the peace process?”

Mastura cited several flaws in SB 2894 or the substitute bill filed by Marcos, among them that the ARMM under RA 9054 can legislate its own Local Government Code but the Marcos bill is silent on it.

“This makes the LGUs beyond the supervision of the Bangsamoro government and a formula for another failed autonomous region where the LGUs do not have much accountability to the regional government.  As it is, the LGUs in the ARMM are already under the impression that the ARMM is a mere extra layer of bureaucracy for the LGUs because of the disconnect between the regional government and the LGUs,” he said.

“Worse than ARMM”

The Marcos bill is “worse than the ARMM because it does not just repeat problems in the ARMM with its practically dysfunctional relations with LGUs but even exacerbates it,” said Mastura, also chair of the ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments and co-convener of the ARMM’s Promotion of Investment Sustainability Organization.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, ARMM Executive Secretary from December 2009 to December 2011 and a member also of the Bangsamoro Study Group said there is a clear attempt in SB 2894 “to change the autonomy framework.”

In his presentation at the Dusit Thani dialogue, Sinarimbo said the essence of power-sharing is lost as the list of reserved powers for the central government has been increased by taking out some of the exclusive powers from the Bangsamoro and transferring them under “reserved” and also by adding new powers to the list of reserved powers.

He explained that in the Senate version, “they clearly transferred some of the concurrent powers to reserved powers (and) redefined some of the powers inside the concurrent powers, making it clear that it is no longer concurrent, rather, it is reserved.”

 Frames 13 to 18 of the Bangsamoro Study Group’s presentation at the Aug. 20 Dialogue on the House and Senate bills on the BBL show how the  Marcos version of the BBL “gradually altered the agreed framework on autonomy until we arrive at the Marcos framework that takes out  the concurrent and exclusive powers.”

Frames 13 to 18 of the Bangsamoro Study Group’s presentation at the Aug. 20 Dialogue on the House and Senate bills on the BBL show how the Marcos version of the BBL “gradually altered the agreed framework on autonomy until we arrive at the Marcos framework that takes out the concurrent and exclusive powers.”

He cited the change from “cooperate and coordinate through the Inter-Governmental Relations” mechanism to “cooperate with and assist the national government.”

“In plain Tagalog, tig yung Bangsamoro government, tig-assist, tig-implement, tig-tulong. Tig. It’s no longer concurrent. If you’re just a tig, you’re just an assistant,” said Sinarimbo, who earlier served as a lawyer and member of the technical working group of the MILF peace panel.

He said the Senate bill also redefined exclusive powers as devolved powers.

“Devolution has not been completed in the ARMM,” he said, adding the creation of a functioning Bangsamoro “will take forever. It will never happen. Devolution has not happened in the ARMM.”

The ARMM was inaugurated in 1990. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)