Business, int’l groups push for passage of “acceptable” BBL

DAVAO CITY (MindNews/04 Nov) – Thirteen business groups in the country, including the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines

Mindanao Business Council and ARMM Business Council, have jointly called on the Senate and House of Representatives to “act with urgency to not only quickly enact the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law), but also to pass a version that is consistent with the Constitution, adheres to the commitments contained in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and truly embodies the dreams and aspirations of Muslim Filipinos.”

Top business leaders nationwide gathered in Makati City Tuesday, November 3, for a press conference expressing their support for the immediate passage of an "acceptable" Bangsamoro Basic Law. Photo from the website of the Makati Business Club Top business leaders nationwide gathered in Makati City Tuesday, November 3, for a press conference expressing their support for the immediate passage of an “acceptable” Bangsamoro Basic Law. Photo from the website of the Makati Business Club

The business groups’ statement, dated November 3, came a day after the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) headed by Alistair MacDonald, former head of the European Mission to the Philippines, an international body tasked to monitor, review and assess the implementation of all signed agreements of the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also issued a statement expressing hope that the “political will and vision of Congress can indeed allow it to seize this historic moment” to pass “an acceptable and meaningful (Bangsamoro) Basic Law.”

Last month, 21 ambassadors to the Philippines signed a statement asking for a “continued commitment from all stakeholders to seize this opportunity to enable the Bangsamoro people to form an effective and inclusive, devolved administration” in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the GPH and MILF on March 27, 2014.

In their statement, the business groups cited five points that “at the minimum” the BBL must provide: that it must not diminish what was already given the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao: that the original core territory of the Bangsamoro should be retained; that the original composition of the Bangsamoro Parliament of reserving a greater number of seats to political party representatives must be preserved; that the grant of full fiscal autonomy is essential and therefore it must have the power over inland waters and ‘strategic minerals’ within its jurisdiction; and that the Shari’ah Court System be further strengthened.

The statement bore no signatures of representatives of the 13 business groups but a press conference was held in Makati on the same day the statement was issued. The business groups listed as having issued the statement are the ARMM Business Council, Alyansa Agrikultura, Bangsamoro Business Club, Employers Confederation Of The Philippines, Makati Business Club, Management Association Of The Philippines, Mindanao Business Council, Philippine Business For Social Progress, American Chamber Of Commerce, Canadian Chamber Of Commerce, European Chamber Of Commerce, Japanese Chamber Of Commerce And Industry, Philippine Association Of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters.

Also listed as a party to the statement is the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITE Gov) which is not a business group but an NGO set up by members of the “Hyatt 10” — Cabinet officials under the Arroyo administration who resigned en masse in 2005 — whose founding trustees include Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles.

A word in the statement’s opening lines however, has raised concerns, as it reads like it is the business sector that will “allow” the Moro to exercise their right to self-determination over the resource-rich region.

The statement’s opening line, states: “We, the undersigned business organizations, cognizant of the imperative to ensure lasting peace in Mindanao, allow Muslim Filipinos to exercise their right to genuine autonomy and catch up with the socio-economic development in the rest of the country, and harness the potentials of the Bangsamoro region to be an indispensable part of the country’s economic engine, affirm our unwavering support for the swift passage of an acceptable and meaningful Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

“The right to self-determination is a right. It does not need a giver,” Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, told MindaNews.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) quoted Vicente Lao, Mindanao Business Counci president at the Makati press conference as urging political leaders to “give peace a chance” because “unless we try to correct the imbalances, the problem in Mindanao cannot be worked through the barrel of a gun.”

“It is difficult to invite business in an area with security concern[s]. Realities in the ground are in dire need of support. Let us give the Bangsamoro people a chance to chart their own destinies. The BBL is not a perfect document but it is the first step,” Lao said.

The business groups said they believe there is “no other viable path to winning the peace in Mindanao’s conflicted areas but the completion of the peace process, and it cannot and will not move forward if the BBL remains stalled in Congress”

“Never before has the peace process progressed to a stage where we are at the brink of ending decades of armed conflict, which has displaced and killed thousands of persons, mostly civilians,” the statement read.

The passage of the BBL will pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM as agreed upon by the government and the MILF in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that they siged on October 15, 2012 and March 27, 2014, respectively.

The draft BBL, finalized with the Office of the President, was submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the 15-member government-MILF body tasked to draft the Basic Law, was submitted to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives on September 10, 2014, in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang. The draft became HB 4994 and SB 2408, respectively.

In May 2015, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, passed its Committee Report and on June 1, Rodriguez and his vice chair, sponsored its substitute bill, HB 5811.

The Senate Committee on Local Government, on the other hand, submitted its Committee Report in early August, with Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the committee chair, delivering his sponsorship speech on August 10 of what is now SB 2894.

Both substitute bills, however, are being criticized by the MILF and other sectors for making the future Bangsamoro “less than the ARMM that it seeks to replace,” and that the Senate version reduces the Bangsamoro into “a mere local government unit.”

Asked to comment on the BBL “minimums” cited by the business groups’ statement, Iqbal told MindaNews: “MILF always aims high.”

Iqbal said an “acceptable” BBL is one that is compliant with the peace agreements, that the Bangsamoro “must have powers and sufficient access to resources and must be above the ARMM.”

He has repeatedly said “no BBL is better than a watered down BBL.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)