DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 January) — The January 25, 2015 Mamasapano tragedy is to blame for Congress’ failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Senate President Franklin Drilon said.
“Let’s put the record straight. We were on the way to the approval of the BBL. The committee hearings were going smooth until the Mamasapano incident took place,” Drilon told ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday.
Mamasapano became a game changer in the 18-year old peace process, 17 of that in negotiations to forge an agreement, the rest on implementation.
Marguina Dalamban had her face painted with a Bangsamoro emblem as she joins the celebration at the Cotabato City Paza while waiting for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on 27 March 2014. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano
Before the tragedy, both houses were eyeing to pass the law by February and March 2015 to give sufficient time for the ratification and what was supposed to be at least a year-long transition period before the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro government on May 9, 2016.
According to the peace roadmap of the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro would have been inaugurated on June 30, 2016, the same day President Aquino would step down from his six-year stay in office.
“In fairness to the legislature, we did our best but you can operate only in a political environment conducive to the passage of this bill. Unfortunately, after the Mamasapano incident, the environment became very toxic. I can say that I think the BBL is the 45th victim in Mamasapano,” Drilon said.
Sixty-six Filipinos, not only 44, were killed when the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police launched ‘Oplan Exodus,’ a dawn operation to arrest a high-value target without coordinating with the military and ceasefire mechanisms of the peace process: 44 from the SAF, 17 from the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and five civilians.
Dean Antonio La Vina of the Ateneo School of Government agrees with Drilon’s assessment. “The Mamasapano incident killed the BBL. After that, the political terrain became difficult.”
But Lavina added that “many killed the BBL, including self-inflicted ones by the government and the MILF.”
Within the week of the tragedy, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato, had warned that the biggest casualty in the Mamasapano tragedy, was not only the lives lost, but “the future.”
“The future is represented by the Bangsamoro Basic Law. If it falls by the wayside, the future is unthinkable. Where else can we go without its promise of a just and lasting peace? Where else do we go after many, many years of discussion?”
In his keynote address before a gathering of Mindanao and Manila media in Cotabato City in July, Quevedo said that at the legislative hearings to investigate the Mamasapano tragedy, “several of our legislators expressed the biases, prejudices, and mistrust of the Christian majority against Moros in general and against the BBL in particular.”
“These biases were sown during the period of colonization when relationships between Moros and Christians were characterized by continuing conflict, negative experiences with Moros, the diversity of religious beliefs and culture. Dormant through many decades and occasionally rearing its head as in the Ilaga-Barracuda armed conflicts during Martial Law, bias and prejudice suddenly erupted into the open in the wake of the Mamasapano tragedy,” he said.
In July 2003, Quevedo, then President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines delivered a paper before the 27th General Assembly of the Bishops’ Businessmen’s Conference on injustice as the root of conflict. He focused on three forms of injustices to the Moro “among the many” that he saw: injustice to the Moro identity, injustice to Moro political sovereignty, and injustice to Moro integral development.
In the wilderness of bias, prejudice and hatred
In his privilege speech Wednesday night (Jan. 27), Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, said not passing the BBL takes away “the hopes of millions of people in the Bangsamoro” for recognition of their distinct identity, protection of what remains of the Bangsamoro homeland, and the opportunity to exercise self-determination through a parliamentary form of government that will be run in accordance with the Moro culture, faith and way of life.”
“BBL will guarantee that as a minority, we stand in parity of esteem with our Filipino brothers and sisters,” he said.
But by the sheer tyranny of the majority, “we have foreclosed all possible peaceful, legal and constitutional avenues for peace,” he said, adding that no matter the debates on the justness of the Bangsamoro cause, “no matter how we stand to legal reasoning, no matter how we shout for our constitutionally guaranteed right to genuine political autonomy, the reality is that there are only ten Moro legislators against the more than 280 members of this house. We are only ten lone voices in the wilderness of bias, prejudice and hatred.”
Committee hearings on the BBL – House Bill 4994 in the House of Representatives and Senate Bill 2408 in the Senate — were suspended immediately after the tragedy and resumed only in April and May.
The Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and the Senate Committee on Local Government chaired by Senator Ferdinand Marcos, soonafter filed their respective substitute bills – HB 5811 and SB 2894 – both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” or BLBAR. But these versions were criticized for making the future Bangsamoro “less autonomous than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace.”
The Bangsamoro envisioned by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the GPH and MILF signed on March 27, 2014, and what the BLBAR envisioned, were too far apart.
The substitution of the draft BBL by the BLBAR versions effectively killed the BBL. But the funeral for the BBL was repeatedly postponed as efforts were undertaken and assurances given, to “resurrect” it by restoring provisions of the BBL into the BLBAR to make it “acceptable” to the other party in the peace agreement: the MILF, but these were turned down by the committees.
What was “unacceptable” to the MILF was acceptable to the majority of the legislators; what was “acceptable” to the MILF was unacceptable to the majority.
Lawyer Raissa Jajurie, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, said the 16th Congress “lost its chance to play a historic role in finding a peaceful resolution to an age-old problem.”
“Maybe the country is not ready for peace and reconciliation. No one seems to understand the Bangsamoro Problem,” Jajurie said.
For Zaynab Ampatuan, executive director of Moro Peoples Core, “it’s not the Mamasapano incident that killed the BBL. It’s the ignorance of the lawmakers on the real cause of the Bangsamoro struggle that killed the BBL.”
“That Congress failed to enact the BBL no longer comes as a surprise,” lawyer Maria Asis of the Bangsamoro Study Group said.
“When they mangled BBL and turned it into BLBAR was not even the start of BBL’s demise. It started when BBL’s fate in Congress was handed over to Rufus and Bongbong Marcos. It did not start with Mamasapano. It began when PNoy failed to certify it as an urgent bill when it was still BBL, not BLBAR.”
Under the peace agreement, the President was supposed to have certified the bill as urgent upon submission to Congress. The draft BBL was submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014, in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang.
Drieza Liningding, Secretary-General of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development and co-founder of the militant youth organization, Free The Bangsamoro Movement, is holding the President responsible for BBL’s death.
“We hold responsible none other the President. It is him whom the MILF entered and signed an agreement with. It is President Aquino that we hold responsible for the killing of BBL, for authorizing Oplan Exodus with complete disregard of the peace process at the height of its popularity and mass support.”
Liningding said they will take to the streets and social media “how Aquino betrayed the Moros hoping to drum up support from the international community, for direct intervention minus the war.”
Anger, disappointment, a feeling of betrayal greeted the news that the Bangsamoro law won’t pass under the Aquino administration but for many who have followed closely the 18-year old peace process, there was a collective sigh of relief. “Relieved, to be honest because of the mounting danger that under pressure to pass, something more like BLBAR than BBL would be passed. No BBL is better than a bad BBL,” a civil society leader said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)