BTC skeds April 3-5 session to draft Bangsamoro law; awaits release of budget

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 March) — President Rodrigo Duterte has been saying the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is “about to complete” the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) or that its draft “will be through by two months from now” but the 21-member body, however, has yet to hit the ground running as it awaits the release of its budget.

In fact, the BTC has yet to set up committees and begin work on the draft BBL, the legal expression of the political agreement  — the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) — signed by the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  three years ago today — on March 27, 2014.

Composed of 11 members nominated by the MILF and 10 by the government,  the law-drafting body has scheduled what BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar has referred to as a “marathon session” on April 3 to 5 in Cotabato City but as of March 26, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM)  had yet to release its budget.

The BTC is supposed to submit the draft BBL before President Duterte delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.  The Commissioners are actually targeting mid-May as their target date for submission to President Duterte, to give him sufficient time to study the draft law.

The 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) held its first plenary session on March 6 and 7 at the Em Manor Hotel in Cotabato City, to come up with interim rules, budget and work plan. MIndaNews photo by GG Bueno

The BTC was able to hold its first regular session on March 6 and 7 in Cotabato City, with the assistance of a funding agency, as the BTC commissioners were named only on February 10, three months after the Executive Order on the reconstituted BTC was issued, and the Commission was formally launched in the presence of President Rodrigo Duterte on February 24 at the Waterfront Hotel’s Garden Pavilion here.

BTC Executive Director Esmael Pasigan had sent a letter to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on March 8, attaching BTC Resolution 01 dated March 7, signed by all 21 members, approving the proposed budget for the BTC this year and endorsing to DBM the request for release of budget.

MindaNews has repeatedly asked Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella  on the budget release but he said Diokno has yet to reply to MindaNews’ query.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on March 20 said the budget was “being worked out kasi government regulations have to be followed but best efforts are being exerted” and that, in the meantime, “we are engaging peace tables to get their support and inputs.”

Jaafar is optimistic the budget would be released before the “marathon session.”
“It will be released anytime. Our executive director is following up. He is now in Manila,” Jaafar told MindaNews in a text message on March 26.

“Sail on still waters”

At the inauguration of the People’s Television Cordillera Hub in Baguio City, President Duterte said he will study the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) when the BTC submits it and will “pray that it would sail on still waters” once it reaches Congress.

Duterte said he expects a “more or less vigorous opposition” at the Senate. “That’s expected. This is a democracy.”

The 21 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) with President Rodrigo Duterte (center) at the launch on 24 February 2017 at the Garden Pavilion of the Waterfront Insular Hotel. TOTO Lozano / Presidential Photo

At the launch of the BTC in Davao City on February 24, the President asked the commissioners to “navigate the hindrances and obstructions” and find a way to peace.

The BTC held its first plenary session in Cotabato City on March 6 and 7 to craft their Internal Rules and come up with their work plan and budget.

Jaafar told MindaNews in a telephone interview on March 12 that they created an ad hoc committee of five to revisit the internal rules of the previous BTC but adopted the old rules as their interim internal rules.

He said they hope to finalize their internal rules by April 3,  set up the committees and decide on the working draft they would use in crafting the BBL.

Jaafar, concurrent 1st Vice Chair of the MILF, said he prefers the “agreed version” or the version agreed upon by the BTC and the Office of the President and submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014 but acknowledged this will still be discussed on the floor.

Jaafar said they will “try our best” to finish the draft by May 18, as suggested by some commissioners, to allow enough time for Duterte to study the draft.

Under the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap of the Duterte administration, the target for submission of the draft BBL to Congress is before the President delivers his SONA on July 24.


Meanwhile, the peace implementing panels of the government and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under founding chair Nur Misuari has yet to hold a formal meeting.

The panel chairs, Undersecretary Nabil Tan for government and Randolph Parcasio for the MNLF, told MindaNews they will hold yet another informal meeting on February 28.

Duterte told the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce on March 24 that he was rushing to leave for Davao City for a meeting with “Misuari and other Moro leaders.”

Earlier in the same speech, he said “ginagawa ko ang lahat” (I am doing everything).

President Rodrigo Duterte welcomes Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari in Malacañang on November 3, 2016. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza (center) fetched Misuari from Sulu to meet the President. RICHARD MADELO/ Presidential Photo

“I have been talking to Misuari, I already talked with him yesterday. ‘Yung Bangsa— ‘yung MI(LF), MN(LF) si Misuari. We are talking, we are crafting a sort of a preparatory document so that we can go into the process of proposing the federal structure.”

It is not clear what Duterte meant by a “preparatory document.”

The MILF-led BTC is supposed to craft a draft BBL in accordance with the CAB, to pave the way for the establishment of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  Once the BBL is ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transiton Authority (BTA) takes over until the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro is  elected.

The MNLF under Misuari on the other hand wants to craft a new amendatory law to strengthen the ARMM.

There was no Duterte-Misuari dinner on March 24.  But MindaNews sources said the President will meet with Misuari this week.

“Just fitting it in”

In a joint press conference with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in Malacanang on March 13, Duterte was asked about the Consultative Committee that he would set up to study and draft the proposed amendments to the Constitution for the shift to a federal form of government.

Duterte issued EO 10 on setting up the 25-member Consultative Committee on December 7 but has yet to name the members.

The President replied he was “just waiting for the Bangsamoro (Basic Law) draft.”

He said he “asked the MI(LF) to hurry up,” apparently referring to the drafting of the BBL by the MILF-led BTC.  Duterte explained Misuari is “taking his own sweet time but I can understand that. And maybe if he sees the draft, he cannot really co-mingle but just set it in para i-fine-tune na lang tutal yung basic demands nandiyan din sa kanya, nandito rin sa kabila (to fine-tune it, after all, the basic demands are also his, and also the MILF’s).

“So it’s a matter of just fitting it in, then fine-tune it to the satisfaction of everybody,” Duterte said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)