Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. sparked a major controversy 10 days after the May 9 elections last year, when the then presumptive Speaker of the House of Representatives was reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as saying there was “no more need” for a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) because the country will shift to a federal form of government, anyway.
“That’s moot already. There’s no point to it anymore,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez now says he will ensure the passage of the BBL, “conservatively… in a month or two” once the President certifies the bill as urgent.
What made him change his mind? Why is he making these assurances of swift passage now?
Alvarez responded to these and other questions raised at the cafe of Park Inn by Radisson in Lanang, Davao City late Sunday afternoon of March 26.
Q. What will the House of Representatives do as soon as the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is submitted to you?
A. Well, as soon as the draft is submitted to the House, right away we are going to schedule for committee hearings. Successive. We will make it our priority
Q. Under the peace agreement with the MILF, the President is supposed to certify the bill as urgent
A. That would be better.
Q. Pag certified ang bill as urgent, how soon can you pass it?
A. Hmmm (pauses). Conservatively, sa House, give me a month or two.
Q. So pwede pa lang ma pass this year?
A. Pwede. Oo. Huwag lang yung may break… Meron pa ring committee hearings. Talagang mabilisan yon.
A. Marathon yun. Huwag lang i-timing sa break.
Q. And before the budget deliberations?
A. Oo sana. Hopefully (before) because during the budget deliberation talagang naka-focus halos kami lahat diyan because you know, we take care of our districts.
Q. You know about the problem that the BBL faced in Congress under the Aquino administration. How will the House of Representatives under Speaker Alvarez be able to ensure a smooth passage of the law?
A. You know, there was one problem in the last administration. I know this for a fact being a Mindanawon. There was not really a genuine consultation that happened and you know when there is no genuine consultation, of course there will be objections left and right. But this time, since I think Secretary (Jesus) Dureza (Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) is really doing his job in trying to come up with an acceptable BBL, so with the participation of different stakeholders, I think there is a big difference. There will be a big difference.
Q. What do you foresee as the major obstacles or problems in passing this bill into law?
A. If there are no objectionable provisions, I think there will be no problem and the fact that the President wants this bill as a model for federal states later on when we convert for change to form of government, from unitary to a federal system, so it will become a model of all states. I think that would be easier to pass.
Q. Quite a number of Moro leaders are saying the Bangsamoro law should be passed first before the shift to federalism?
A. I have no problem with that. That’s why I said, as long as there is no conflict with the Constitution, we can do it. Otherwise if there are some objectionable provisions, we have to address it in a constitutional assembly, yung ConAss.
Q. The President has two tracks to bring about peace in the country — through the Bangsamoro law and federalism. At the moment, there is already an EO on the Consultative Committee that will advise Congress. Pero wala pa hong pinapangalanan si Presidente.
A. Yun na nga. I’m still waiting for that and the last time I had conversation with the President, he (was) also waiting for the draft of the BBL before he will appoint the supposedly commissioners
Q. Bakit daw niya aantayin? Para mauna ang BBL?
A. I really don’t know because we can also do it .. separately, as far as I am concerned, because we do not have the luxury of time here. I want to start the soonest possible time because my original target was the ratification or the submission of that new Constitution should happen during the midterm elections para makatipid.
Q .Kaya bang ihabol?
A. I don’t know if the President will appoint the commissioners and the commissioners will be fast enough to finish the draft and submit it to Congress so we can constitute ourselves into constituent assembly…
Q. Under the EO, they have six months to finish
A. Kung six months yan baka magipit ng konti, baka hindi umabot sa midterm elections but definitely before the President steps down from office in 2022, siguro baka hindi man umabot sa 2019 yan. Maybe we can do it 2020. Adjust lang tayo ng one year.
Q. Definitely by 2019, we envision a new Bangsamoro law?
A. By 2019.
Q. 2019 or 2018? Kaya?A
A. Pwede. Tingin ko pwede
Q. Under the CAB, there is supposedly a transition period before the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro and the law has to be passed because the ARMM election is in May 2019. If the Bangsamoro law is not passed by then, the ARMM election will push through.
A. I hope Secretary Dureza will really do a good job here because ang nakikita ko dito parang hindi united iyong congressmen ng ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). Some are you know, parang disappointed the way things are being handled sa ARMM so mahirap. It’s not easy but I hope with the leadership of the President, maayos ito lahat.
Q. You will rely on the ‘super majority’ to pass the BBL?
A. Of course.
Q. So will it be something like, will the vote on the Bangsamoro Basic Law be something like the death penalty vote?
A. Hmmm … with a huge majority? I can guarantee.
Q. What about Rep. Celso Lobregat (Zamboanga City). Has he signified support?
A. Not yet. Not yet. Of course he registered his objections on certain provisions before. I hope these would be addressed also para plantsado na.
Q. A few days after the elections last year, you became controversial because you said the BBL is ‘moot already’ because of the federalism track. You have abandoned that thinking?
A. .. That was the time when wala pa kaming dialogue with the executive branch. After that, the President called for a dialogue between the executive, myself and Senate President and Secretary Dureza made a presentation (that) all objectionable provisions na merong constitutional questions will first be parked and all those without constitutional problems will be passed and yung merong constitutional problems, hintayin na lang doon sa amendment ng Constitution para ma-accommodate siya, maisama na talaga. So sabi ko if that is the.. situation.. wala kaming problema.
We can pass it, no problem. Ang worry ko lang naman, I do not want … to look stupid passing a law knowing it will be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, especially that I am a lawyer. Yun lang naman yun. Nothing personal, no biases. In fact, I for one grew up with Muslims in Pantukan. I went to school (with them), I slept in their houses when I was a kid so I really don’t have problems with them. In fact, my heart belongs to them and to the IPs (Indigenous Peoples) because I lived with them, I grew up with them.
Q. Legislating a Bangsamoro that will finally address the long-drawn conflict, address historical injustices — several administrations have attempted to do this from the time of Marcos up to now, and several Speakers also in between. What do you have in terms of advantage in ensuring the passage of this law?
A. Advantage is one, I’m a Mindanawon. I understand fully the situation. I understand fully the problems and this time the ones negotiating are from Mindanao unlike before
Q. And the President is also
A. … lahat ng negotiators noon, lahat ng nagpro-promote peace agreements they are not from Mindanao. Mga taga-Luzon lahat, as if by just reading books about Mindanao they are already authority .. as far as .. cultural diversities in Mindanao are concerned.. kita taga rito, tayo, alam natin yan eh. Hindi natin nababasa sa libro but you know we can feel it. Dumaan tayo, we grew up with it, so alam natin kung saan ang problema, alam natin kung ano yung kung saan ang solusyon, just like the President.
Q. Do you not see it as a pressure on your part considering that you are a Mindanawon, Senate President Pimentel is also a Mindanawon and the President is a Mindananawon. In short, masyadong mataas po ang expectations, especially from the Mindanawons and from the Bangsamoro that you will finally be able to
A. You know there is no pressure eh. Because for me it’s not a big problem, no big deal because when you look at the problem sa macro, pareho din ang problema ng ibang lugar sa Pilipinas. Pareho din. Basically pupunta tayo sa .. poverty. Doon tayo pupunta talaga. Yun ang problema – with the NPA’s problem, with the Muslim brothers. When you go to the areas mired in poverty yun yung basic problem – peace and order. Yung rebellion, naging ano na lang yan but yung cause and effect yung poverty…. and of course pag merong poverty, papasok diyan ang injustice .. so nandoon na if yung rebellion talagang pupunta tayo doon, so kailangan when we address this problem, itong rebellion both from the Muslims’ side and NPA’s, kailangan i-address yung root cause ng problem. Poverty and injustice. Hindi pu-pwedeng ito lang.
Q. There’s a bit of complication in the Bagnsamoro peace process because originally, the road map of the Duterte administration was to harmonize first the peace agreements of the MILF and MNLF into one Bangsamoro draft basic law. But there is now a separate implementing panel for the MNLF under Nur Misuari.. Nur’s side is to push to amend the law governing the ARMM, RA9054, aimed at strengthening the ARMM while the BBL is to come up with a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro to replace the ARMM. How will ‘harmonization’ be done? Will it be done by Congress as Secretary Dureza was saying? Or should they harmonize first before they bring the matter to you?
A. My suggestion is … that Jess Dureza should do a good job here because MNLF kay Nur Misuari saka itong MILF kay Murad…. alam nating lahat na yung MNLF under Nur Misuari, merong Tripoli Agreement and we cannot set that aside just like what the previous administration did, parang hindi nila pinansin yon kaya ito namang grupong ito… so we don’t solve the problem. Kung baga… yung peace agreement magiging papel lang yun na pinirmahan, merong agreement pero walang peace. Kailangan i-address yun pareho… so magaling naman si Secretary Dureza, I hope kung saan sila pwede magtagpo, na magkasundo, kung halimbawa there is a need to create under a federal system two states sa ARMM, let’s say Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao … Di ba culturally kung talagang merong cultural divide yan eh dapat nating
A. Recognize at huwag nating pilitin kasi mag-aaway lang. Ako, wala akong problema doon. Okay ako.. kasi if that is the solution, to appease everybody, why not di ba? They did it in Malaysia, di ba yung different tribes, kanya-kanya silang state. If that is the way to address the problem, para matahimik yung dalawang faction so why not do it?
Q. Sir this federal track naman, you’re the Speaker of the House . you wield influence. I know there will be an advisory Consultative Committee, it has not been set up even as it already has an EO. What is your vision of a Federal Republic of the Philippines, kasi medyo vague din si President. Sinasabi nya lang I want this pero. ..
A. (Talks about dividing the Philippines into 14 states – seven in Luzon, five in Mindanao and two in the Visayas, with Negros as seat of the central government; that Mindanao will have five states — Eastern Mindanao comprising Davao and Caraga regions, Western Mindanao comprising Zamboanga to Surigao, two Moro states — one in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, the other in mainland Mindanao comprising Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, and one for Indigenous Peoples. See other story)
Q. What do you think will be your legislative legacy? Will the Bangsamoro be part of that? Shift to federalism?
A. Yes, definitely. Maybe those are the two major bills — that I should pass the Bangsamoro Law and the federalism.
[Peace Talk is a series of conversations on the Bangsamoro Peace Process with leaders from civil society, government and revolutionary fronts. Interviews with residents in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro are in multimedia format]