Where is the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 August)  — Seventeen days after it was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte in the presence of  the Senate President and House Speaker, and 10 days after the President’s second State of the Nation Address, where is the draft Bangsamoro Law (BBL)?

As of August 3, it’s not yet in the Senate and the House of Representatives where it should belong.

“Nasa Executive Branch pa” (it’s still with the Executive Branch), Senate President Pimentel told MindaNews in a text message Thursday morning.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte receives a copy of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) from Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chair Ghazali Jaafar in a turnover ceremony at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on July 17, 2017. Also in the photo are (from left) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Government of the Philippines Implementing Peace Panel Chair Irene Santiago. King Rodriguez/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MindaNews also checked with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. but he has yet to reply. However, a check with the House of Representatives showed the draft BBL has not been filed there, too.

On Tuesday, MindaNews asked Bai Sandra Sema, House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao and Maguindanao’s 1st district Representative if the draft BBL had been filed in Congress. “Wala pa” (not yet), she replied.

Also on Tuesday, MindaNews asked Ghazali Jaafar, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) if the draft BBL had been filed in Congress, when was it filed and who was its principal author. His reply: “hindi ko pa alam” (I don’t know).

Jaafar, also 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), heads the 21-member Commission composed of 11 representatives from the MILF and 10 from the government (GPH). The BTC was asked to draft the BBL based on the 2014 GPH-MILF Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, to pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 27-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

MindaNews asked Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella why the Executive Branch has not sent the draft BBL to Congress. “Copies of the draft BBL were given to the leaders of Congress in the presence of PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) on July 17 during the BTC event in Malacanang. It is now up to Congress to find members who will sponsor the bill,” he replied.

“Basin gapangita pa sila ug sponsor” (they’re probably still looking for a sponsor). Anyway, am sure they have sensible reason for this,” he said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told MindaNews that he checked with the Office of the President and “I was told that they are working on the transmittal to Congress.”

“Transmittal and maybe urgency certification. There is the usual staff work so let the process take its usual course,” he said.

Second draft

The draft BBL is the second that will be submitted to Congress.

On September 10, 2014, the then 15-member BTC submitted its draft BBL to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in the presence of  Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

Aquino assured that the draft BBL was crafted to be “fair, just, and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumads, or Christians.”

He urged Congress to examine the draft bill and asked that it be passed “sa lalong madaling panahon” (as soon as possible).

The next day, September 11, the draft  BBL was stamped received at the House of Representatives as House Bill 4994, sponsored by Speaker Belmonte and 16 other representatives.

At the Senate, the draft BBL was stamped received as Senate Bill 2408 on September 15, sponsored by Senate President Drilon and 12 other senators.

The congressional committees that tackled HB 4994 and SB 2408 filed, after its committee hearings ended in mid-2015 substitute bills, both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” that the MILF and even the GPH panel criticized for rendering the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM that it sought to replace.

The 16th Congress under the Aquino administration adjourned  without passing a Bangsamoro law.

“Bangsamoro country”

On August 2, President Duterte told the audience at the 113th anniversary of the Bureau of Internal Revenue that if the number of violent extremists like the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies will increase in Mindanao, “probably we will have a dismembered country.”

“I’m warning you,” he said, as the Marawi Crisis entered Day 72 that day.

He reiterated the need to “reconfigure at least an arrangement where we can accommodate our Moro brothers in Mindanao,” to address the historical injustices committed against them.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasang Pambansa on July 24, 2017. Simeon Celi Jr./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Immediately after Jaafar handed to President Duterte the 114-page, 18-article draft BBL on July 17, Duterte committed “in front of everybody, my covenant with you that I will support and husband this instrument as it goes (to) the legislature  for its consideration. And there will be no objections of the provisions of all that is consistent with the Constitution and the aspiration of the Moro people.”

“I am for this — within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country,” Duterte said.

One week later, however, during his two-hour State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, Duterte, who was expected to call on Congress to immediately pass the Bangsamoro law, made no such call.

Priority bills

Pimentel and Alvarez during their opening speeches at the opening of the Second Regular Session of the 17th Congress on July 24 mentioned the BBL at the latter part of their calls for passage of priority bills.

“We will pursue a path to lasting peace in Mindanao by addressing the valid concerns of our Muslim brothers and sisters through the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel also called on the Senate to “empower our regions to determine their development plans, their overall direction, through the shift to Federalism.”

Alvarez cited the need to “concentrate our efforts in passing two legislative measures that hold the key to lasting peace and prosperity for our country — BBL and federalism.”

He said the draft BBL had been submitted to the President “and will soon be on its way into our chambers.”

The Bangsamoro law, he said, “will be the basis for creating a homeland for our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters.”

Yearend, a month or two

A Philippine Star report on July 19 quoted Alvarez in a DZMM interview as saying he is optimistic the House can pass the Bangsamoro Law by yearend “if there is no problem with the Constitution.”

In a sit-down interview on March 27, Alvarez told MindaNews that if the Bangsamoro bill is certified by the President as urgent, they would pass it “conservatively, sa House, give me a month or two.”

He said he hopes to pass the law before the body deliberates on the 2018 budget “because during the budget deliberations, talagang naka-focus halos kami lahat diyan because you know, we take care of our districts.”

Pimentel on the other hand told MindaNews in a sit-down interview on February 28 that “we will accommodate and we will cooperate” with the Executive branch, to pass a law that would address the concerns of the Bangsamoro given the four peace agreements with the MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the last four decades.

On July 18, a day after the handover of the BBL to the President, the MNLF faction under founding chair Nur Misuari said they will no longer submit their proposed amendatory law to enhance the ARMM. (The other MNLF factions are represented in the BTC, which worked on a draft law that would replace the ARMM).

“In line with conversations between President Rodrigo Duterte and MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari in the previous five meetings which among others touched on federalism, the MNLF will no longer submit a draft New Autonomy Law to avoid complications. The MNLF-GPH Process will have to contribute directly to the fast tracking of federalism,” the MNLF-Misuari’s Peace Implementing Panel chair Randolph Parcasio told MindaNews on July 19. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)