Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law still in limbo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 Sept) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday met with Congress leaders and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the joint commission of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) purportedly to discuss the proposed law but the meeting ended with the draft BBL still in limbo.

BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar told MindaNews last week, after meeting with the President on September 4 also in Malacanang,  that the President would convene a meeting on September 14 to be attended by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, the 20-member BTC, the government’s peace implementing panel, and other key officials “for further discussion of BBL.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte meets with leaders of Congress and members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission at the Malacañan Palace on September 14, 2017. Karl Norman Alonzo/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

That the outcome was not positive was evident in the delayed responses of the key officials, some of whom finally answered but declined to go on record.

A number gave carefully crafted vague answers or did not answer these very simple questions:  Will the draft BBL finally have authors / sponsors so it can be filed as a bill in both houses of Congress? Will the President certify it as urgent? Has the Duterte administration’s Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap which targeted the passage of the BBL by end of 2017, been abandoned in favor of a new roadmap? If yes, what is this new roadmap? Will the draft BBL be subsumed into the federalism track?

BTC chair Jaafar sent no reply Thursday evening. On Friday morning, he sent this reply by SMS: “Successful meeting kahapon with the President kasama ang Senate President, Speaker of the House, Majority Floor Leader, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation of House Cong Nograles.”

“We will have another meeting proposed by the President, the date of which (is) not yet determined by him but not long from now. He will continue to father the BBL. He challenged us and the people of our region to have one solid voice,” Jaafar said.

He declined to answer if “success” meant the draft BBL will finally have sponsors at the Senate and the House.

“Separately tackled”

MindaNews asked Senate President Pimentel and Speaker Alvarez through SMS if the BBL would be filed already or if it would be subsumed into the constitutional amendments that the Duterte administration is pushing for in its campaign to shift to a federal system. Pimentel’s response: “BBL will be separately tackled. But Malacanang will study first the BTC draft.”

The BTC submitted the draft BBL to President Duterte on July 17, in ceremonies witnessed by Pimentel and Alvarez. It took the Office of the President a month before it transmitted the draft BBL to the two houses of Congress.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel discusses the Bangsamoro Basic Law and Federalism in a sit-down interview with MindaNews in his office at the Senate on 28 February 2017. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Asked why Malacanang will still study the draft BBL when it already transmitted it to Congress last month Pimentel gave a vague response:  “What was submitted to Congress was the BTC draft which we are also studying.”

Asked if the Bangsamoro roadmap to pass the BBL by yearend has been abandoned, Pimentel said: “There is the usual delay.”

The draft Bangsamoro law was received by the Senate and the House in mid-August but has not been filed as bill because there are no authors.

Moro representatives like Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao, the Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, had repeatedly told MindaNews they are definitely willing to sponsor the measure but hopes the House leaders will also co-author.

Ready to file

On Thursday morning, hours before the President met with the Congress leadership and the BTC, MindaNews asked Sema on the status of the draft BBL in the House.  “I’m ready to file it next week with three other representatives,” she said. She named them as Tawi-tawi’s Ruby Sahali, chair of the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity;  Lanao del Sur Rep. Mauyag Papandayan, chair of the Committee on Muslim Affairs and vice chair Makmod Mending, Jr. of  Anak Mindanao Party List.

Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Bai Sandra Sema of the first district of Maguindanao, MIndaNews file photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Sema, who filed House Bill 0092 on June 30 last year, a re-submission of the first BTC draft submitted under the Aquino administration, said he had spoken with Alvarez and “he will be co-author.”

The sponsorship of the draft BBL, however, was not discussed in the Malacanang meeting.

Alvarez has not sent his reply to MindaNews’ query as of 3 p.m. Friday. It was Alvarez who, days after Duterte won the Presidency and while he was still presumptive Speaker, declared the BBL “moot and academic.” He later stopped saying that when the Bangsamoro roadmap was explained to him,

“Give me a month or two”

On March 27 this year, he told MindaNews in a sit-down interview in Davao City that if the President certifies the Bangsamoro bill as urgent,  “conservatively, sa House, give me a month or two” to pass it and that it is possible to meet the yearend target of the roadmap. “Pwede. Oo” (Possible. Yes)

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. vowed in an interview with MindaNews on March 27, 2017 to make the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law a priority and assures it will be passed in a month or two once the President certifies it as urgent. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

On February 28 this year, Pimentel told MindaNews in a sit-down interview in the Senate President’s office that “if we think about it objectively, it would be more difficult to have federal then have BBL because by the time that you are now pushing for BBL we are already in a federal set up. So it will be easier… relatively …  compared to the other way around, it makes more sense to push for BBL first so an autonomous law for a certain area in the Philippines then for constitutional change towards federalism. So I think that is the two-track process envisioned by the peace panel but that also introduces some complications. The simplest would be straight to federalism.”

“Heavy heart”

Dureza told reporters in Malacanang after the meeting that the President will present a “gameplan” to ensure the passage of the law.

“In short, just some kind of roadmap that the President would like to present to the MILF and the BTC on how to see to it that he complies and he is true to his commitment that he will husband the BBL to its logical conclusion,” CNN Philippines quoted Dureza as saying.

Dureza said the Office of the President is still working on the “gameplan” with the Congress leaders.

A member of the BTC who  requested not to be named said they left Malacanang with a heavy heart.  The source said they were told there are “plans that are at the ‘confidential phase’ and that they will inform us of the ‘plan’ at the right time. In short, the draft BBL has no sponsor yet.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte meets with leaders of Congress, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and members of the Bangsamoro Transition on September 14, 2017 in Malacanang. Albert Alcain /PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

One member was reported to have stood up to stress the urgency of passing the BBL as an instrument of peace and that the President is “privileged by history to end the conflict by passing the BBL.”

But the source said the administration’s track is “constitutional amendment then legislation.”

A number of those who attended the meeting said the President “did not talk about BBL. He talked about amending the Constitution and that we should just wait.”

“Template for federalism”

Duterte during his campaign for the Presidency and even as President has repeatedly said he would address historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro. He also vowed to push for the passage of the BBL and make it a “template for federalism.”

After receiving a copy of the draft BBL on July 17, Duterte declared that “within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country.”

He noted that after decades of armed struggle and violence, “we will soon come up with a constitutionally consistent legal instrument that will lay the foundation for establishing real and lasting peace in Mindanao.”

Duterte committed to “support and husband” the proposed BBL in Congress to ensure the passage of the law that would create the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 27-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Ghazali Jaafar (right) 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (right) introduces the other members of the MILF Central Committee to presidential candidate and Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte during his visit in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao on February 27, 2016. During this visit, Duterte promised to push for the passage of the BBL as a “template for federalsm.” MindaNews file photo by TOTO LOZANO

The creation of the Bangsamoro is in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014.

The agreement envisions a new entity that would realize the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people for genuine self-determination under a ministerial form of government and ensure autonomy far more than what the present ARMM provides.

Aside from HB 0092 or Bangsamoro Basic Law filed by Sema on June 30, 2016, two other Bangsamoro bills have been filed in the House. HB 6121 or Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BABAR) by former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on August 3 and HB 6263 or Bangsamoro Basic Law by Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo on August 24.

These three bills, along with the draft BBL when it is finally filed, will have to be consolidated. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)