DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 January) — The law creating the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be passed this year, ahead of the shift to a federal system of government, President Rodrigo Duterte said.
Duterte told MindaNews in a sit-down interview Friday that the Bangsamoro law should be passed first because “pagka i-amend mo ang Constitution, wala na yan. Wala ka nang barahang ibigay for Mindanao. Mahirapan kang lumusot” (once you amend the Constitution, that’s a goner. You won’t have a card left for Mindanao. It will be difficult to push for its passage).
Time is running out for the Bangsamoro and the Duterte administration. The filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2019 elections is in October this year. Unless a Bangsamoro law is passed and ratified before then, the elections in the ARMM will push through as scheduled on May 13 next year.
ARMM officials have a three-year term of office.
Duterte said the mid-term elections in May next year will proceed as scheduled.
Duterte’s assurance of the passage of a Bangsamoro law ahead of the shift to federalism is welcomed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the government — the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro — on March 27, 2014.
“We welcome that,” said Ghazali Jaafar, MILF 1st Vice Chair and concurrent chair of the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that crafted the draft BBL. The draft was submitted to President Duterte on July 17 last year, in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang and witnessed by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.
MindaNews asked Pimentel and Alvarez twice on Sunday on their timeline for the BBL, given their focus on convening as a Constituent Assembly (ConAss) to amend the 1987 Constitution and pave the way for a shift to a federal system. Both had not replied as of 8 p.m.
Six BBL versions
While Duterte’s assurance of passage ahead of the shift to federalism is welcomed by the MILF, what kind of BBL will be passed is a major question.
At present, there are six versions of the BBL in Congress: four in the House and two in the Senate.
The four bills in the House are HB 092 filed on June 30, 2016 by Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao; HB 6121 filed by Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on August 3, 2017; HB 6263 filed by Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo on August 24 and HB 6475 or the BBL version submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and filed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. and 97 other Representatives reportedly on September 27.
Sema’s bill is actually HB 4994, the substitute bill filed by the then 15-member BTC. Arroyo’s bill is the Senate substitute bill filed by then Senator Ferdinand Marcos, the chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, and HB 6475 is the draft law submitted by the expanded, 21-member BTC to President Duterte on July 17 last year.
In the Senate, Senate Bill 1608 was filed by Senate President Pimentel on November 6, 2017 and Senate Bill 1635 was filed by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri on December 12.
The BTC version has not been filed in the Senate. But Pimentel told MindaNews on November 17 that “there is no cause for alarm” as the BTC draft and his bills are “magkamukha. Halos pareho nga” (similar, almost the same).
The sub-committees on the BBL in both houses in Congress had held one meeting each last month and are set to meet again this week.
The Senate’s Sub-Committee on the BBL headed by Zubiri had scheduled a January 17 public hearing on the Bangsamoro bills but Jaafar said they will not attend because what is on the agenda are bills that were not drafted by the BTC.
The sub-committee reset its schedule to January 27.
The House Sub-Committee on the BBL headed by Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter Palma has scheduled a three-day 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. meetings on January 16, 17 and 18 to consolidate the four bills into a working draft for the public hearings.
Rep. Mauyag Papandayan, Jr., chair of the Committee on Muslim Affairs, one of three committees handling the BBL, told MindaNews on November 26 that they hope to have the public hearings once the bills are consolidated, followed by committee deliberations and the passage of the bill by March. Congress goes on recess on March 24.
On December 19, on the eve of a Senate sub-committee hearing on the proposed BBL, Duterte said he does not think the proposed BBL will hurdle constitutional barriers. “I do not think that it will hurdle constitutional — Binabasa ko paulit-ulit, the constitutional barriers. Pero ‘pag hindi natin maibigay ‘yan, kindly help me think of ways how to do it.”
But which of the six versions was he referring to? The BTC draft was submitted to his office on July 17, 2017 and it took a month of supposed “due diligence” review by the Office of the President before it was transmitted to Congress where it took more than a month before it could find authors to file it as a bill in the House. As of January 12, the BTC draft has not found an author in the Senate.
But as early as his first month in office, Duterte had laid down his formula for addressing the Bangsamoro issue in his Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap: pass a Bangsamoro law, park the provisions that will raise constitutionality issues but pass these on to those who would amend the1987 Constitution.
On July 22, 2016, Duterte in a speech in Buluan, Maguindanao, said he wants the enabling law for the future Bangsamoro political entity passed and implemented “bukas kaagad” (literally: immediately, tomorrow), but minus the provisions where constitutionality issues are being raised.
“Then maybe someday, if we go federal, eh yun na idagdag, ibalik doon sa Constitution ng federal, ibalik na natin yung .. ayaw ng gobyerno tapos yung gusto ninyo (let’s add those, let’s incorporate them into the Federal Constitution, let’s restore what government does not like but what you like (into the new Constitution), Duterte told Maguindanao officials, plantation workers and a few representatives of the MILF after inspecting a biomass power plant project inside an oil palm plantation in Buluan, Maguindanao.
Duterte’s announcement was greeted by applause. But for those actively involved in the then 19-year old peace process (now nearly 21), it raised fears that a “BLBAR-like” law might be passed by the 17th Congress.
To recall, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that the 15-member GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) drafted and submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014 was “watered down” by the Senate and House of Representatives with their respective versions of a proposed “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BLBAR).
The versions were unacceptable to the MILF and other stakeholders, noting that these would render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM that it sought to replace.
In the Aquino administration, the Committees handling the BBL in the two houses in Congress presented to the plenary their substitute bills that the MILF said were “watered down” versions of the BTC draft.
At that time, Congress deliberated on only one version– the BTC draft — before filing their substitute bills.
Under the Duterte administration, the Committees on the BBL are tackling four BBL bills in the House and two (or three if the BTC version will be filed) in the Senate, raising more possibilities of a “watered down version.”
Still, Jaafar is optimistic. “But it might not be watered down BBL,” he told MindaNews on Sunday.
“We will see first what kind of BBL is that and consult our people before we decide,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)