But what kind of Bangsamoro Basic Law will be passed before March 23?

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 18 February) — The two houses of Congress have given assurances they will pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before they go on recess on March 24. But with eight versions being consolidated in Congress –four in the House and four in the Senate — what kind of Bangsamoro law will be passed?

At the entrance of the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) compound here on Thursday, most of the messages on cartolina and tarpaulin that greeted the 10 members of the joint committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, urged Congress to pass the “BBL-BTC version,” referring to the draft law crafted by the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) composed of 11 members nominated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 10 nominated by the government.

The ten-member delegation from the House of Representatives were met with these messages during the public hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Cotabato City on 15 February 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAs

The chairs of the three committees — Pedro Acharon of General Santos (Local Government), Mauyag Papandayan, Jr. of Lanao del Sur (Muslim Affairs) and Ruby Sahali of Tawi-tawi (Peace, Reconciliation and Unity) — led the 10-member delegation to the hearing that started at 2 p.m. and was over in two hours and 30 minutes.

Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, author of one of four bills filed in the House, was also present.

Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair and concurrent BTC chair, told MindaNews after the public hearing that they expect a BBL that is “acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.”

The BBL is the legal expression of the political agreement — the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and MILF  on March 27, 2014 — to pave the way for the creation of the Bangsaoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“What kind of BBL will you not accept?” MindaNews asked. His reply: “If not acceptable to the Bangsamoro. Lower than ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).  And watered down.”

The BTC version — one of four versions of the proposed law in the House and one of four in the Senate — is expected to be “watered down” when all these bills are consolidated and rid of provisions that will reportedly invite questions of constitutionality and provisions not to the liking of vested interest groups.

The draft BBL was submitted by the BTC to President Rodrigo Duterte on July 17 last year in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang and witnessed by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.,  The draft was expected to have been vetted by the Office of the President as it took a month before copies were transmitted to the offices of Pimentel and Alvarez.

Still, President Duterte and former President Arroyo had repeatedly said questions of constitutionality should be avoided.

It was under Arroyo’s administration when the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was signed by the government and MILF in late July 2008 but its formal signing on August 5, 2008 was aborted because the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order a day earlier.  The High Court later struck it down for being unconstitutional but acknowledged that it is a “significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001” and that “the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original.”

Supreme Court

Former President Arroyo told the audience that the law that they will pass should be one that will bring lasting peace and “papasa sa Supreme Court” (will pass the Supreme Court)

“Yung BTC version, hanggang kaya, pero yung version na papasa sa Supreme Court” (We’ll work on the BTC version as much as possible, but it should be a version that will pass the Supreme Court).

Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (second from left), with Tawi-tawi rep. Ruby Sahali (left) and Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema and North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco to her right at the public hearing on the Bangsarmoro Basic Law in Cotabato City on 15 February 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

She recalled that when the Supreme Court shot down the MOA-AD, “ang sakit-sakit sa akin” (it was too painful for me).

Late last month, Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, author of HB 6263, one of four Bangsamoro bills filed in the House, had earlier said provisions in the BTC draft that may face questions on constitutionality, had been identified in the subcommittee level while the “constitutionally-acceptable” language was embedded in Arroyo’s HB 6121 and in HB 092 of Maguindanao Rep. and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Bai Sandra Sema, which Dimaporo said is the “16th Congress version.”

“So more or less, at the top of my mind, we retained mga 50 percent of the BTC version. The remaining 50 percent, it’s either we adopt the GMA (Arroyo) version or the 16th Congress version,” Dimaporo said.

Jaafar declined to comment on the estimated 50% retention of the BTC draft but said he was not bothered by it “kasi yang mga lawmakers meron  kanya-kanyang opinion so that opinion will be discussed by the committees finally this will be taken (up) in the plenary.”

“Let the people decide”

Even if the signs are pointing to the direction of a “watered down” BBL — having six other versions aside from the BTC draft compared to the previous administration when Congress tackled only the BTC draft before coming up with substitute bills — Jaafar remains optimistic the BTC draft will not be watered down.

Ghazali Jaafar, 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and concurrent chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission at the public hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Cotbato City on1 15 February 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

“The government will not give us BBL which is not complaint to the CAB,” he said, adding the President and Congress know “that the Bangsamoro people will not accept watered down BBL. And so they will try their best to give the Bangsamoro people BBL which is not watered down because all these people now, especially our President gusto niya tahimik na itong lugar natin” (wants our area to be peaceful).

“What if it’s a little bit more than ARMM but not in accordance with the CAB?” MindaNews asked.

Jaafar’s response: “Let the people decide,” but added, “I think they (Congress) will not give us BBL not compliant with the CAB.”

“What is your non-negotiable?” MindaNews asked.  Jaafar replied: “We have submitted our BBL. Yun na ang position ng Moro.”

Under the roadmap of the Duterte administration, the BBL was supposed to have been passed by yearend of 2017.  Without a Bangsamoro law, the normalization process under the CAB — which includes decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons — will be delayed further,  and without a new law, the ARMM elections will proceed as scheduled in May next year.

The filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2019 polls is in October this year. The Commission on Elections had earlier said it needs six months to prepare for a plebiscite to ratify the BBL.

According to the peace agreement, once the basic law is ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) which the President will appoint, will take over, until the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro is elected. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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