Bangsamoro civil society groups gather at EDSA to push for CAB-compliant BBL

ORTIGAS (MindaNews / 10 July) — An interfaith gathering  dubbed  “Pagtitipon sa EDSA para sa Bangsamoro” will be held Wednesday morning at the EDSA Shrine here to urge the Bicameral Conference Committee to pass a Bangsamoro law that complies with the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) of the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), addresses the root causes of the conflict and provides for meaningful autonomy and “aims to resolve a centuries-old problem stemming from historical injustices.”

The interfaith gathering will urge the 28-member Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam) to restore the provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that were amended or deleted by either or both houses of Congress, the media advisory sent by members of the Bangsamoro civil society organizations said.

The bicam has been meeting since Monday at the nearby Crowne Plaza hotel, to come up with the final version of the Bangsamoro law from out of  the versions they passed –Senate Bill 1717 and House Bill 6475.

Civil society organizations staged a caravan from the Senate to the House of Representatives and proceeded to the Quezon Circle on Monday to urge the Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam). On Tuesday, they also held placards in front of the Crowne Plaza, venue of the bicam’s meeting, urging bicam members to listen to their plea. A number also waited outside the meeting room to hand out petition papers.

Civil society groups also launched rallies in support of a CAB-compliant BBL in Marawi City on July 4 and Cotabato City on July 6.

Composed of 18 members from the House of Representatives and 10 from the Senate, the Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam) agreed to meet on July 9 to 13 to deliberate on the “disagreeing provisions” of House Bill 6475 and Senate Bill 1717 which they passed on May 30 and 31, respectively.

Both versions, however, have been described to have “mangled” or “watered down” the proposed law crafted by the 21-member BTC.

The 21-member BTC, composed of 11 members nominated by the MILF and 10 by the GPH, was tasked through an Executive Order of President Rodrigo Duterte to draft the BBL.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim last month described as “very diluted” the House and Senate versions of what is supposed to be the enabling law of the 2014 peace pact.

Murad noted there were many provisions in the BBL that were changed which “resulted to violation of the (CAB)” and new provisions introduced that were not in the agreement or the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) but which “substantially watered down yung concept, the very concept of self-determination.”

“Courting disaster”

Civil society groups are urging the bicam to pass a BBL that will ensure a strong autonomy and not one that is less than the ARMM otherwise, “we will only be courting disaster.”

“If we do not build/establish a strong autonomy, but merely add or change a thing or two weak provisions to an entity that might as well be the same old ARMM, we will only be courting disaster,”  the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the province of Lanao del Sur and Marawi City said in a statement released during a prayer rally held in Marawi City on July 4.

“We cannot afford to unjustly frustrate a long-hopeful, long-suffering people and not expect to see them take extreme violent actions. We want peace. We are building peace. We must not replace a weak autonomous government with another weak autonomous government. We must not repeat that bad segment in our history,” the statement read.

In its appeal to the bicam, the Cotabato City-based Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) said “a weak autonomous government will lead to failure …  would not be able to address the challenges that the ARMM Government and the people in its territorial jurisdiction have been facing — poor service delivery, unclear delineation of powers between the regional government and the local governments, patronage, communal land conflict, the threat of violent extremism, among others.”

“We cannot replace a weak autonomous government with another weak autonomous government. We want one that has learned from the lessons of the ARMM ‘experiment’ and will lead to a successful autonomy arrangement that is more responsive to the challenges of governance and development,” he said.

The CBCS called on both legislative and executive departments of the national government to “work out the passage of a BBL that restores the list of powers, as agreed upon in the CAB; allows meaningful autonomy and real self-governance, with minimal intervention and imposition from National Government; does not take away powers already granted to the ARMM, but builds on these powers; returns effective control over and benefits of the natural resources in the Bangsamoro territory to the Bangsamoro, as pronounced by the President himself on June 16, 2018 in his Eid’l Fit’r speech; and provides for a high level of fiscal autonomy with the block grant being released regularly and automatically to the Bangsamoro Government.”

Autonomy framework

Basilan-based Dr. Rima Hassan, chair of the ARMM Business Council, the umbrella organization of business chambers and trade associations in the region, said the ARMM Organic Act “must be the baseline for any BBL that will be passed.  Otherwise, the consequences are too horrendous and drastic for the business community and the regional economy in general.”

At the June 26 forum in  Cotabato City on “BBL and Business: Implications of the Senate and House versions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law on the business sector,” Hassan explained that while they welcome the passage of the BBL, they are “also apprehensive what kind of BBL will emerge from the legislative mill.”

“Will the BBL that will finally become law be better than ARMM? Under Bangsamoro, will we have to change how we currently do business in the ARMM?  What are the policy risks and uncertainties of doing business in the Bangsamoro if the BBL is less than ARMM?” Hassan asked.

At the business forum, members of  the Bangsamoro Study Group discussed the salient points of the BTC,  House and Senate versions of the BBL, explaining that the framework of the CAB is clear delineation of power: reserved for the central government; concurrent for central and Bangsamoro governments and exclusive for the Bangsamoro government.

But the Senate and House versions “dismantled the power-sharing framework” as the Senate deleted the list of reserved, concurrent, and exclusive powers; inserted “subject to national laws, rules and regulations” and transferred many exclusive powers into the list of concurrent powers.

In a statement, the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) said provisions that pertain to political and fiscal autonomy and the system of Bangsamoro government should “address the fundamental gaps of the ARMM” to create a conducive policy environment for self-governance.

It said delineation of powers is crucial because “unclear assignment of powers, functions and responsibilities is a pervasive problem in the ARMM context. It manifests in the unclear delineation of the responsibilities and task of the National Government, Regional Government and LGUs in shared functions.”

The IAG also said the provision on block grant to the Bangsamoro government, although a “big leap from the current fiscal arrangement in the ARMM,” poses a problem as the “tedious requirement and control by governmental bodies other than the regional Parliament of the autonomous government for budgeting and release of the block grant negates the spirit and letter of a block grant for the development of regional and fiscal autonomy.”

Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, in a statement on May 21 listed several points why he is supporting the BTC-drafted BBL,” among them that at its essential core, it “fundamentally and politically redresses the historic injustices against the Bangsamoro” and that any substantial watering down or revisions that would make the BTC-BBL no longer CAB/FAB-compliant “would add yet another grave injustice against the Bangsamoro.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)