Did President Duterte sign the Bangsamoro law? And what is this other autonomy?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 July) — Did he or did he not sign the Bangsamoro law? And what is this other autonomy that President  Rodrigo Duterte was talking about?

Did President Rodrigo Duterte sign into law the proposed Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM) as he claimed he had in his speeches Thursday in Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City but which his Spokesperson and Special Assistant initially said he had not?

National media reports late Thursday afternoon quoted the President as saying he had signed the law but also quoted Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque and Special Assistant Christopher Lawrence Go separately saying the final version of the bill as harmonized by the Bicameral Coference Committee on the Proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law had yet to be signed.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte does his signature pose with (from left) Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Central Committe Chairman Yusoph Jikiri, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and other guests who attended the Bangsamoro Assembly held at the Old Provincial Capital in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on November 27, 2017. ALBERT ALCAIN/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Asked for clarification, Roque sent MindaNews a text message at 5:59 p.m. Thursday: “not yet.”

Asked when the Office of the President stamped “received” the proposed OLBARMM (also referred to as Bangsamoro Organic Law), Roque did not cite the exact time. “Actually, received na talaga ni ES (Executive Secretary) but he left for Singapore. I’m OIC but I’m in Zamboanga now,” he told MindaNews at 6:32 p.m.

The OLBARMM paves the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity — the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) — that would replace the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The OLBARMM is supposed to be the enabling act of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement that government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on March 27, 2014 after 17 years of peace negotiations.

Signed, not signed

Asked where the copy of the bill the President would sign into law, Roque replied at 6:38 p.m. “nasa office ni ES.”

Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema announced on her Facebook post that it was received by the Office of the President at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 25.

During his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, Duterte vowed to sign it into law within 48 hours from the time his office receives a copy.

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

The country’s 16th President and first Mindanawon to lead the nation was supposed to have signed it during his SONA but only the Senate managed to ratify the report of the Bicameral Committee on Monday morning. The House of Representatives failed to do so due to a leadership row. It ratified the report on Tuesday.

MindaNews asked Go, who had been quoted by media reports to have said the President has yet to sign it, if the President had signed it. Go’s reply at 6:36 p.m. “Ask ko” (I will ask).

Shortly before 8 p.m. national television news reported that Roque had said the President had signed the OLBARMM into law.

“Yes. He just signed,” said Roque’s message to MindaNews. MindaNews asked where the President signed it. In Zamboanga Sibugay or Zamboanga City?

His reply: “As of 712 p.m.”

MindaNews repeated the question where it was signed. Zamboanga City or Zamboanga Sibugay? Roque’s answer: “I believe so.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza sent no reply on Thursday and Friday.

As of late Thursday evening, it was not clear if, indeed the President had signed OLBARMM into law. The Presidential Photographers Division dispatched 19 photographs of the President in three activities in Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City but there was no signing photograph on Thursday or earlier than Thursday.

“We have been contacting (Go) and (Dureza) for confirmation pero hindi sila makasagot” (but they could not answer), MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim tod MindaNews in a text message at 9:48 p.m. Thursday.

Autonomy for Nur

MindaNews had asked Murad, MILF 1st vice chair and concurrent Bangsamoro Transition Commission chair Ghazali Jaafar and MILF Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on Thursday if there was going to be a signing ceremony.

Murad replied: “According to PMS (Presidential Management Staff) wala na (none). The President will just sign anytime.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte discusses matters with Moro Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari after meeting with the MNLF and the GPH-MNLF Peace Implementing Panels at the President’s Hall in Malacañan Palace on July 18, 2017. Simeon Celi Jr./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

At the 69th Araw ng Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay Thursday afternoon, Duterte said “signed na ang BBL pero muuli pa ko because akong murag ceremony, sila Jaafar and Murad if you want(The BBL has been signed into law but I will go home because there might be a ceremony, with Jaafar and Murad if you want)and also, I’d like to talk to Nur kung unsa gyud so that we can have it by the end of the year.”

The ARMM will be deemed abolished after ratification of the Bangsamoro law in a plebiscite in January 2019.

“I can create … just like an autonomy for him,” Duterte said, referring to Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that has since broken into several factions.

“That is what he wants and pending the federal system implementation, buhaton na lang niya una, ug na’y salig siya nako (he can do that first, if he has faith in me). I have about three years to hack it,” Duterte said.

How he can “create” an autonomy for Misuari, the President did not say. The OLBARMM’s area of autonomy includes Misuari’s Sulu. The 1987 Constitution provides for only one autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.

In Zamboanga City after his visit to Zamboanga Sibugay, Duterte again said he had signed the BBL, as the OLBARMM was previously known.

“So you try to think it over kasi napirmahan ko na ang BBL (because I have signed the BBL) …. I have no expectation. Baka hindi magustuhan ng lahat. O di tignan natin kung kayang i-modify, palitan. Hindi kaagad magsabi na ma-disappoint, mag-giyera kaagad. Eh mapipilitan ako ng mag-order ng sundalo ko pati pulis ko … ayaw ko ngayon ng ganun na… Taga-Mindanao ako. May dugo akong Maranao. (Others may not like it. Let’s see if we can modify, amend. Do not say immediately that you are disappointed and you’ll wage war immediately. Otherwise, I will be forced to order my soldiers and my policemen… I do not like that. I am from Mindanao. I have Maranao blood).

Duterte expanded the membership of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to draft the Bangsamoro law, from 15 under the Aquino administration to 21, purportedly to ensure participation of the MNLF factions in the BTC.

The 21-member BTC is composed of 11 persons nominated by the MILF and 10 nominated by the government. Three of the 10 government nominees are from the MNLF faction under Yusoph Jikiri and Muslimin Sema. Misuari declined to nominate anyone to the BTC.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)