QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 14 July) — It may not fully comply with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014, but “it’s ARMM plus definitely,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said of the new political entity that would replace the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam) suspended its Thursday session (Day 4) at the Nograles Hall of the House of Representatives with Zubiri, bicam co-chair, announcing they had completed “99%” of the work as of 12:50 a.m. on Friday, July 13, the 15th death anniversary of MILF founding chair Salamat Hashim.
Zubiri told MindaNews they only need to review the clean copy and “clean up” three sections that were tabled: inland waters, repealing clauses and the fund resource for the 11 towns in Maguindanao and Basilan that were created through a regional law and are without an internal revenue allotment.
But he said they already have, “more or less… an understanding” on these issues and “we just want to come up with the proper wording.”
The bicam will resume sessions at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17 at the EDSA Shangrila hotel in Ortigas or back to the Crowne Plaza where they met from July 9 to 11.
July 17 will be exactly one year to the day the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) composed of 11 nominated by the MILF and 10 by the government, handed over to President Rodrigo Duterte its draft BBL in the presence of then Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.
In the four-day deliberations, peace stakeholders as well as vested interest groups and those with personal interests staked out inside the session hall of the Grand Ballroom of Crowne Plaza in Ortigas and the Nograles Hall at the House of Representatives, with one-pager proposed amendments to specific provisions slipped in to bicam members or their staff, or whispered into their ears. Outside the session hall, lobbyists staked out in the lobby, corridors, and even in the comfort rooms.
How many phone calls and how many text messages — personal and group — were sent to legislators would be an interesting study. Text messages and recordings from the session hall informed those who could not get inside. Security stickers were passed on from one person to the other to gain access into the hall.
Members of civil society groups who had no access to the session hall took turns making their presence felt. On Day 1, July 9, a peace caravan was held from the Senate to the House of Representatives to the Quezon Memorial Circle; on Day 2, a group picketed outside the Crowne Plaza.
On Day 3, Wednesday, Bangsamoro civil society groups from Mindanao and Manila along with Manila-based peace advocacy groups gathered at the nearby EDSA Shrine for an interfaith rally to call on the bicam to pass a CAB-compliant law by restoring the key provisions that the two houses deleted or amended from the BTC-drafted BBL .
“I tried to stay true to the CAB in terms of the provisions of this BBL kaya marami minsan naiinis sa akin dahil I am not flexible daw, I am pro-MILF, but its’ not that,” Zubiri said, adding he was just doing his job. “At the end of the day, we senators have to look at the bigger picture … and the bigger picture is the peace process. Ayaw natin ng gulo” (We don’t want trouble),” he said, referring to the ARMM provinces, the core territory of the future Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and neighboring provinces like Lanao del Norte.
Zubiri noted what President Duterte said on Wednesday when they sought him to break the deadlock on territory: “let’s not give them false hopes” that the provision will not be questioned on constitutional grounds.
House Bill 6475 provides for a double majority in the plebiscite for the six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 elections — the majority vote in the town or barangay, and the consent of the majority in Lanao del Norte and the municipalities in North Cotabato.
The CAB provides that part of the proposed core territory, subject to ratification in a plebiscite, are the six Lanao del Norte towns and 39 barangays in North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in the supposed expanded ARMM in 2001.
Before heading to Malacanang on Wednesday, Zubiri told MindaNews that territory “is something very sacred to a lot of the politicians there (Lanao del Norte). Me, am trying to be magnanimous, am trying to be a statesman so I can get the overall picture which is basically I don’t want any outbreak of war or hostilities in any part of the core territories of the BBL,” he said.
These are predominantly Moro areas where some of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) stay, the most prominent of them the legendary Abdullah Macapaar aka Commander Bravo.
The deadlock on territory, Zubiri said, prompted them to seek an audience with the President “because according to our sources from the peace process .. the territorial issue is a major issue of concern due to the nature of security in these areas … If we make a mistake on the decision on core territory, there could be an outbreak of hostilities in the areas na hindi isasama(that will not be included)so that is a deep concern because I don’t want anyone to die.”
President Duterte ruled in favor of the House version of double majority.
He said the President’s decision was “painful” but he recalled the President told them “let’s not give them (MILF) false hopes.” Duterte is a lawyer and in the Malacanang meeting were Justice Secretary Guevarra and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and several undersecretaries of justice “and they were all in unison” that the mother unit has to give its consent. “That is constitutional,” Zubiri said.
He said he didn’t want to assure the MILF it can be done and then somebody takes it up to the Supreme Court and it will strike it down as unconstitutional. “That is even worse (because) it’s like you’re giving them hope and then you’re taking it away from them.”
He expressed fears this would lead to more violence. This early, he stressed, it would be better if you can “tell them this is all that we can give otherwise the entire process might be destroyed. Imagine if the Supreme Court strikes not only that but other provisions?”
Zubiri said he is happy that BTC chair, Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair, was happy with the outcome. “I was so happy to hear him say this is an improvement of the ARMM. He said that although we did not get everything we wanted, meaning the BTC, this is a very good improvement already to the ARMM. So I was relieved to hear that.”
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews the chances of the bicam version being accepted by them “seem high” and that their initial assessment is that it is “80 to 90% CAB-compliant.”
Zubiri cited features of the bicam now calls the Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that will make it “more than ARMM,” among them the parliamentary system of government and the annual block grant representing 5% of the net national internal revenue collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.
“Sometimes what you want in the CAB … may seem right but is not constitutional,” Zubiri told MindaNews on Wednesday, citing the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that was already initialed by the GPH and MILF but its formal signing on August 5, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur was stopped by the Supreme Court which issued a temporary restraining order and later declared it unconstitutional.
“Legislation must comply with constitutional requirements,” he said.
But the draft BBL was vetted by the Office of the President and it took sometime before it was transmitted to the Senate, MindaNews reminded Zubiri.
“And they did a lousy job and you can quote me on that. Lousy job. Horrible job. Yeah it’s Malacanang who told us it’s (territory issue) unconstitutional but it was in the draft BBL.”
“You know our number one complaint was why did they (Malacanang which vetted the draft BBL) give us a bill that was so kalat when it came to constitutionality although it was better than the MOA-AD ha. For the record ha, this is much better than the MOA-AD but there were still provisions there that were questionable,” Zubiri said.
Despite this, Zubiri said he is optimistic the proposed Bangsamoro law will be signed by President Duterte on July 23, the same day he delivers his third State of the Nation Address.
“This is the farthest this (Bangsamoro law) has ever been. Very good,” he said, heaving a sigh of relief. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)