Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law still with Office of the President

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 May) — Congress resumed session on Monday, May 5 but the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) whose “immediate” passage thousands of residents called for in simultaneous rallies in key areas in Mindanao on May 4, has yet to be transmitted to Congress.

Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel and the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, told MindaNews late afternoon of May 3 that the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (97 pages without attachments) was still being reviewed by the Office of the President and they would still “engage” the President’s Office before President Aquino certifies the draft as urgent and sends it to Congress.

As of Wednesday morning, May 14, Iqbal said they were still awaiting notice from the Office of the President. “OP (Office of the President) is still reviewing,” Iqbal told MindaNews.

On May 3, Iqbal said the draft BBL, copies of which have yet to be distributed to the public, will definitely not be submitted to Congress by May 5 but most likely “middle of May” or even beyond, as the Office of the President was still reviewing the document.

The decision to release the document, he said, should come from both the Office of the President and the BTC.

The 15-member BTC submitted a partial draft – containing only the provisions on Basic Rights – exactly a month ago, on April 14, and the complete draft on April 21. Congress’ resumption of sessions on May 5 was exactly two weeks since the submission of the completed draft law.

The complete draft was submitted on April 21 with 14 signatories. In the plenary held at the BTC office in Cotabato City on April 20, only13 commissioners were present. All 13 signed to approve the draft but two voted with reservations: Commissioners Froilyn Mendoza of the Indigenous Peoples and Pedro Eisma of Basilan.

Commissioners Fatmawati Salapuddin of Sulu and Johaira Wahab of Maguindanao, were not present. Salapuddin signed the draft before it was transmitted to the Office of the President by Commissioner Raissa Jajurie on April 21. Wahab did not sign.

Congress will go on sine die adjournment on June 13 and will return to work on July 28, with the President delivering his State of the Nation Address.

The May 4 simultaneous rallies in Cotabato City, Pikit, Basilan, Jolo, Balo-i in Lanao del Norte, General Santos and Davao cities which were organized by the Mindanao Alliance for Peace (MAP) as well as the rally intended in front of the House of Representatives during the resumption of sessions on May 5, apparently anticipated that the draft Basic Law had been transmitted by the Office of the President to Congress with the President’s “urgent” certification.

Before yearend 2014

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22 last year urged Congress to pass the BBL before yearend 2014.

“Maipasa po sana ninyo ito bago matapos ang 2014. Sa gayong paraan, may sapat tayong panahon para makapaghanda sa paghalal ng bagong pamahalaang Bangsamoro sa 2016” (I ask you to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014. This way, we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government come 2016).

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed by the government (GPH) and the MILF peace panels on October 15, 2012 acknowledged that the status quo was “unacceptable” and that the parties would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro” to replace what is now the 24-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte had repeatedly expressed support for the passage of the Basic Law.

Barking up the wrong tree

“The rallies were primarily a collective call to the members of the two Chambers of Congress to deliberate and act favorably on the draft BBL so that finally, progress and lasting peace can be attained in the region,” the MILF’s luwaran.com quoted Prof. Raby Angkal, MAP spokesperson.

“The MAP spokesman said that if congress will not pass the BBL as crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) it will be a big loss for the country in terms of political and economic aspects and so frustrating and traumatic for the Bangsamoro people,” luwaran.com said.

“We strongly appeal to the House of Representatives and Senate to immediately deliberate on the draft BBL and pass it as enabling act for Bangsamoro otherwise it’s a great loss for the Philippine government… this is of national interest,” said Angkal.

The rallies pushing Congress for the immediate passage of the Basic Law were apparently premature and should have been directed to the Office of the President where the draft is still being reviewed. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)
[This is an updated version of the piece published in the May 7, 2014 issue of OUR Mindanao, the weekly newsmagazine of MindaNews)