By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
It almost looks certain: the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, now being deliberated in both chambers of the 16th Congress, can become another “failed experiment” – which is how President Aquino depicts the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao. The BBL aims to replace the ARMM with a new entity called Bangsamoro.
Retitled as the Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in both the House of Representatives and Senate versions, the bill has been so “diluted” or watered down from its original formulation that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front vows to reject it if passed as is.
What are the changes in the bill?
In the House version, 28 provisions have been deleted from the urgent bill that President Aquino last year submitted and certified to Congress. The Senate version, belatedly submitted by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., purports to “undo” what he calls “hasty accession to every demand of the MILF by our negotiating team to the exclusion of all other stakeholders.”
Rejection of whichever approved version will mean a collapse in the implementing process of the GPH-MILF Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro – negotiated over 17 years and signed in March 2014. To avert such a catastrophe, the MILF has formally asked the House to restore the 28 provisions deleted by its ad hoc committee on the BBL.
The deletions “remove the heart of the BBL,” laments MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who headed the Aquino-appointed commission that drafted the original BBL, which embodied the salient provisions of the CAB and Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The deleted portions pertain to the recognition of the Moro people’s identity, the justness and legitimacy of their cause, and their aspiration to chart their own political future.
More ominously, the MILF warns in its official publication and website:
“The MILF, if it accepts this diluted version, (will) not only be cursed by the people, but it will also lose its legitimacy and moral ascendancy which can lead to its final demise.”
In sum, what Congress will do to the BBL is a matter of life and death for the MILF.
To reverse the looming dire scenario, the MILF leadership anchors its hope on P-Noy standing pat on his commitment to uphold the FAB, CAB and the original BBL and on Congress exercising its “collective wisdom.” It says:
“Frankly, we never lose our hope that the BBL can be done within the time of President Benigno Aquino III. This is his commitment and we believe in it. Moreover, our trust (in) the collective wisdom of Congress to pass a good BBL is very much intact.”
“Rest assured that our hopefulness is over and above our hopelessness,” the MILF emphasizes adding, “This is what our religion Islam teaches us, never to lose hope in the midst of adversity.”
But can the adversity besieging the BBL in Congress be overcome by a surge of presidential political will and a change of mind among the senators and congresspersons?
That’s hardly probable, given the House’s negative response to the MILF request and the reason they give for it. House leaders justify the deletions and changes, claiming these are all intended to make the BBL compliant with the 1987 Constitution. The implication is that the deleted provisions are unconstitutional.
There’s the crux of the problem: The MILF avers that it agreed to forego political independence or secession and opted for autonomy upon the Aquino administration’s explicit promise that it would not impose the Constitution as the framework for the peace negotiations. (In 1977 it broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front because the latter signed the Tripoli Agreement that had such a slyly tacked-on framework.)
Thus throughout the negotiations until the signing of the framework and the comprehensive agreements – from which the BBL provisions are lifted –no reference to the Constitution was raised. However, the authorization to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, appointed by P-Noy to draft the BBL, includes this proviso: whenever a provision might necessitate constitutional amendment it should be deemed as a recommendation for such amendment.
Yet, when the Commission submitted the draft law to P-Noy for certification to Congress as urgent legislation, Malacanang sent it back to the MILF two months after with 298 revisions and comments claiming unconstitutionality. The MILF was dismayed at how presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles, whom P-Noy had entrusted to oversee the peace negotiations, led the Malacanang legal team in “overhaul(ing) almost the entire proposal of the BTC.”
The negotiating panels had to restore or reformulate the questioned portions. That still resulted in certain dilutions. Under pressure by the agreed timeframe – get the BBL enacted into law by mid-2015 and the MILF to take over the ARMM in its transition to Bangsamoro after the 2016 elections – the MILF grudgingly conceded
And given P-Noy’s aversion to amending the Constitution for whatever purpose, the draft BBL provisions that may have needed constitutional amendments became casualties to the House deletions.
Looking back allows us to conclude one thing. P-Noy – whom Deles had proudly quoted in a press release assuring the MILF that the signed peace accords (he witnessed the signing of the CAB in Malacañang) were “carved in stone and not written on water” – is practically taking the MILF through a path leading to its own irrelevance.
What options are there left for the MILF? One is that it can forego the passage of the diluted BBL under P-Noy’s watch, and strive for a better deal with the next government.
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Published in The Philippine Star
August 15, 2015