It’s Round 2 in the grueling attempt to pass a new law to replace the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.
The first attempt, which was encompassed in a proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, was made under the previous Aquino administration. It failed because of contentions that certain of the BBL’s provisions were unconstitutional.
The bill for the BBL languished in Congress and barely moved forward. The original timetable was that a new Bangsamoro autonomous region would be created by 2016. Unfortunately for the Aquino administration and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), events overtook their effort. And that version of the BBL was consigned to the dustbins of Congress.
That could’ve rekindled the Moro secessionist war in Mindanao. Fortunately for Filipinos, it didn’t. The momentum to find a way out of the cycle of violence in that southern island continued, was bolstered by President Rodrigo Duterte, who succeeded Pres. Benigno Aquino III.
Duterte’s rise to the presidency was acknowledged as a boost to the Mindanao peace process. After all, the President has made a home for himself in the island, specifically in Davao City where he spent several years as its mayor.
THE NEW EFFORT
During a press conference at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in Pasig City recently, updates on the progress of the proposed BBL drafted by the reorganized Bangsamoro Transition Commission were given.
Present at the event were Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Undersecretary Nabil Tan, who discussed the historical background and context of the Bangsamoro’s aspiration for genuine autonomy and self-determination, and Commissioner Maisara Dandamun-Latiph of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, who discussed the salient features of the proposed BBL.
In his keynote message, Tan regarded the proposed BBL as the “product of decades of often-tedious peace negotiations.”
“The passage and the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law are the realization of the signed peace agreements between the government and the Moro fronts to address the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro,” Tan said as he emphasized the root cause of the armed conflict in Mindanao.
On March 2014, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which serves as the backbone and guiding document of the proposed BBL was signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Further, the implementation of the CAB includes the ratification of an enabling law that will pave way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro, eventually replacing the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
Tan traced the root cause of the century-long conflict in Mindanao which “dates back from the Spanish colonization.”
“For centuries, the Spanish colonial government tried to conquer Muslim Mindanao but history tells us it never succeeded. When the Americans came, the Muslims continued to fight for its independence but not as fierce as during the Moro-Spanish wars,” said Tan.
The continued assertion of the Bangsamoro resulted to the creation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that dates back to the 1970’s therefore complementing the political struggle with an armed force.
Autonomy in certain areas of Mindanao was agreed upon through the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, which was signed under the Marcos administration and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The same was eventually enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution and passed by Congress through the enactment of Republic Act No. 6734 as amended by R.A. 9054.
In 2012, the government and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), and the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014.
“The signing of the CAB was truly momentous, as it signaled the start of a new phase in the relationship between the Philippine Government and the MILF. It also marked the beginning of the challenging task of implementing the peace accord through the crafting of an enabling law, in the form of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), that will make possible the establishment of the new Bangsamoro political entity and provide for its basic structure, in recognition of the cause and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people,” Tan said.
The new proposed BBL, which was drafted by the 21-member BTC to address these historical injustices and move peace and stability forward, is going through deliberations in both Houses of Congress.
Currently, there are five versions of the BBL pending in the House of Representatives and Senate.
The government is pushing for the version drafted by the BTC, which is now in the House of Representatives as House Bill No. 6475 filed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and other congressmen. The Senate version is being pushed by Sen. Miguel Zubiri. He filed it as Senate Bill 1646.
During a Senate hearing on the BBL, the BTC Commissioner Jose Lorena emphasized that the BTC’s new bill was “aligned with the 1987 Constitution.
“The current expanded BTC was directed to craft the BBL along these parameters: implementation of all agreements in steps with the Constitution…we are minded by the Constitutional provisions and we are in custody of the resolution of the constitutionalists so that the draft BBL can pass the constitutional tests,” Lorena said.
Lorena added that a legal panel was created to ensure that the provisions were in step with the Constitution.
Tan agreed with Lorena, saying that the new BBL was “a more improved version of the 2014 bill.”
In the press conference that was held at the OPAPP office in Pasig City, BTC Commissioner Maisara C. Dandamun-Latiph gave a presentation debunking the misconceptions about the new Bangsamoro bill.
The first myth Dandamun-Latiph debunked was the claim that the creation of a Bangsamoro region would lead to an independent state separate from the Philippines.
She explained that the Bangsamoro “will not be an independent state.”
“It will remain part of the territory of the Republic of the Philippines and its inhabitants will remain Filipino citizens,” she said.
She pointed out that this was clearly emphasized under Article III, Section 1 of the proposed BBL, which states “The Bangsamoro territory shall remain a part of the Philippines.
Another myth she debunked was the claim that “everyone residing in the Bangsamoro area are considered Bangsamoro irrespective of their sociocultural and religious affinity and ancestry.”
Dandamun-Latiph explained that this was not true.
She explained that the Bangsamoro identity was not being imposed on anyone.
Under the proposed BBL, people will have the right to choose to identify themselves as Bangsamoro or not. Article II, Section 2 of the bill states “The freedom of choice of other indigenous peoples shall be respected. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of identity, religion and ethnicity.”
One myth that Dandamun-Latiph sought to thoroughly debunk was the claim that the Bangsamoro will be an Islamic state were Sharia’h law will be applied to all of its inhabitants, Moros, Christians and Lumads alike.
She pointed out that this was not true.
A primer released by the OPAPP, which she also used in her presentation debunking the myths, explained that the proposed BBL did not have any provision establishing an Islamic state.
Dandamun-Latiph added that since 1970’s, national laws have already regulated how Sharia’h law can be used in the Philippines.
This, she explained, was reflected in the new BBL bill.
According to the OPAPP primer on proposed BBL, Sharia’h law can only be invoked when Muslims were involved while the traditional or tribal justice system will be applied for the indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro.
The OPAPP primer also emphasized the plurality of the Bangsamoro justice system under the bill. It will also include the regular court system of the country and an alternative dispute resolution system.
Another point that the OPAPP primer covered was the setting up of a Bangsamoro parliamentary government.
Those who were against the setting up of a Bangsamoro region claimed that this was against the Constitution.
Dandamun-Latiph explained during her presentation that this was not true.
Citing the OPAPP primer, “the Constitution does not proscribe a particular form of government for the autonomous regions,” she said.
According to the OPAPP primer, the Constitution only provides that “the organic act shall define the basic structure of government for the region consisting of the executive department and legislative assembly, both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units.”
“A parliamentary form of government satisfies these conditions,” the OPAPP primer explained. “The legislative authority shall fall on the Bangsamoro Parliament composed of party representatives, district representatives and reserved seats and sectoral representatives to be chosen by voters in the Bangsamoro.”
“The head of government, the Chief Minister, shall be elected by a majority vote of the Bangsamoro Parliament from among its members,” the primer added. “The Chief Minister is thus an elected official.”
BANGSAMORO ARMED FORCES
One myth has persisted since the first Bangsamoro bill was filed in Congress in Congress under the Arroyo administration.
This was the myth claiming that the Bangsamoro will have its own armed forces, foreign policy and currency.
Dandamun-Latiph carefully explained that this was not true.
She said that the new Bangsamoro bill crafted by the expanded BTC clearly defined that “defense and external security, foreign policy, coinage and monetary policy, among others, were reserved powers of the national government.”
She added that the Bangsamoro will have a regional police force, which will be under the Philippine National Police (PNP). All regions, she added this will be no different from the other regional units maintained by the PNP.
The OPAPP primer expanded on her explanation.
According to the primer, the MILF will not form the Bangsamoro police force. Neither will the Bangsamoro have its own police force.
The primer emphasized that there was one police force in the country and that was the PNP. The primer added that the Bangsamoro police will be under the PNP. The primer also pointed out that the National Police Commission (Napolcom) will also have supervision over the Bangsamoro Police.
Dandamun-Latiph said that under the proposed BBL, the Bangsamoro will not have its own constitutional commissions.
She explained that the Bangsamoro will have an internal auditing body, which was a mechanism already present in all government agencies and other local government units.
During her presentation, she showed that the Bangsamoro Electoral Office will simply be a regional office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). The Comelec, she added, already maintained regional offices throughout the country.
Dandamun-Latiph also took time to focus on the proposal to set up a Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission. She explained that the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government already has a human rights office, which was provided for under Republic Act 9054.
It will simply be agency under the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), she added. G