It is perhaps the most important legislation passed under President Duterte’s leadership. But where was the sense of occasion, the honoring of the historic moment, when the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was finally signed into law?
The President announced that he had signed Republic Act No. 11054 last Thursday, July 26, referring to it by its original title, the one specified in the peace accords between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF): the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
“Napirmahan ko na ang BBL (I’ve signed the BBL),” he said on a visit to Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. “The BBL has been signed, but I’m still going back because I have a ceremony with Jaafar and Murad,” he added, mentioning the names of the MILF chair, Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, and the vice chair, Ghazali Jaafar.
Other laws, much less consequential than the one that seeks to cement peace with the country’s largest separatist movement, have been signed by the President in official rites held at the presidential Palace. It would have been appropriate for such an auspicious measure to have been signed into law in a similar ceremony, and in the presence of not only the senators and congressmen who worked on the law, but also the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and even officers of the MILF.
The administration thus wasted the opportunity to send an unmistakable sign of the law’s importance and its demonstration of inclusiveness right from the signing.
But there are other opportunities. Malacañang should seize every remaining instance of what educators call teaching moments to drive the message home: The BOL, which seeks to create a greater autonomous region for the Bangsamoro, was put together at great difficulty, but both the government and the MILF deem it acceptable and viable. The public must support it, and the stakeholders in the plebiscite required to ratify the organic act must rally behind it and vote for it to ensure its success.
It is important to understand why the BOL was robbed of the usual ceremonial treatment upon signing, to remove possible misconceptions that may hinder the people’s acceptance of it.
In the first place, it was a casualty of the power struggle in the House of Representatives; already much delayed, it was supposed to have been ratified by both chambers of Congress on July 23 and then signed into law by the President on the same day. But the abrupt adjournment of the morning session in the House on July 23, in the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent the unseating of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, further delayed the timetable. (The House ratified it, and new Speaker Gloria Arroyo signed it, on July 24.)
Secondly, it was a casualty of the many attempts by the administration coalition to either silence the President’s critics (through interminable hearings) or change the constitutional order (through different options). With Alvarez out and Arroyo in, the federalism project may lose momentum, reinforcing the status of the BOL as the most consequential legislation passed during the Duterte administration.
The third factor has to do with the fact that the political class in Metro Manila and in Davao is distracted by the politics of the midterm elections. The leadership upheaval in the House is only one proof, albeit the most visible, of this shift in attention. While national popular opinion is moving in favor of greater autonomy in Muslim Mindanao, the politicians appear to be merely doing the electoral math.
This is a pity, because, despite its shortcomings, the BOL represents the best opportunity for both lasting peace and substantial autonomy for Mindanao since at least 1996. That will have an impact beyond the next several election cycles. Also, in the MILF, shortcomings and all, the government has found a reliable, responsible partner. Given its extensive participation in the crafting of the BOL, the MILF leadership can be expected to respond to this truly historic moment in markedly different fashion than the MNLF’s Nur Misuari did.
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