Perspective and context of the proposed BBL | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Perspective and context of the proposed BBL

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is now officially introduced to both houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, it is known as House Bill No. 4994; in the Senate, it is Senate Bill No. 2408. It is titled “An Act providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Repealing for the purpose RA 9054 and RA 6734.”

“Public briefings, “public hearings,” fora and talk shops are being conducted by both legislative chambers and various concerned groups, prominent of which is the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG). Upon submission of the proposed BBL to Congress, IAG, in partnership with Notre Dame University and the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corp. (which operates five radio stations) and with the oldest local provincial paper, the Mindanao Cross, scheduled five talk shops in Central Mindanao (the region which also covers the present ARMM) and one national forum cosponsored by the Unicef.

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The rationale for these talk shops and fora is to “unpack” the proposed BBL for people to understand, and to give platforms for people to air their views and comments on the proposal and related issues. The first talk shop broadcast live in the whole of Central Mindanao was on Sept. 18. It tackled all issues on the political autonomy that the proposed BBL aims to achieve. There are more scheduled talk shops on the economy, wealth sharing, policing and security, as well as on the basic rights and the concerns of the indigenous peoples.

Last Sept. 25, the Senate committees on local government (the lead committee) and on peace, reconciliation and unity, jointly conducted the first public briefing on SB 2408. The former is chaired by Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and the latter by the Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona, III.

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The representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) and the government’s peace panels were no match to the wit of Senator Marcos and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, both of whom asked pointed questions on the relations between the Local Government Code and the proposed BBL, particularly on the operational control of the Bangsamoro police and the administration of the internal revenue allocation or IRA. Sad to say, the dismal performance of the Opapp, the government panel and their green lawyers during the briefing did not augur well for a real understanding of the proposed BBL—an issue that brings not only “newness” and freshness into understanding decentralization but also real political empowerment and real supervision and control over local resources beyond the traditional understanding of devolution.

As an independent watcher, I simply could not fathom why government sent amateurs to explain and defend the proposed BBL. I would think that government, for this very high level of public briefing and consultation, would muster the best lawyers and consultants not only to show the difference and relations between the proposed BBL, on the one hand, and the Local Government Code and Republic Act No. 9054 or the ARMM Organic Act, on the other.

In the House, the special committee tasked to “pasture” HB 4994, which is chaired by Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, conducted the first session on Sept. 24. As in the Senate public briefing, the performance of the government team explaining the proposed BBL was equally disastrous. From the questions raised and the answers given, Rep. Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City seemed to be more knowledgeable about the proposed BBL than the peace negotiators and their lawyers. This prompted the special committee to ask, by a vote of 19 to 8, the Opapp and the peace panel to submit “all drafts” of the proposed BBL that the peace panel kept secret like a “Holy Grail” for months.

It is sad to note that the first public presentation of the proposed BBL was left to “amateurs.”

I believe that it is not late in the game to bring in the real “pro,” specifically the Office of the President under Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, to explain, defend and show the positive features of the proposed BBL. Without the pro, the amateurs would not only be eaten alive by both the Senate and the House; they would be the worst proponents of the proposed BBL.

The proposed BBL should be seen, first and foremost, as a “formula” for peace and political settlements, aimed to address not only the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro but also the poverty and years of neglect.

The two issues that are dominant in the discussion are: one, real political empowerment or a level of self-determination that is beyond the traditional understanding of devolution; and two, the control and jurisdiction over the resources in the homeland and future territory. The whole gamut of relations falls under the new “concept” of asymmetry. Since this is something new in the Philippine political lexicon, it is inevitable that the word would become the subject of scrutiny, controversy and fears. For this very reason, the pro should come in and show what should be the actual workings of the proposed BBL vis-à-vis the Local Government Code, RA 9054 and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act. The context and perspectives of the proposed BBL and its dynamic “interface” with both the Constitution and the existing laws are the expertise that government badly needs to pasture the proposed BBL in Congress. Without the pro, I fear the final outcome of the BBL when it comes out of Congress.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., OMI, is with the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, Cotabato City.

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TAGS: Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Bangsamoro, nation, news, Peace talks
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