The casualty: BBL
Depending on how you count the number of the dead in the cornfields and marshlands of Mamasapano, Maguindanao, it is possible to argue that the Bangsamoro Basic Law was either the 45th casualty, or the 65th, in the tragic encounter a year ago. When Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong of the House of Representatives spoke two weeks ago of regretfully closing “the book of hope for the passage” of the BBL, he recognized that the death of 44 Special Action Force troopers plus those of 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front regulars and three civilians was a blow against the proposed law.
“Because of the Mamasapano [incident], many of those who supported the BBL wittingly or unwittingly punished the Moro people by denying us the required votes and even the quorum to deliberate on the BBL,” Balindong said in a privilege speech.
We have argued before that the Aquino administration undermined its own historic legacy—a painstakingly crafted comprehensive peace treaty with the MILF—through its mishandling of the special operation to arrest or kill the Malaysian bombmaker Marwan. The terrorist was killed, but 44 elite police troopers died in the process, the worst single loss of life in the history of the Philippine National Police. The responsibility lies squarely on the administration.
But we also hold that while the BBL was grievously wounded by the operation that ignored both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MILF, the government’s counterpart in the peace process, it did not sustain a fatal blow in Mamasapano.
The chambers of Congress could still have saved it. After the hysteria of the widely followed hearings in both the Senate and the House, the leaders of Congress could still have mustered the political will, the strategic foresight, above all the sense of historical responsibility, to engineer its passage.
Instead, Congress became the center of political posturing: Lawmakers who had previously basked in the stage-by-stage achievement of the peace treaty were among the first to paint themselves with the colors of the bloodstained flag. The discussion in both the corridors and the sessions halls turned, absurdly, into the alleged lack of participation or consultation in the making of the proposed law. This was a brazen lie, but repeated, asserted authoritatively, often enough, it took on the shape of truth.
One set of statistics, shared by the government peace panel in an emphatic position paper a few months after the Mamasapano tragedy, should serve to clarify matters. Between 2010 and May 2015, the panel had “conducted and participated in a total of five hundred fifty three consultation activities … in order to shed light on the developments in the peace process with the MILF as well as to share and gather information, positions, and insights from the various stakeholders.” More to the point, the panel noted that of the 553 consultations, it had met with “representatives and supporters” of the Moro National Liberation Front 10 times, with the sultanates in Mindanao six times, with indigenous peoples 32 times, and with “leaders and officials” of local governments some 100 times.
The idea, then, that the Bangsamoro Basic Law was produced through an unconsultative process was a canard, but it was readily accepted and circulated in the corridors and session halls of Congress. It formed part of the rationalization that allowed legislators, even those closely allied with the administration, even those whose names were listed as sponsors of the landmark measure, to let the BBL die.
Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the chief government negotiator, did not mince words when the 16th Congress adjourned for the election break without passing the bill. “The sheer indifference and chronic absenteeism of majority of the legislators manifested in the lack of quorum almost on a daily basis in the House of Representatives, and the prolonged and repetitive interpellation of opposites ate up the remaining sessions.”
She added: “In the Senate, the intermittent absence of the bill sponsor and the remaining interpellator stalled the deliberation.”
Severely wounded in Mamasapano, the BBL died on the floor of the legislature—its blood spreading on the marble, as absent lawmakers fanned themselves in their partitioned offices.
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