Defining moment!

At no time in the past that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is closer to be enacted into law than today. The Senate had closed its period of interpellation last night (Wednesday, May 23) and on May 28, the period of amendments will start. Thereafter, third and final reading is expected to be finished within two days after. In the Lower House, the period of interpellation will commence on May 28 and immediately the period of amendments is expected to start right away.

Informed sources disclosed that both Chambers of Congress assured of the BBL’s passage before Congress adjourns sine die on June 1. This is response to the appeal of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to leaders of Congress during a meeting with them on April 4, in the presence of MILF leaders led by Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

Part of the growing optimism is that both House Bill 6475 and Senate Bill 1717, if they are passed in their current forms, can be acceptable to the MILF. The case of the House is even better, because they adopted the original BBL drafted by the 21-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in its entirety. Similarly, while the Senate had introduced some amendments to the BTC draft, but they are more for improvements rather than a diminution.

In the Senate, one can witness the brinkmanship of one veteran lawmaker, in the person of Minority Leader, Senator Franklin Drilon. He had been on the rostrum for more than two hours and he was not even halfway in terms of numbers of issues he was supposed to ask. But upon the appeal of his colleagues, especially the main sponsor of the bill, Senator and Majority Floor Leader, Juan Miguel Zubiri, he relented, and terminated his interpellation.

We have no reason to doubt the support of the Liberal Party senators. The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four Annexes, plus the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters, as well as the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) were all signed during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. Moreover, the first BBL crafted by the first BTC chaired by Mohagher Iqbal was also during the previous administration. More importantly, solving the Moro Question or Problem, which President Duterte repeatedly referred to it as the “historical injustices” committed against the Bangsamoro, is not a partisan issue. Political considerations especially party affiliations shall not be invoked here or are part of the equation.

Indeed, the BBL has reached the defining moment! But surely, it is not yet in the basket. There are still remaining bottlenecks to be resolved. One is the issue of policing in the Bangsamoro. There seems to be a little disconnect here. The Bangsamoro Police contemplated in the BBL “is part of the Philippine National Police”. Perhaps, what elicits so much “discomfort” is the use of the term Bangsamoro Police. But the truth is that this term is merely descriptive, like Makati Police, Manila Police, Cotabato City Police, etc. It does not assign any power or authority because of the nomenclature.

In addition, the BBL did not provide for wholesale taking-in of the MILF combatants into the Bangsamoro Police. Only those who are qualified may apply as part of it.

We fully agree with Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Oscar Albayalde that there will never be an independent police force for the proposed Bangsamoro region, and uniformed troops should continue to be administered by the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to prevent, among others, politicization and the absence of command and control.

Perhaps, a little language engineering in the provision of the BBL on policing is in order. This is in consideration of the fact that the Bangsamoro is being given an autonomy status, and as such, it has to be considered. Moreover, for years our people have very little problem with elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines(AFP). They are virtually observing the ceasefire agreement down to the last letter. The case of the PNP, however, is different. People’s perceptions, founded or unfounded, are not very encouraging.