Reasons for concerns!

There are at least two prominent provisions in BTC-crafted Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that are purposely intended to implement the unimplemented provisions of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement (GMFPA) of 1996 when the law, R.A. 9054, was passed into law.

These are Section 4, Article XV of the BBL, which provides for the conduct of plebiscites for cities, municipalities, and other geographical areas which were not able to join the Bangsamoro as per results of previous plebiscites, and Section 10 of Article XIII which provides for the co-management in the exploration, development, and utilization of fossil fuels and uranium by the Bangsamoro Government and the Central Government.

The third demand of the MNLF is for the establishment of a provisional government. But it appeared that our brothers in the MNLF did not push this hard, knowing it well that the 1996 agreement is not very clear on this. The other reason, perhaps, is the openness and willingness of the MILF to work with them once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) is established. In essence, the BTA is a provisional government.

Both the Senate and House versions of the BBL deleted this provision on the periodic plebiscites. Only one plebiscite is allowed or proposed and that is during the ratification of the BBL.  On the co-management, the House virtually left the BTC-BBL provision intact, but the Senate heavily diluted it.

Without saying, however, the deletion of many powers already granted to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by virtue of R.A. 9054 – and are not transferred to the Bangsamoro Government – poses serious concern to us, especially the MNLF.  Given by the right hand and taken away by the left hand? So unfortunate!

To us, the best gauge that the BBL establishes an entity higher than the ARMM is if all those powers given by R.A. 6734, R.A. 9054, and other executive issues are transferred to the Bangsamoro Government. In fact, we were happy to hear the commitment of the House leadership that there would be no diminution of the powers already given to the ARMM. In fact, they promised us more plus, plus.

The unwanted result is that the policy of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte when he assumed the presidency “to implement all agreements” is set aside. Consequently, the MNLF, instead of just three demands, would have more axes to grind against the government. This development also does not augur well with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which time and again urged the Philippine government to sustain the gains of the two peace processes and come up with a law containing the best substance of the FPA and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

By bringing up these issues, we do not mean we do not trust the collective wisdom of Congress to come up with a much better and more energized BBL after the bicameral committee conference. We continue to trust and have faith on them especially those legislators who vividly displayed their commitment to pass good versions of the BBL in both Houses. We are fully cognisant of their dedication and valiant stand when they defended their respective committees’ reports in both Chambers.

We also take this opportunity to thank members of the Senate, headed by Senate President Tito Sotto, when they approved their version of BBL on the second and third reading by a vote of 21 against zero. We salute you all!