Presidential candidates should take stand on BBL

We were expecting that all the five candidates for the presidency were asked of their stand on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) during their first debate held in Cagayan de Oro City last February 21. But it did not happen, except two, Senator Grace Poe and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who have expressed their initial thoughts on the issue.

Frankly, we find Senator Poe’s answer very rhetorical. She merely reiterated the need for transparent, inclusive, sustainable negotiation, and in implementation if there is an agreement already.  We expect a more categorical commitment from her during the second and third debates, which are already in the pipeline. On the other hand, Vice Mayor Duterte brushed aside any need for the BBL and batted again for federalism in this country. While he spoke clearly for the need to address the “legitimate grievances” of the Moros, but a shift to federalism in this country is harder to realize than just passing a law, which is the BBL.

Obviously, many people including lawmakers failed to appreciate the fact that real negotiations have been terminated already with both the MNLF and MILF. The MNLF had already signed with the government the GRP-MNLF Final Agreement in September 1996 and with the MILF the FAB in March 2014. There is nothing more for the Parties to discuss substantially.

On the issue of being inclusive in negotiation by inviting the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the so-called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and its armed component, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), any new government may or can try it. But both groups have completely shunned negotiations. All previous attempts ended in vain; or they were not tried at all. The case of the Ansar al-Khalifah is worse. It is more extremist in orientations than the ASG and BIFM.

We would like to see in the next debate that all the five candidates especially Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Miriam Santiago, and Secretary Mar Roxas, should also make known their stand on BBL, and asked of the same question, one after the other, so that everybody knows where they stand on the issue. Definitely, we do not want the Moro voters to vote for someone who is not committed to solve the armed conflict in Mindanao. The question calls for a yes or no answer. Any other answer would mean their policy of government is just to manage the conflict in Mindanao, or they want other options, say an all-out war. They should also state their positions on other hard or controversial issues, such as death penalty, gays, lesbians, transgender, same-sex marriages, going to war with China, divorce, Sabah claim, etc. We disdain leaders who always play safe on the side of conveniences. The real test of principled leader is if he or she can make a stand even on unpopular but compelling questions or issues.  Leaders have to make decisions no matter how difficult.

This conflict must be settled now and rested. This must be the choice; lest it might become part of a larger global conflict, signs of it are already underway in Mindanao. The government should rein-in the biases, prejudices, hatred, fear --- and selfishness --- of the vested interests groups which collaborated and conspired to defeat the BBL in Congress.

For this reason, the BBL, which is a legal instrument and is designed to implement the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) must one of the priority piece of legislation of whoever is the next sitting president in Malacañang. This is the way forward!