Why BBL did not pass Congress?

There are many explanations advanced by several quarters why the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) did not pass Congress. The most common, almost unanimous, reason was the Mamasapano incident that caused the deaths of 44 elite Police commandos, 17 MILF combatants, and five civilians including a child. The second reason forwarded was the lack of material time and the third was the proposed basic law contained so many unconstitutional provisions.

We respect the views of all those who expressed them, but to us they are not the real or main reasons. The Mamasapano incident merely triggered the upsurge or had brought into surface the long-held biases, hatred, prejudices, and fear of the majority populations against the Moros, which are shared by those lawmakers opposing the BBL. More than 300 years of warfare pitting the Spaniards-indios (now Filipinos) and Moros have left within us, in our psyche, the hatred for each other. The feelings are mutual, not just true with Filipinos. But is it good that we are ruled by our emotions rather than by rationality by defeating a bill that seeks to establish peace, justice, and progress in this country? The lack of material time is clearly an alibi. The national budget was only introduced in the Lower House in September and the Senate calendared it for deliberation in October, both last year. It passed even without the lack of quorum being questioned. There were also other laws passing Congress very smoothly. The question of unconstitutionality is another farcical reason. Changing the term “territory “to “geographical areas”, among similar others, to make it constitutional is clearly an insult even to a non-lawyer. There is really no constitutional issue here. The BBL had passed through several layers of legal scrutiny, from panel to panel discussions, during the deliberations in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which had more than ten lawyers, the engagement with the Office of the President led by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Benjamin Caguioa, the Palace chief legal counsel, and three other lawyers to back them up. Would this be more prudent and practical to leave this question to the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the BBL? After all, in this particular instance, lawyers’ and non-lawyers’ opinions are not relevant, just a waste of time.

It appeared very clearly that there are four over-riding reasons why the BBL did not pass Congress. The first reason is already explained above: the hatred, biases, prejudices, and fear of the majority populations which are shared by many if not most of the lawmakers in Congress. This view was given by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, a well-respected Church leader. The second is the very nature of a secular, mundane, materialistic system, which promotes monopolistic control of power and resources. This is the national interest of the elites of society, not necessarily also the genuine national interest of this country. We don’t think that allowing the bloody mess in Mindanao to continue is a national interest of this country. The third is: those forces of change or those supporting the BBL, including the push exerted by President Benigno Aquino III are still very weak, as compared to the forces of status quo, as the fourth reason, which is very strong. Many of those who are pushing for the BBL are also enjoying all the privileges of the status quo; in fact, one of them is lawyering for the energy and mining companies in Mindanao.

The peace process in Mindanao did not die with the non-passage of the BBL. The Exit Agreement is not yet signed by them. Thus, this would require them to start where they have stopped: “as is, where is”; meaning, the MILF and government or the new administration will either refile the BBL or craft jointly through the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), most likely composed of new members from both Parties, a new basic law but still pursuant to the letter and spirit of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). There is no other way forward, except the government would resort to approaches outside of the parameters agreed by the Parties. That would entirely be another story!