All systems go

After several postponements, it seems all system go for the submission of the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on July 17. There seems no more hitches along the way. Official invitations were already sent or served to participants or guests for this much-anticipated event. The guests included members of the international community. Dato’ Kamaruddin Mustafa, who is the current Malaysian facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace process, was of one of those invited.

The official turnover of the BBL follows established tradition. The first BBL was submitted to President Benigno Aquino III during a simple but historic ceremony in Malacañang on September 10, 2014. Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker of the House Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte received the official copy of the BBL from Mohagher Iqbal, chairperson of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), upon the direction of President Aquino.

The same arrangement is expected to be followed during this second submission. Under the direction of President Duterte, Ghazali Jaafar, the incumbent chair of the BTC, will hand over the new BBL to Senate President Koko Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one after the other.

Many eyebrows were raised why President Duterte never munched a word about the BBL during his message on Eid’l Fitr celebration in Malacañang on June 28 when most of the leaders came from the Muslim communities nationwide including MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. Of course, on the part of the MILF, it was never taken negatively but rather interpreted as a gesture with an intense purpose.

Truth is that we are anticipating for those words when the president makes his speech during the BBL turnover on Monday. More seriously, we expect him to make a categorical statement that he is certifying the BBL as urgent bill. Less than that would only bring back old memories when the previous BBL was never formally certified as urgent bill by President Aquino.

 Of course, Aquino pushed for it during his several state-of-the-nation addresses from 2014 to 2015.  However, to our understanding, a formal certification would provide the necessary kick that can set Congress in real motion. To an ordinary mind, without this certification, the BBL is like sending someone to the wilderness.

 Our take is that this time, the BBL has the greater chance of being passed into law under the Duterte administration than during the previous administration and Congress. In terms of commitment, like President Duterte, we never doubted the sincerity and commitment of President Aquino to deliver the BBL.

 The following points underscore the difference or chance of passing it into law: First, President Duterte has all the time to pass it, because he still has five years left in his term of office, while President Aquino was already on the 5th year of his 6th year term when the BBL was presented to Congress. The former president’s popularity was on a downswing mode, while Duterte’s is currently at its highest peak. Second, the President, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President are all from Mindanao -- and the problem is in Mindanao, which makes it more dramatic. Third, during the previous administration, the BBL was on the agenda after the midterm of Aquino when the need for him is lesser especially from those running for Congress; meaning, it was election fever already. Today, practically everybody including politicians need the president, who is the most powerful person in this country or for any other state. Fourth, the BBL is more inclusive both in process and content, because at least one-half of the MNLF is already on board. In fact, those BTC commissioners from the MNLF (Yusuf Jikiri’s faction) were overheard to have said that their concerns are already addressed in the new BBL. Fifth, the Mamasapano incident worked against the BBL and the MILF, while the current Marawi crisis has given the MILF better image especially its humanitarian intervention. And sixth, there is no logical way forward except the way of peace – and for government to comply for what it had committed. The longer the conflict protracts the better chance for the violent extremists like the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups to recruit and strengthen, because they feast on our failures.