The case of the unreleased Bangsamoro draft law
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Recently, I received two statements calling for Malacañang to release the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) strongly urged President Aquino to “release to the public the signed [Bangsamoro Transition Commission] version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the comments thereon of the Malacañang legal team. Invoking the acclaimed government policy on transparency and inclusiveness, it is high time that the draft BBL must be released to the public so that all stakeholders for peace will be assured that this remains faithful, compliant and consistent with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”
A statement purportedly from Moro communities similarly urges the President to “reveal to the Filipino people the contents of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to Malacañang. This is so that it will be true to its commitment of transparency and accountability in all government transactions and processes.”
One of the leaders, Salic Ibrahim of the Maranao Peoples Development Center (MARADECA), goes on to say: “We want to be sure that the provisions in the BBL draft contain the important items provided in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).”
The BTC submitted its draft last April 14 to Malacañang, received by Undersecretary Michael Musngi. Reports that the BTC had submitted an incomplete draft circulated like a whirlwind, prompting worried peace advocates to e-mail each other about the repercussions. They commented on how the BTC had not met to approve the draft in plenary and the refusal of a couple of commissioners to sign the draft. MindaNews Editor Carol Arguillas interviewed BTC Chair Mohagher Iqbal about complaints from the government-nominated commissioners that the process was being “railroaded” by the MILF commissioners, “especially since several controversial provisions had yet to be resolved.” Arguillas reported that Chair Iqbal denied the allegations of “railroading.”
Of the incomplete draft, Peace Adviser Teresita “Ging” Deles told Arguillas, “My understanding is they may submit even (an) incomplete (draft) so that the OP (Office of the President) can begin to study the parts that are completed -- maybe even help out with the unfinished parts.”
During the plenary session before the BTC submitted the draft, MindaNews noted that the Commission was able to deliberate only on the reports of the Committee on Basic Rights, Culture, Social Justice and IP and the Committee on Political Autonomy. However, controversial provisions on political autonomy were not resolved before the draft BBL was submitted.
The Committee on Political Autonomy is responsible for the drafting of “all matters directly relating and principally relating to ancestral domain, powers, form and structure of governance, electoral system, among others.” Clearly, a very important section of the BBL had not been approved by the plenary.
MindaNews sources also noted that the Commission en banc had not yet deliberated on fiscal autonomy; justice and security matters; transitory provisions, amendments, revisions and miscellaneous matters; and constitutional amendments. The discussions were conducted during the BTC caucuses and the coordinating committee meetings.
It is quite alarming that staunch supporters of the peace agreement are now coming out in the open with their worries about the lack of transparency with regard to the draft.
I gather that many leaders on the Bangsamoro side are worried that the legal team harnessed by Malacañang to review the draft may, in ensuring the constitutionality of the BBL, run roughshod over the terms of the CAB. And leaders from the Mindanao-wide community of peace advocates are worried that the BTC draft may be silent on provisions that protect the rights of women and non-Muslim groups such as the indigenous peoples.
Lawyer Maryann Arnado of the MPC states: “These unhealthy speculations are bred by the continuing unavailability to public scrutiny of the Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).”
Ibrahim urges the release of the draft so that they who count themselves as friends of the Bangsamoro “will not feel betrayed by Malacañang.”
The two statements agree on the “unhealthy speculations” about the draft. As the MPC warns, “The longer these speculations persist, the greater the chance of eroding the public’s trust on the peace process.”
Last week, President Aquino and MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim al haj were in Hiroshima, Japan, together with the BTC, members of the Bangsamoro Development Agency and government officials for a seminar on peace and development.
However, the rumor mills were churning out suspicions that the meeting was to allow the government to “persuade” the MILF to accept the Malacañang draft.
Murad spoke of how “only the persistent and honest implementation of parties to an agreement [can] peace, development and the practical benefits to the people be ensured.” Perhaps he was alluding to the concerns of a Malacañang draft that would dilute the terms of agreement.
Murad cautioned: “While trust is built at the outset of the bargaining process, we cannot discount the possibility of that trust being broken after all has been said and done, despite the shaking of the hands and the exchange of promises. In all honesty, it is when those promises are actually kept that the parties anticipate that the real and meaningful consequences will follow.”
Iqbal echoed Murad’s concern when he said, “Many a good agreement fails to address a particular problem and halt the conflict, because in the end there is that tendency especially of the powerful partner to dilute the content of the political document like the CAB when the legislated form takes place.”
He warned that the MILF may be forced to reject a watered-down draft because the more radical armed groups would brand it a sell-out and use this as a reason to resume the armed struggle.
But Iqbal did express faith in President Aquino’s full support of the CAB and its provisions. Peace in Mindanao, after all, is a major accomplishment of his administration. Today, Malacañang needs to ensure the success of the peace agreement as it reels from setbacks -- such as the unanimous Supreme Court decision that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is partly unconstitutional.
The President will surely make the peace agreement and the BBL a major highlight of his State of the Nation Address to Congress on July 28. According to news reports, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has informed Malacañang that it is better to submit the draft legislation after the address rather than rush it before the sine die adjournment on July 13.
All of these developments do not alleviate the worries of advocates like Arnado and Ibrahim, I am sure. Which makes me wonder: why doesn’t Malacañang just release the draft? Transparency will neutralize all the speculations gaining ground, weighing heavily on peace and development efforts like iron chains tying a racer to the starting line, when the race has already begun. Besides, we should remember the time-tested adage: the truth shall set us free.