Civil society continues push for BBL passage despite new deadlines in House, Senate

MANILA – Members of civil society will continue drumming up support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) despite a recent pronouncement from Senate President Franklin Drilon that he would be unable to assure the passage of the bill prior to Congress’ recess on October 9.

In separate statements, policy center Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) and academic consortium Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) continued to push for the immediate passage of a BBL that is reflective of the spirit and intention of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the 2014 peace accord signed by the government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

 “The CAB, in particular, lays down the foundation for meaningful political autonomy namely a clear delineation of powers between the national and regional government and a regional parliamentary system. It strengthens fiscal autonomy through a block grant system and a degree of control and management of the region’s natural resources,” read the IAG statement.

“It provides a pluralistic justice system that recognizes the diverse peoples in the region and promotes law and order through normalization and policing roadmap. It mandates a system of continuing adjustments and improvement of intergovernmental relations through a multi-level grievance resolution machinery,” it continued.

Similarly, CEAP called on lawmakers to be mindful of the CAB as they continue deliberations on the draft law.

“[The CAB] signals the type of law the legislators need to pass should it support the peace agreement. The extent the provisions of the CAB are actually integrated into the organic law for the Bangsamoro autonomous region is the clear prerogative of the legislators.”

“But should the legislators or the courts repudiate the peace agreement that the executive forged with the MILF, they take responsibility for the ensuing peace or war into their own hands,” CEAP warned.

IAG is based in Cotabato City with strong national and international linkages. It has been at the forefront of capacity building, research, forums, roundtable discussions and conferences on regional and local autonomy, good governance, and peace processes between the Philippine government and Moro revolutionary fronts. The group has provided technical assistance in the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law particularly in the areas of transitory mechanisms and processes, decentralized and ministerial system of government, elections and political party systems.

On the other hand, CEAP has 1,252 members, which include universities and colleges, majority of which offer basic education to the country's poor and the marginalized. More than just being an academic assembly, CEAP strives to respond to social, political, moral and other critical issues based on consultations with the different regions and calls for the collective action of its members when the situation so requires.

In an interview with reporters earlier this week, Drilon was unable to assuage the fears of the stakeholders of the peace process that a meaningful BBL would be passed before the House and the Senate went on break. “Nobody can assure anything. We have six more session days. You make your own conclusion on that.”

The original draft of the BBL was officially transmitted by President Benigno S. Aquino III to Congress leadership in 10 September 2014. The bill was subjected to almost 100 public hearings and consultations by the House ad hoc committee on the BBL and the Senate committee on local government, separately, before both chambers started plenary deliberations on their respective versions of the bill.

However, the House of Representatives has currently put BBL debates on hold as deliberations have already begun on the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2016.

“The legislation of the BBL is effectively in a state of ‘suspended animation’… The remaining time for the passage of the Basic Law is getting limited and there is the real possibility that the national Budget Law and the 2016 election campaign will soon, sideline it. Many believe that there is no sufficient time anymore to pass a Basic Law under the Aquino administration,” observed IAG.

"In its social justice thrust, the Constitution mandates the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao.  Let this social justice no longer be postponed. Hear Mindanao! Let the Bangsamoro will to full integration in the Philippines, religious inclusiveness, peace and prosperity for all be respected,” said CEAP.

Focus on autonomy as framework of governance

Given the continued delays in the passage of the basic law that will institute a parliamentary regional government to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), IAG appealed to the Executive branch of the government, the Senate and the House, the MILF, and key stakeholders in the Bangsamoro peace process to “devote all remaining energy and time to reach a consensus” on key identified areas.

Those, according to IAG, were: delineation of powers between the national and regional Bangsamoro government; regional parliamentary system with an electoral system that provides equitable allocation for district and party representatives; control of strategic resources by the Bangsamoro government or at least co-management arrangement between the national and regional governments; block grant; and justice system and Bangsamoro safety and security.

The IAG also reminded lawmakers to take cognizance of the transition period necessary to bridge the current ARMM and the Bangsamoro government. Under the CAB and the original BBL, the President of the Republic is to appoint members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) once the basic law has been passed and ratified through a plebiscite.

“The transition must provide sufficient time, resources and mechanisms to raise the institutional and human resources capacities of the future Bangsamoro government to build and administer strong autonomous governance infrastructures,” said IAG.

For its part, CEAP maintained that any law that would be passed should provide “genuine autonomy through which the Bangsamoro Government is empowered to lead its peoples to a future they desire based on the genius of their rich culture; and that the Republic, as a whole, should accept “concept of asymmetrical political entity where the Bangsamoro Government enjoys powers greater than LGUs but fully subject to national governance.”

The group also added that Congress should pass a basic law containing “provisions that surpass, not diminish, the provisions of the Expanded Organic Act for the ARMM (RA 9054), further enhancing what Filipino Muslims already enjoy under this law.”