A Postscript: to “Good! Enough? In All Honesty …”

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY, March 8, 2017 – In “Good! Enough? In All Honesty …” (COMMENT: MindaNews, February 22, 23 and 26), we said the New BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) could craft a new Bangsamoro basic law and present it to President Rodrigo R. Duterte by July 24, 2017 for submission to the Congress if the New BTC were the only body to draft the basic law as mandated by Executive Order No. 08, s. 2017. However, three situations could complicate the drafting. 

The first situation will arise from the separate negotiation between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front-Misuari faction; the second, from the simultaneous legislative-federalism tracks of the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap of the Duterte government; and, third, from the contradictory draft bills the New BTC and the MNLF-Misuari will submit to the Congress. These situations are beyond the control of the New BTC.

We suggested “the crucial option”: “The New BTC uses Draft BBL as its primary working draft. Converge to this all the other peace agreements and legislations as provided in “(1)” of the “Legislative Track” of the BPDR. President Duterte convinces the 17th Congress to presume the ensuing CAB-compliant Draft BEL as constitutional.  Let the constitutional issues, if any, be decided by Supreme Court. Constitutional amendments may still be proposed to the ConAss (Constituent Assembly). 

“But this option will be futile if MNLF-Misuari will continue its engagement with the Duterte government, The Congress has been entrusted with the task to consolidate the two draft bills; but the impossibility to abolish the ARMM as proposed by one and to keep and strengthen it as proposed by the other can be an excuse for the 17th Congress to write a substitute bill unacceptable to the Moros.”  

The burden is on President Duterte: “…Complications will arise from the separate negotiation of the government and the MNLF-Misuari to implement fully the 1996 FPA and from the BPDR. Does President Duterte have the wisdom, prudence, tack and, above all, political will to preempt these complications?

Acknowledged But …

President Duterte, at the launching of the New BTC last February 24, on schedule as earlier announced, acknowledged what the New BTC will have to surmount. MindaNews (February 25) headlined, ”Duterte to BTC: “navigate the hindrances and obstructions; find a way to peace”. But, while he gave his marching order, he failed to assure the New BTC that he would intervene, if necessary to remove obstructions to its mandate, to make its task easier and faster. On the contrary, he left all for the New BTC to contend with.  

The acknowledgment was not the heart of his speech even if he cast aside a prepared speech to speak from his heart. . He did not open his speech with this. This was culled from the 26th paragraph of his 49-paragrah, 5-page speech: “So I am urging the BTC to navigate the hindrances and obstructions at hanapin ninyo ang daan hanggang patungo ng kapayaan. Mahirap ‘yan. It’s going to be long journey but if there is a product that is acceptable to all, makikita ninyo ako”. (Bold, supplied)

Was this the heart of his speech? In his 25th paragraph, he said: “But I would like to tell you now that as President, ang gusto ko talaga mangyari ay kapayapaan but it must be as one country, one nation and one flag. Nagkaintindihan tayo diyan” – a part (ang gusto ko talaga mangyari ay kapayapaan)  MindaNews highlighted. For its banner headline, The Philippine Star (February 26, Sunday issue) quoted from this sentence “Peace under one nation and one flag”.

The President was vague. What was clear, though, was: He acknowledged the difficulties the New BTC would encounter, he ordered the members to find a way to peace – to unravel the complications not of their own making and beyond their control. MindaNews observed: “At a certain point, however, Duterte’s statements confused the crowd as he was apparently referring to the Constitution of a Federal Philippines instead of the BBL.”

President Duterte said he was disregarding the two-page speech prepared for him: “I do not read speeches because it does not reflect what is in the heart.” As usual, he rambled extemporaneously – this time, by the official transcript of his speech, up to five pages. Most of what he said had been said earlier to Moro and various audiences – his resolve to solve the problems of Mindanao, his Moro ancestry, etc. – interspersed with his drug war, fight against corruption and warning against extremism and terrorism. 

Like a Pep Talk

Secretary Dureza explained what the New BTC will do – a repetition of what had been repeatedly published in the media – and suggested it augurs well for the New BTC and the basic law draft that for the first time the President is a Mindanawon; so are the Senate President (Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III), the House Speaker (Pantaleon Alvarez) and the Chief Justice (Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno). Incidentally, not one of the last three was in attendance (MindaNews, 2/25/17: Duterte to …).

In the Sun-Star report (February 24, 2017): "Today is a milestone that has been promised. We have a golden opportunity. Now if we lose this (opportunity), it will be forever lost; we have to strike now. We call on members of BTC to come together using the experience and competency to craft a law which the congress will approve. … Road to peace is not a smooth, if we stay on the course we will get there." 

The Secretary made no mention of “the hindrances and obstructions” to “navigate’.

A Re-Launch

MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim, in the MindaNews report (2/25/17), imparted four points:

First: He emphasized the meaning of the occasion: “As we re-launch the BTC today, we rekindle the hope of thousands of our people for a peaceful and progressive Bangsamoro even if we are occasionally gripped by sadness at the failure earlier to pass the BBL.” By “re-launch”, continuity of the peace process is affirmed.

Second:  On the failure of the BBL to pass the 16th Congress, he urged stakeholders to “look back at those experiences, not with bitterness, but with an examining eye so that we may dissect the problems and address them.”

Third: Concerning the present: “We must come out better prepared this time to respond to the challenges of legislation. The Filipino people must equally stand prepared to accept us as partners in achieving peace and progress, not only for this region but for the entire country.” 

Fourth: He and the MILF have not lost confidence in the government –  in fact, ”more confident”, for Mindanawons head all the three branches of government under Duterte and  the President avows to understand “the history and the root cause of the Moro Question”.  Rightly so, referring to the re-launching, he hoped: “Perhaps, this second chance is the best second chance anyone could possibly have.”

Murad’s two-page speech, reiterated the MILF stand that the proposed BBL would be CAB-compliant like the first. He said that as the President recognized the CAB as “an attempt to redress the historical injustices against the Moro people”, they readily accepted his proposal to converge the peace agreements, believing “that we can work with our brothers and sisters from the MNLF”.

He expected “the BTC to encounter challenges” but he also expected “the three branches of our government can all work together to contribute in the epoch-making task of bring peace finally to our country” -- the Executive to negotiate peace; the Legislative to enact peace legislation; and, the Supreme Court to rule on constitutional issues for peace. We see in this a challenge to Government to trust the New BTC. 

Foremost in his final appeal for unity:  “To our fellow brothers from the MNLF, let us close ranks and find strength in the convergence of our peace agreements.”

Easier Option 

Speaker Pimentel was not at the launching. However, in an exclusive interview by MN Editor Carolyn O. Arguillas at his Senate office in Pasay City (MindaNews, March 1, 2017: Pimentel urges BTC to work “double time” on draft Bangsamoro law), he revealed what could have been his message had he spoken at the launching. 

His key points: (1) The New BTC “should now start working” and work “double time” to submit their draft to Congress by July. (2) The two-track approach to peace through BBL and Federalism “introduces some complications”. While the “the simplest (way) would be straight to federalism”, passing a “bill (proposed BBL) into law is easier than (shifting from) old Constitution to new Constitution.” (3) The Senate will “accommodate and cooperate” with the Executive Branch.

More than the complications that we have discussed as arising from the simultaneous “Legislative + Federal” track provided in the BPDR and the separate engagement of MNLF-Misuari faction with the government, he saw complications in the timeframes for the passage of the BBL, the establishment of federalism and “the need to implement the existing peace agreements that mandate the creation of a Moro autonomous region”. 

The mechanisms for the passage of the BBL are in motion, the output being awaited. In contrast, those for federalism are not; the primer – the Consultative Committee that will study the 1987 Constitution and recommend amendments to the Congress as Constituent Assembly -- has been created but not organized’ 

On the New BTC and MNLF-Misuari separate proposals that will be submitted to the  Congress, he said the ideal is for the Moro fronts to do the convergence of the drafts into one proposed law for submission to Congress; if the two fronts will not “then somebody has to do the harmonization or the reconciliation. It could be the Office of the President, walang masama doon (nothing wrong with that) or it could be Congress.”

Enigmatic

Pimentel’s suggestion for the Moro Fronts to do the convergence of the Bangsamoro basic law proposals jibes with the proposal of MILF Chairman Murad to let the BCF or Bangsamoro Cooperation Forum do it. MNLF Chairman Misuari stands in the way. Only President Duterte and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation can make Misuari change his mind. 

While President Duterte did not categorically spell out the “hindrances and obstructions” barring the New BTC’s way, despite his vagueness, we can trust that he will give the Commission all the help it needs to clear the way. Will Speaker Alvarez also assure the “cooperation and accommodation” of the House? 

It looks as if the only obstacle is Chairman Nur Misuari. Why can’t he see and accept the wisdom of the OIC counsel for all Moro Fronts to unite and do the convergence of the Bangsamoro basic law through the BCF?  

The heads of the MNLF-Misuari and of the government peace implementing panels were known early last November. But the panels have not been formally created. Why the long silence? Why the inaction?  

It is highly possible the MNLF-Misuari will not be able to submit by July its proposed amendments of R.A. No. 9054. Should the New BTC be able to submit its draft bill on time, will the Congress proceed enacting it into the Bangsamoro Enabling Law? What will happen should the MNLF-Misuari eventually submit its draft?  

It can be rightly said that the Philippine Government has seen the light and has granted the Bangsamoro as the political settlement of the Moro Question. What historic irony and paradox will it be if the acknowledged Father of the Moro Liberation Front movement – in spite of his sincerity, zeal and sacrifices to liberate the Moro people -- will be seen as the leading cause of disunity that will abort the Bangsamoro!

END