RUFUS RODRIGUEZ LEADS BBL APPROVAL IN CONGRESS

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RUFUS RODRIGUEZ LEADS BBL APPROVAL IN CONGRESS

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boholano-thumbby Jose “Pepe” Abueva

“BBL” refers to “the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law” that will establish the Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the failed ARMM or Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao established in pursuance of Article X, Sections 15 to 21, of the 1987 Constitution. 

Actually “the BBL” is the bill that was initially drafted jointly by the Government Panel [headed by Prof. Miriam Coronel Ferrer] and the MILF Panel [headed by Mohagher Iqbal]. The panels had also authored the proposed peace agreement between the Government led by President B.S. Aquino III and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front headed by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

Then the draft Bangsamoro bill was refined by the President’s legal advisers and submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate as “the proposed BBL.”

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It should be recognized that the peace agreement with the MILF and the Bangsamoro autonomous region if established would be among the most important achievements and legacies of President B.S. Aquino III and the 16th Congress of the Philippines.

The peace and development process in Mindanao and the proposed establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity had made remarkable progress until it was set back by the Mamasapano massacre on January 25, 2015 that killed 44 Special Action Forces of the Philippine National Police, 18 members of the MILF, and some civilians.

Major role of the House. As the much larger chamber, the House of Representatives has many more members [234 district members and 56 party-list members] than the Senate (with only 24, and only two of them from Mindanao). So there are many more representatives than senators who are individually knowledgeable about the Moros and indigenous peoples in Muslim Mindanao and about Mindanao as a whole.

There are also several committees in the House concerned with the ARRM and the proposed Bangsamoro to replace it. So to save time and effort in dealing with the 98-page draft BBL and the crucial issues involved, the House created the Ad Hoc Committee on the draft BBL that has held over 50 meetings to review, refine, and amend the proposed BBL. The Ad Hoc Committee will begin to vote on the emerging draft BBL beginning next week.

Rufus Rodriguez acclaimed as the chairman of the 75-member House Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL. Once a senior Board member of Misamis Oriental, his province’s youngest Vice-Governor, he is now the third term Representative from the second district of Cagayan de Oro. He is a House member with perfect attendance and the most number of bills filed that have become laws.

Moreover, Rodriguez has assiduously devoted himself to support the cause of peace, justice, reconciliation, unity, and development in Mindanao, especially involving the Moros and indigenous communities. Thus he has participated in various meetings and hearings in the country and abroad bearing on the reform and development of Muslim Mindanao and Mindanao as a whole.

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As background, he is a notable lawyer who got his Ll. B. from the U.P. College of Law and his Master of Laws at the Columbia School of Law. He has been dean of the San Sebastian College of Law. He has also an A.B. in economics summa cum laude from De la Salle University.

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As a leading political reformer, Rodriguez is the elected president of the new Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines—Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya that the Commission on Elections approved in 2012.

Progress of the House Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL. Chairman Rodriguez is confident that the Committee will vote to pass the BBL as most of them are, in his view: “for  bringing peace and development to Mindanao and the BBL is our best shot at accomplishing this objective.”

He observed that 90 percent of the 221 provisions of the draft BBL are not controversial. Only eight or nine provisions are controversial because they might be unconstitutional, and should thus be amended.

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The House ad hoc committee on the BBL has proposed renaming the new political entity the “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BAR) as a clear reference to and a substantial improvement of the weak Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARRM) that was not autonomous and was widely deemed a failed institution. It is proposing 53 exclusive powers and 24 concurrent or shared powers to the BAR, and giving it more funds through an annual block grant, other sources of revenue, and the right to raise revenue. And deleting the “opt-in” provision allowing contiguous areas to join the “BAR” through a plebiscite.

The House ad hoc committee on the BBL wants the national government to retain exclusive and reserved powers over energy, national and local elections, auditing, civil service, human rights, and the Ombudsman. All the provisions creating local versions of national agencies are to be erased. A “Presidential  Office for the Bangsamoro” is to be headed by an official with Cabinet rank. Final and executory decisions of the Bangsamoro Shariah High Court shall be subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court.

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House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte is optimistic that the House will be able to pass the Basic Law on the Bangsamoro in June.

For its part, the Senate Committee on Local Government chaired by Senator Ferdinand Marcos has been holding public hearings on the BBL in Jolo, Sulu, and Zamboanga City. Senate President Franklin Drilon is likewise optimistic about the Senate’s approval of the draft BBL.

Government Peace Panel and MILF Peace Panel. In pursuance of the Bangsamoro alternative, these two panels valiantly sought to counter the political reform setback caused by the Aquino Administration’s Oplan Exodus and the resulting Mamasapano massacre on January 25, 1915.

Under President P-Noy’s overall leadership and responsibility, suspended Police General Alan Purisima and PNP-SAF Director Getulio Naspeñas commanded Oplan Exodus. There was no coordination with the MILF, the government’s invaluable peace partner, nor with the military. Neither did the President consult his peace-makers: Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles and Professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer for their invaluable advice.

Oplan Exodus into MILF territory to arrest “Marwan,” the Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker, and his Filipino partners, provoked the shocked and besieged MILF to fight back the PNP/SAF commandos. So did the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the guerrillas of the Justice for Islamic Movement. The outcome was the massacre of the 44 commandos, the 18 members of the MILF, and five civilians. The killing of the lone Malaysian terrorist cost far too much for the fatal operation. And President P-Noy lost much public trust and approval as our national leader.

A recent SWS survey indicates that many citizens are still not in favor of the Bangsamoro reform and they need to be better informed about its advantage to most of them. But still many informed peace-loving Christians and Muslims around the country are praying and working for enduring peace and development in Mindanao by establishing the Bangsamoro autonomous region. The revered Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo urges all of us to support the BBL, reject our  biases, and show our deep trust in our Muslim brothers and sisters. For they have paid so dearly and so long for the killing and displacement, and the suffering and injustice they’ve been through for more than a century.

President BS Aquino III’s Peace Council. To reinforce the President’s peace and development

campaign, he formed this Council composed of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, business leader Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Ambassador to the Vatican Howard Dee, former constitutional assembly delegate Wilfrido Villacorta, and princess Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide reported that the BBL adheres to the Constitution and the alleged creation of a new state in the draft bill had no basis. The Peace Council recommended to remove the provision which would allow Bangsamoro territory to increase indefinitely through a petition of 10 percent of registered voters in the outer territories. In particular the BBL was not just about the grant of substantial autonomy but also “an instrument to pursue social justice and development” in Muslim Mindanao, Davide emphasized.

The President’s Peace Council met with Chairman Rufus Rodriguez and the House ad hoc committee on the BBL and their meeting brought together many concerned leaders in various sectors. Covered by national television, the discussion on the issues and problems reached a wide audience.

House and Senate commitment to pass the “BBL.” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon have expressed their confidence that Congress would ensure the enactment of the proposed BBL as amended before Congress adjourns. This would be timely for President BS Aquino’s last State of the Nation address in July 2015.

What is good for the Moros is good for all other Filipinos! As I have said on various occasions and fora, the proposed ideal Bangsamoro is a most welcome model for the fundamental reform of our highly centralized unitary system under which the various administrative regions of differing ethno-linguistic-cultural communities gravely suffer from the lack of powers, authority, and resources as poor dependents of the national government in “Imperial Manila.”

In genuinely autonomous regions, like the proposed Bangsamoro would become, our regional and local governments will be able to develop their natural resources, raise local revenues, compete for investments, and empower the people to participate in democratic governance and development. We shall liberate ourselves from the shackles of our dysfunctional centralization, enhance our human security, and build peace with justice according to our national vision in our 1987 Constitution.

The Bangsamoro model is good for all our bangsa [nations or ethno-linguistic, cultural, and political communities]. So why not introduce and propagate as well the vision of maximizing and optimizing  the powers, functions, and resources of all the existing administrative regions as we gain practical experience and substantive success with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region?

A vision of a future Federal Republic of the Philippines with a parliamentary government. As I have long and widely proposed, and so does our Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines propose, the fundamental institutional and structural reform nationwide will eventually require a constitutional amendment to Article X. Local Government in our 1987 Constitution, and several other articles therein concerning the executive, legislative, and judicial departments.

The brilliant innovations brought about by many years of discrimination, injustice, violent struggle, sacrifice, and eventual accommodation will enhance nation-building, democratization, modernization, and economic development. In due course, it would transform our devolved unitary system to a beneficial Federal Republic of the Philippines. And hopefully, the vital institutional shift as well from our dysfunctional and obsolete presidential government to a  parliamentary government that will help ensure good democratic governance.

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