save the BBL

i get it naman.  of course, the president wants the BBL passed and in place by the time he steps down so he can take full credit for it, even bag that rumoured-to-be-coveted peace prize.  after all, this is a legacy kind of thing that he’s been pushing for since august 2011.

looking back now to that august day when he surprised one and all with that historic first meeting with the MILF’s murad in tokyo to talk peace (effectively drowning out some of the noise over the first anniversary of the luneta bloodbath), i wondered when he started planning it in earnest.  surely it was already a gleam in his eye six months earlier, in February, when he asked congress to postpone the august 2011 ARMM elections to may 2013.  lalo na if he had already received the draft peace agreement that the MILF is said to have been presented to the aquino administration that same february.  he must have known it was coming, at the very least.

fast forward to october 15  2012, a monday, when the framework agreement on the bangsamoro was signed.  oct 12 i blogged that the chacha dance was in progress.

 just two days after president aquino’s sunday announcement of a peace accord achieved, malou tiquia attended an afternoon forum on federalism in the house of representatives and tweeted about it.  i jumped in upon the mention of pimentel and abueva,  both ardent federalists.

the very next day, the president hosted a dinner attended by all but 3 senators.

so it wasn’t about an enrile ouster, obviously, or he wouldn’t have been invited, too.  still it’s hard to believe senator drilon when he says it was just a thank you dinner for their votes to oust corona all of 4 months ago.  we weren’t born yesterday.

senator enrile of course is already a part of the dance, stepping up to contradict senator miriam (who else would dare?) re constitutional amendments.  charter change won’t be needed, he says, while evincing great interest in this experiment in parliamentary govt.

this should remind us that not too long ago, post-corona, pre-brady, pre-memoir, when he was smelling so good and wise, enrile and speaker belmonte joined forces and tried to convince the president about amending the constitution and making national defense a higher priority than education and — the ruling elite’s holy grail – setting the economy free from protectionist provisions.

even then, senator miriam was warning that it would take two constitutional amendments to legalize the abolition of ARMM and the founding of bangsamoro.  however, lead negotiator dean leonen belied that, it would not need chacha, he said, even if he had also mentioned in an earlier presscon the possibility of “people’s initiative” as a way of amending the charter.


just the same, 2012’s end saw the president firmly in control – congress was cooperative, sereno had replaced corona in the supreme court, chacha was, at the very least, in the air, just in case the constitution got in the way.  and work on the four annexes to the framework agreement on the bangsamoro – power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements and modalities – was decidedly underway.


2013 however was a bitch, especially the second half.  the inquirer broke the napoles-PDAF scandal in mid-july,  jinggoy exposed the corona-DAP payouts in september.  the people were marching, with and without the Left.  the supreme court ruled PDAF unconstitutional.  and let’s not forget the zamboanga siege.  the prez must have taken comfort in the peace talks even if took all of 2013 to almost finish  crafting the 4 annexes.

in his july 22 SONA, the president urged congress to pass the BBL before the end of 2014 so the bangsamoro transition authority (BTA) could take over and prepare for the may 2016 election of the bangsamoro’s first set of officials.


as it turned out, 2014 was super-masalimuot, even ma-drama, for the BBL.  all annexes done by january 2014, the comprehensive agreement on the bangsamoro (CAB) was finally signed on march 27.   the palace got its copy of the final draft law on april 22, but instead of forwarding it forthwith to congress, as the MILF expected the president would do, the palace spent almost another two months reviewing it, and revising it, to make sure it was in the best possible shape for smooth sailing in congress.

june 21 the MILF received the revised draft law.  a few days later, without going into specifics, murad expressed grave concern that the proposed revisions by the palace “heavily diluted” and practically rejected the BBL draft agreed upon by the MILF and government panels.

Murad in an interview with MindaNews said he told the President that they were “very disgusted” by the proposed revisions to the BTC draft because “almost everything was … reformulated” and “it was not only the provisions introduced in the BTC that were changed but even those provisions in the agreement itself were diluted.”

by SONA time in july, nothing was settled.

… the President on Monday merely asked for “pang-unawa” (understanding) while the draft is being scrutinized per provision so that what would be submitted to Congress would be a draft bill that is “makatuwiran, makatarungan, at katanggap-tanggap sa lahat(fair, just and acceptable to all).

the president was also criticized for “two oversights”:

Among those inside the House of Representatives while the President was delivering his SONA were Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel and chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to draft the BBL and some members of the BTC.

The President, however, failed to acknowledge their presence.

While his advisers may consider that a minor oversight, a major oversight was the fact that the President could have made the SONA meaningful for the Moro constituents by greeting them “Eid Mubarak” in celebration of Eid’l Fitr, the end of the month-long Ramadan which coincidentally fell on the day he delivered his SONA.

a final round of talks happened august 1 to 10 in davao city but both panels refused to budge, failing to craft a “mutually acceptable” draft BBL.

In the morning of August 10, the panels continued their meeting at the Kalaw Room of the Waterfront Insular Hotel with neither party knowing if there would be a press conference at all. Although both sides would reportedly issue a press statement, what to say in that statement was still a problem in the morning.

and who should come to the rescue but executive secretary paquito ochoa.

From a morning of “no direction” on August 10, it became an afternoon of action when Ochoa arrived at noon and practically took over the helm of the negotiations on behalf of government, meeting separately with the panel chairs.

MindaNews learned there was not a single panel to panel meeting although the GPH peace panel led by chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was in the same venue.

Three meetings were held between Ochoa and Iqbal – in Malagos on Wednesday afternoon, Marco Polo on Thursday afternoon and shortly before noon Friday.
Ochoa was accompanied to the meetings by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Alfredo Benjamin Sabater Caguioa.

finally on august 15, a joint statement announced the conclusion of discussions on the various issues involving april’s draft BBL  not that ochoa and iqbal were done talking. carolyn arguillas reported:

Iqbal and Ochoa met again in Manila starting August 19 with the consolidated draft submitted to President Aquino through Ochoa at 8 p.m. on August 20. Several more meetings were held after the President’s review last week and the last remaining issue is expected to be resolved this week.

on september 4, there was a last (?) meeting between the president and MILF chair murad, and  a week later, on september 10, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law was submitted to Congress.

Aquino said in in Filipino that he fully believes that the proposed law is “in accordance with our Constitution and with the principles of our Framework Agreement, and that it reflects our shared efforts towards growth that leaves no one behind.”

september 14, cagayan de oro rep rufus rodriguez was optimistic that the draft basic bangsamoro law would be passed by december 17 so that the plebiscite could be held in february or march 2015.  but in november, the committee was still conducting public hearings and consultations, and he was looking at feb 2015 for passage, delaying too the plebisicite.


january 25 when i first heard of what went down in mamasapano, my reaction was, oh no, who’s sabotaging the peace process???  not that i was sold on the BBL.  on twitter i was asking how peace with the MILF only could mean peace in mindanao.  but post-mamasapano, after reading mindanews‘ running reports of the peace talks by carolyn arguillas, and opinions from left, right, and center of mainstream and social media, i find myself squarely on the side of peace.  war is not the answer.

read bong o.wenceslao’s BBL won’t benefit MILF alone

…  the BBL is not about the MILF. It is wrong to assume that the BBL’s provisions are intended to benefit a particular group. The BBL is for the Bangsamoro people, or those who want to be part of a Bangsamoro entity. In a way, it is a gift of the Philippine state to the Moro people.

Mohagher Iqbal, the head of the MILF panel to the peace talks, mentioned this during the Senate hearing on the Mamasapano clash. Once the Bangsamoro entity is established, the MILF will transform itself into a political party. In a way, it will have the inside track in the elections that will follow, but other Muslim groups can form their own political parties to steal the initiative from the MILF.

When asked what MILF will do if it loses in the elections, Iqbal said, “e, di talo.” But that does not mean MILF would be able to take up arms again because by then its armed force will already be disbanded.

right now the fate of the BBL seems to hinge on how the MILF will handle any demands for the surrender of the killers of SAF 44.  but government was at fault, too, for not coordinating with the MILF, and the AFP, even if for valid reasons.  like edilberto c. de jesus says in Roles reinforced, roles reversed:

The question that should have been probed before launching Exodus: Was Marwan’s elimination worth the risk of derailing the BBL process and the prospects for peace in Mindanao?

If the resumption of war turns out to be the cost of Exodus, Marwan, with assistance from our politicians, would have achieved his biggest triumph.

read too tony la vina’s Pathways forward after Mamasapano where he defends miriam ferrer and ging deles and the peace process, and rightly so.

I will concede one thing. Externally, not just in the words but also in their body language, the two panels – the government and the MILF – seemed to have meshed together into a single unit. This can be explained by the joint ownership they have of the process and the trust they have built with each. But unfortunately it does not show how difficult and contentious it has been to get to where we are. For those of us who have followed how the details of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the draft BBL got put into place, we know that the two panels fought over many concepts, phrases, and words, and settled only with compromises after considerable time. But all of that is lost with the public who sees the image of the two panels now locked into each other in what seems to be an unhealthy embrace.

Moreover, because there has been wide acceptance of the peace process for a long stretch, there has been no need and thus no practice by the government on how to defend it on multiple fronts. It is absolutely not true that the Aquino and OPAPP have not been transparent on the peace process. They have briefed Congress many times, certainly local officials and the Mindanao business and peace advocacy communities. The congressional hearings on the BBL have also been very inclusive.

The truth is that, until Mamasapano, objections were muted and for most of these last five years, it has been mainly the government and the MILF talking to each other, with peace supporters cheering them on.

… My unsolicited advice now to both panels is to learn the lesson from that unfortunate period. The cat is out of the bag. Spoilers of the peace process are now on the loose. But there are many good, reasonable and patriotic, and pro-peace people, and mean well, who are also critics of the BBL. That’s how I would approach the revising of the BBL: not all its critics are enemies of peace; the current version can be improved by engaging even those who are against it and especially those who have cited its legal flaws.

yes.  senator miriam and everyone else who says we must scrap the BBL, start over, are out of their minds.  starting over only means eventually coming to this point again instead of facing this that we face now.

the palace has to do its part.  drop the now-or-never stance.

Malacañang believes the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will not be approved in the next administration.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda made this clear yesterday as he rejected calls for the crafting of an alternative to the BBL that can be left for the next administration to tackle.

“We don’t see ourselves looking at the BBL being passed by the next administration. It’s either BBL or no BBL,” Lacierda declared.

it was in march 2010, still in the time of gloria, when the MILF finally dropped its bid for secession/independence — the outcome of resumed peace talks between the arroyo government and the MILF post-MOA-AD.  the aquino administration can do better, endorse the BBL to the next administration, kaysa madaliin ngayon – kaya ba? – para rin magkaroon ng panahon for a proper transition phase.

certainly the president would need a cooperative congress.  maybe it’s time to call in the trouble-shooting executive secretary ochoa to do the honors, wreak his kind of magic once more, for nation.