I went to the Batasan last Tuesday for a meeting and discussion with a leading member of our House of Representatives. While in the premises, I was enticed to attend the farewell news conference of the House Independent Minority Bloc, some of whose members and leaders happen to be my friends and comrades in past undertakings. I assented to the suggestion, half-thinking that it might produce some useful information and ideas for this column.
Media conference turned into a wake
To my surprise, the news conference turned out to be a wake. And it was an unusual wake. The assembled legislators and the media were there not to mourn or eulogize, but to perform a post-mortem.
The dead body was the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), whose demise had been announced a day earlier by the House of Representatives, the Philippine Senate, and Malacañang Palace.
At the media conference, three minority bloc leaders – Leyte congressman Martin Romualdez, Buhay party-list representative Lito Atienza, and Abakada party-list representative Jonathan de la Cruz — took turns in performing last rites and post-mortems on the failed legislation.
They related how they, along with other opposition leaders, fought the House leadership tooth- and- nail to thwart the scheme to railroad the BBL through the House. They analyzed why the initiative totally and utterly failed – and why last-minute procedures to save the patient were of no avail.
The members of the media focused their questions on the basic and fatal imperfections of the BBL as legislation. They sought answers on why the House leadership, with money to burn, failed to implement President Aquino’s instructions to pass the BBL as a top priority.
The discourse was so lively, I joined in by throwing in a question.
I asked the House Minority Bloc, if after prolonged debate and contention over the BBL — the bloc had become comfortable with using the term and name, Bangsamoro. I said that there are many who believe that the name Bangsamoro is itself a liability for the ambitious proposal. Bangsamoro means “Moro nation”– it advertises and rubs our noses on the objective of establishing a Moro state in Philippine territory and within our Philippine Republic. By this measure, Bangsasmoro has a public relations problem as big as the Islamic Caliphate.
De la Cruz replied that in the unfinished debates on the BBL in the House, their bloc had placed on record their reservations about the name, as an integral part of their opposition to the BBL.
What really killed BBL in the House was something as banal as the fact that the chamber’s leadership could never seem to produce a quorum to tackle this momentous issue. Even the dirty stratagem of manufacturing a quorum through the device of listing as present representatives who were not present in the session hall (“the moving present,” which I discussed in an earlier column) did not work. The simple and intractable fact was that the BBL repelled many House members, as though it was leprosy.
In the Senate, the fate of BBL was sealed by the stern opposition of 17 senators to the original bill, particularly Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who led the fight against the BBL, and moved to write a substitute bill.
Mamasapano – Immediate cause of death
The immediate cause of death of the BBL, proponents and opponents alike are convinced, was the massacre of the 44 Social Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.
Senate President Franklin Drilon remarked sentimentally that there was a 45th casualty in Mamasapano, and it was the BBL. Actually, there were some 20 other non-SAF casualties, some members of the MILF and civilians.
As a pet initiative of President Aquino, to which he had attached hopes of landing the Nobel Peace prize and on which he had spent P40 billion of taxpayer’s money in promoting, Malacañang announced its acceptance of the impossibility of passing the BBL in the 16th Congress as though it were announcing a death in the family.
Aquino immediately instructed his secretary of the peace process, Teresita Quintos-Deles, to work on effecting a smooth transfer of the initiative to the next Congress and the next administration.
This may effectively extend the appointments of Deles and chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer to Aquino’s very last day in office. But for all intents and purposes, the once dreaded Deles-Ferrer combo have officially outlived their welcome.
One peace negotiator who will remain in public life even after Aquino is gone, is supreme court associate justice Marvic Leonen, whose guilty hands have often been overlooked. He originally negotiated as chief government negotiator the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). He was instrumental in convincing Aquino to wager all on the Bangsamoro project. With Leonen installed in the high court, the nation is compelled to live out his public life until his retirement. Leonen could cause us many more nightmares before he is done.
Epitaph for BBL
The list of reasons for celebrating the demise of the BBL is long.
One reason that will always stick out for me as particularly offensive is Malaysia’s role as eminence grise (the sinister puppeteer) of the Bangsamoro project.
I believe I was the first columnist to write that the BBL is a Malaysian Trojan horse – a scheme devised by our Asean neighbor to undermine our nation because of our still unresolved claim and rights to Sabah (North Borneo).
Ambassador Lauro Baja perhaps described the BBL best when he wrote in this paper and declared in a public forum at the Manila Polo Club that “the BBL was made by Malaysia, in Malaysia, and for Malaysia.”
That, I submit, is the most fitting epitaph for the Bangsamoro Basic Law.