IT ISN’T clear whether President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s statement that the “House panel” would pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, regardless of any opposition to it, is the decisive word on it. But it has set many things in motion, in relation to the measure, whose proponents would like to call a law, BBL (Babala) instead of merely a bill, BBB (Bababa), which is what it is.
First of all, while PNoy was in North America telling wonder-struck Filipinos how he would like to become an auto mechanic after he leaves Malacañang, the social media reported some congressmen coming into so much BBB-related “bread” while vacationing in Switzerland.
Then on Monday, while curious observers tried to see how many supporters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had come to Manila from Maguindanao to persuade the House to pass the bill, a friendly blogger doing her marketing at Farmers’ Market in Cubao, Quezon City stumbled into an incredible assembly of cars, all proudly bearing the congressman’s plate number 8, near the famous “White House” which belongs to the family of Mrs. Judy Araneta Roxas, the mother of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party presidential hopeful.
No congressmen had gone marketing at Farmers’ that day. But as on the day they impeached or removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and enacted the Reproductive Health Law, they apparently assembled in one venue to receive the “guidelines” from Malacanang. How much was the payoff in those two instances has not been fully documented. A highly authoritative congressional source has disclosed that the 188 congressmen who signed Corona’s articles of impeachment received P10 million each, while 19 of the 20 senator-judges who voted for his conviction and removal got P50 million or more each, with Senate president Frank Drilon, who was chairman of the Senate finance committee at the time, getting P100 million for himself.
What kind of congressional payoff is expected this time, this is what we must find out. But where all arguments have failed to win support for the bill, money, which normally means lots of it, is expected to do the otherwise impossible job. And Malacañang will not scrimp on expenses to get what it wants. This has been the biggest danger from the very start.
So determined is Aquino to ram the BBB through that he has warned the nation of war if the bill were not passed. And war not only with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front but possibly also with Malaysia, which is as eager as the MILF to have it passed. PNoy has not bothered to explain the rational basis for his warning. Nor why he believes he must pursue this course, at the risk of balkanizing the country and abandoning the Philippine rights over Sabah, which has been incorporated into the Federation of Malaysia over and above the protest of the Philippine government.
His position has so infected the BBB debate that even those who have been merely invited to offer their views on the measure are now beginning to talk like PNoy himself. Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., as member of Aquino’s so-called Peace Council, has had no inhibition in challenging those who question the constitutionality of the BBB to produce their own bill themselves. The situation recalls to mind that period in the Vietnam war when supporters of the war required those who were criticizing America’s continued involvement in it to provide their own alternative.
The situation counsels greater prudence on the part of PNoy. If he was able to get away after bribing Congress to remove Corona, and to enact the widely opposed RH Law, he may not be able to get away a third time. Bribing Congress to enact the BBB into law could produce the very problem he is trying to avoid with its enactment. There is no guarantee that even if Congress enacts the BBB into law, the Supreme Court would not strike it down as unconstitutional, just as it struck down the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo unconstitutional. Assuming it survives the constitutional challenge, there is no assurance it would work.
There is need to listen to more voices, from people who may have conflicting points of view, but who all genuinely desire just and lasting peace. A recent article appearing in this paper by Norberto B. Gonzales, former Defense Secretary cum National Security Adviser, performs a badly needed service by offering a wider perspective on the problem of peace in Mindanao.
Gonzales wants to situate the search for peace in the region by acknowledging the fact that over a million Muslims have now spilled over the other parts of the country and have contributed to the Christian-Muslim dialogue that saw enormous progress during the active years of the Bishops-Ulama Conference under Archbishop (now Emeritus) Fernando Capalla of Davao and the late Dr. Mahid Mutilan, head of the Ulama League of the Philippines and governor of Lanao del Sur.
For Gonzales, this should be made the starting point of an extended and expanded Christian-Muslim dialogue to support the efforts for peace between the government and the separatist elements.
But peace in Mindanao will require acknowledging the roles of all the various actors in the region, beginning with the Moro National Liberation Front, which negotiated the first peace agreement with the government in Manila; the Sultanate of Sulu which has an irreplaceable role to play in maintaining the unity of the Muslim population in the South and the Philippine rights over Sabah; and the various tribal communities, which have a primary stake in making sure that the cohesion of their communities is not menaced by the radicalism of the Islamic caliphate threatening to spread from North Africa to our part of the world.
In the absence of national security council discussions on the Mindanao process, Gonzales’s paper could be a starting point of a more vigorous discussion of the issues in the press. This is what we need.
Another paper that deserves wider public airing is a paper written by the Jesuit scholar Antonio S. Samson, former president of Ateneo de Davao University and Xavier University of Cagayan de Oro, which raises a number of critical issues on the BBB–issues which appear to have escaped the attention of Cardinal Tagle of Manila and Cardinal Quevedo of Cotabato, who have both endorsed the BBB without any qualification. We have no time nor space for this now, but we shall try to take it up in our next column.