The maternity ward of the 16th Congress of the Philippine republic will not announce today—the last day of its regular session—the delivery or birth of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Delivery has been deferred to a later time—probably October. The expectant parents of the bill are still expecting. But the womb needs some tending to, because the fetus is diseased.
The bill could not be voted on, because it did not pass muster in the House plenary. The Senate would not be rushed to produce an acceptable measure to vote on.
There is some weeping and gnashing of teeth in Malacañang and some parts of the archipelago.
Chief among the mourners is President BS Aquino, who is the main architect of the BBL, and who hoped to make it the centerpiece of his final State of the Nation Address on July 27.
Looking forlorn are the legislators (congressmen and senators) who were ready with their Yes votes for the BBL, and were itching to get the promised monetary rewards. What happens to a bribe deferred? Can you turn it into an IOU from Aquino?
Those who will gnash their teeth like biblical figures are Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Teresita Quintos-Deles, Mohagher Iqbal and Murad Ibrahim. They will weep and wail over the lost billions of public money that would have flowed to the Bangsamoro entity had the BBL been passed.
Elsewhere there will be celebrations today. Fittingly, on the eve of the commemoration of the 117th year of Philippine independence, we Filipinos are feeling again a sense of pride in our country and ourselves. All of a sudden, our flag, our land, our Constitution, our very name and anthem — all feel new again.
Consensus for peace, not war
Of all the idiocies uttered during the BBL debate, none has been more persistent than the idea that war will erupt in Mindanao and body bags will proliferate if the BBL is not passed. Mindanaons have unanimously rejected this fatalism. Our soldiery and police dismiss it. The MILF itself has stated that non-passage of the BBL will not mean their return to war.
President Aquino, who himself raised the body-bags bogeyman, is isolated with his loony talk, which ranks up there with his comparison of China to Nazi Germany.
The fundamental reality remains. There is a strong consensus for peace among all stakeholders in Mindanao. Both proponents and opponents of the BBL want peace to prevail. No one has renewed the call for all-out war, which was raised immediately after the massacre of the 44 SAF commandos. As tempers have cooled, there is more confidence in the ceasefire and the peacekeeping measures.
ARMM: Rallying point and source of hope
Most significant, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which Aquino, with his loose lips, dismissed as “a failed experiment,” is proving to be a rallying point for many people in Mindanao. ARMM is providing government its area of jurisdiction. Many now think that perhaps the best approach to long-term peace and stability in Mindanao lies in amending and upgrading the ARMM law, which is fully constitutional and has weathered a plebiscite.
Peace in the Philippine South does not require the Republic to make dangerous and irreversible territorial concessions in Mindanao in return for the promises of rebel groups.
The way the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the BBL were written, the MILF’s promises and guarantees are written on sand. It will proclaim statehood the moment a Bangsamoro law is approved by Congress.
In writing the substitute bill for the BBL, Senator Bongbong Marcos must ensure that the proposed law will really give peace and justice a chance. This the CAB did not do because foreign influences dictated the process and substance of the negotiations.
Three priorities to save peace process
In an op-ed piece for the Times, former UN Ambassador Lauro Baja mapped out persuasively what seems to me the sensible way forward, in order to save the peace process. He wrote, and I will quote him at length:
“The first priority is to regain ownership and leadership of the peace process. Only an agreement conceived and born out of domestic efforts by all stockholders will succeed because it will embody the realities and dynamics on the ground. The original sin can be traced to the time when we decided to internationalize what should have been an internal issue, in the process bestowing status of belligerency and hubris on the other side.
“Undue importance was given to the role of a motley group of nations and groups which may have their own agenda. The decision to choose Malaysia as facilitator is unwise and ill-advised. There is a growing realization that the Bangsamoro documents were drafted in, by, and for, Kuala Lumpur…
“The second priority is to recalibrate the process and take advantage of lessons learned from history. It is important to keep in mind that the vision of the leaders from the other side has always been a separate state for Bangsamoro. Any agreement must be representative of all stakeholders…The success of any agreement will depend on the political will from both sides and will be a quantum leap of faith and trust, especially from the MILF.
“The third priority is to end the debilitating debates where rhetoric and emotions often reign, and divide rather than unite the nation. A mission which aims for a perfect document is a recipe toward a perfect storm. There should be no rush to enact. After all, the important aspect of implementation of any law will slide into the next administration…
“The nation is divided on the BBL. It is time for the actors on both sides to come out of the shadows and pursue their common vision, their common mission of peace, justice and sustainable development in Mindanao. As one poet has said, somewhere between right and wrong there is a garden, let us meet there.
“Enlightened leadership, honesty and mutual trust and understanding are needed. What should come out from all these debates should be one that will ensure that the people on the ground will be the winners.”
Wise words, indeed, which I gladly endorse. Meeting in the garden as suggested by the good ambassador is better than gnashing your teeth.