On assuming the presidency of Czechoslovakia on New Year’s Day, 1990, after the long night of communism, the playwright-turned-politician Vaclav Havel told his countrymen:
“Freedom and democracy require everyone to participate and thus to share responsibility.
“If we realize this, then all the horrors that the new Czechoslovak democracy has inherited will cease to appear horrific. If we realize this, hope will return to our hearts.
“My people, your government has returned to you.”
I have this fantasy that on Thursday, June 11, when the 16th Congress adjourns its regular session, our senators and representatives will be telling our people and our country something similar to what Havel said.
They will say to us, “Fellow countrymen, your congress has returned to you.” Kabayan broadcaster Noli de Castro will translate it to Filipino this way: “Bayan, ang iyong Kongreso ay bumalik sa yo.”
The image of a return is fitting because it is Congress that has strayed away from the people, not the other way around.
Our legislators will mean every word, because on June 11, this country and our people will learn that Congress did not pass the dreaded and detested Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as President Aquino had ordered. The legislature has not exactly said “No” yet; it has just refused to be stampeded into approval of the bill, without thorough review and public consultations and debate.
Congressional refusal essentially means that our beautiful archipelago of 7,200 islands will remain intact and whole. And our republic will remain one and indivisible.
It’s a development that probably calls for the pealing of bells, perhaps even a Te Deum Mass – but that would be rubbing salt on the setback of the Bangsamoro project.
Better to just mark the moment with a big sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks.
BBL loses ground
How did this happy event come about? What happened to the much-denounced BBL railroad?
The air in the BBL balloon oozed out in a hurry when President Aquino abandoned his pressure tactics on Congress, and hied away to Japan for a four-day state visit. That left the ready-and-willing-to-be-corrupted members of the House looking abandoned and bewildered. That meant Aquino was running away from the proposed reality-TV meeting between the president and the senators. The nation will not see him thinking seriously, after all.
As a result, the BBL is now in ICU. The House majority leader, Neptali Gonzalez, has confessed to the media that the house leadership is no longer sure they have the numbers to pass the BBL, despite the aggressive lobby from the Palace and the supposed pork barrel incentives for every vote in favor of the bill.
In the Senate, the situation is grimmer. Senate President Franklin Drilon threw in the towel when he declared that the leadership would now look toward passing the law instead in October. But even that, says Sen. Chiz Escudero may be a stretch. Congress has to do much, much more to make the bill acceptable to both houses of Congress.
Congressman Gonzalez says those opposing the bill need only to absent themselves from the voting at the plenary to defeat the bill. House members opposing the BBL have indicated they will question the quorum, an apparent impossibility now.
Gonzalez opined that the BBL is more difficult to pass than the Reproductive Health bill which was shelved and resurrected several times before it was finally approved. This is a huge admission.
Another difficulty for the House leadership is how to limit the discussions and period of amendments.
“We still don’t know the parliamentary play,” Gonzalez said.
BBL railroad like MRT and LRT
Concerning the BBL railroad, it turns out that the administration does not know how to operate it more efficiently than the MRT and LRT systems. Like Metro commuters, prospective bribees do not know whether the train and the gravy will ever come.
Some congressional leaders, like House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, have taken to boasting that they would resign from Congress if anyone can produce any evidence of bribery by the President.
That may be foolhardy. There are those in the media, the left and civil society, who are treating the boast as some sort of bounty. They will look for evidence and whistleblowers to prove bribery, so that Congress will be rid of these scalawags.
As defeat of the BBL looks inevitable, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has turned to shrill propaganda and threats. It will not accept a BBL with major revisions from the draft submitted by the Palace.
Insofar as they are concerned, they got a ‘legislated agreement,’ when President Aquino signed the Comprehensive Agreeement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the MILF. Say what they like, the decision is not in Aquino’s hands but in Congress.
The MILF itself is experiencing dissent within its ranks. There is an unconfirmed report that some 85 top MILF commanders have denounced the leadership of MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim for forging a “doubtful” peace deal with the government.
Repairing the broken branch
As these developments have gathered pace, there is a real sense that Congress is moving at last to right itself. No one in there likes my characterization of it as a broken branch of the government. They like even less the idea that it is just a servant and punching bag of the presidency.
Some legislator-friends assure me that the needed repair is now underway. The 16th Congress may surprise us yet, before it makes its exit for the 2016 campaign and elections.
I tell them that the BBL which threatened to bury this Congress in infamy could paradoxically become the instrument for its salvation. If Congress decisively moves to reject the BBL and upholds what is right and constitutional.
Politics is all about opportunity and what you do with it. Timing is everything. What once seemed impossible can suddenly become possible. What matters is that leaders are able to seize the moment when opportunity comes.
That moment has come in the battle over the Bangsamoro. The wonder is that there are many legislators — apart from concerned citizens and journalists — who are eager to take up the challenge of forging a better deal for Mindanao and the nation.