Here’s the craven and frustrating side of Philippine politics. For six months now, our people have been in heated debate over the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
With the exception of the Mamasapano incident, no issue has clearly engaged the nation more deeply this year than the BBL. It is front, back and center in the national conversation. Countless hearings have been called at both the Senate and the House of Congress. Numerous public symposia and forums have been held on the subject.
Meanwhile, as the debate has raged, the public and the media have been previewing the various presidential aspirants in the 2016 election, testing them on key issues and their resumes, in order to winnow the field down to those who will stay the course and be on the ballot come May next year.
And yet, amazingly, against all reason, the nation has not heard from the prospective candidates on where they stand on the BBL, which strike at the heart and soul of our republic.
Presidentiables in their foxholes
Amid all the contentions and recriminations, many of the presidentiables have stayed in their foxholes, afraid to come out and say what they think.
There are some issues where public figures – especially candidates who seek high public office – cannot take a pass and plead neutrality. Such issues implicate the very purpose of government. Such issues are of grave import to people and country.
A year before the May 2016 elections, we are learning that the BBL or Bangsamoro question is such an issue. For a serious candidate, fence sitting is not an option. You can hem and haw, but you cannot hide. The issue will find you.
A quick look at the list of prospective presidential candidates shows who are hiding from the issue, and who have at least the courage of their convictions.
Let’s look at these personages one by one.
Jejomar Binay – He’s the second highest official of the land. He announced his presidential candidacy right after he was sworn into office in 2010. Yet nothing in his public statements indicates that he has heard about the BBL or cares about the prospective fragmentation of national territory if the bill is passed by Congress. He has no opinion?
Manuel Roxas II – He has said absolutely nothing on the BBL. Being a member of the Aquino Administration, we may presume that he supports fully President Aquino’s position. As interior secretary and as the putative standard bearer of the Administration party, he owes it to both the president and the public to present a reasoned argument in favor of the BBL and argue with those who oppose it.
Total silence is plain and simple cowardice.
Grace Poe and Francis Escudero – the two senators have announced themselves as a team for the 2016 elections, with Poe as the likely presidential standard bearer. Poe has studiously avoided the hearings of the Senate committees deliberating on the BBL, and she appears to show that she will stand wherever the President stands. Escudero pretends to be interested in the issue by asking questions during hearings, but he has no position on the BBL.
With Poe’s citizenship under serious challenge, it may not matter what she thinks about this issue.
Rodrigo Duterte – from the first day that his name was floated as a possible presidential candidate, he has expressed support for the BBL as vital in keeping the peace in Mindanao.
Ferdinand “Bongbong”Marcos Jr. – Marcos has led the Senate deliberation and examination of the BBL and chaired multiple hearings, some of which were held in key Muslim cities in the south. Last Wednesday, he announced his formal rejection of the Palace version of the BBL and his intent to submit a substitute bill that will fully conform to the provisions of the Constitution.
Alan Peter Cayetano, Miriam Defensor Santiago – Their candidacies are uncertain, but they have opposed the BBL on the grounds that many of its provisions are unconstitutional. Cayetano believes that if the bill is enacted, the substate will secede from the republic.
Honest people can differ on the BBL and their preferred solutions and ideas on tackling the challenge of rebellion in Mindanao.
What is inexcusable is for a presidential candidate not to have an opinion or interest in the issue.
As every president since President Marcos has known, no leader accedes to the presidency without confronting the challenge of peacemaking and peacekeeping in Mindanao and Sulu. It is an integral part of national leadership.
Where President Aquino stands
President Aquino, as head of the executive branch, has stated clearly and plainly where his administration stands:
1.He is a principal signatory of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement which called for the passage by the Philippine Congress of a Bangsamoro Basic Law.
2.The officials who negotiated the agreement with the MILF acted on his instructions and direction. Every single one of their commitments had his approval.
3.In the fight for the BBL’s passage in Congress, Aquino is prepared to put his political capital and his powers behind the measure. He will push for it however long it takes and whatever it will take to get it passed.
Citizens and legislators who oppose Aquino’s policy and program have two strategic options in the face of Aquino’s obstinacy on the BBL.
1. A strategy of obstruction – Under a strategy of obstruction, the opposition seeks to stop the government from adopting a particular policy and seeks to make it go another way.
This is what BBL opponents in Congress are doing.
They are preventing the passage of the BBL.
2. A strategy of criticism. Under a strategy of criticism, the opposition forces the government to hear complaint and to account for itself. This is the principal strategy of the media, including yours truly.
The great political philosopher Walter Lippmann has summarized succinctly why an administration needs to listen to criticism. He wrote: “Any administration needs criticism for its own good. It needs to hear the objections. It needs the clarification that comes from having to explain what it is doing. It needs protection from its own courtiers, from the delusions of its own unexamined premises, from the conceit that sooner or later afflicts the human animal when everybody around him says yes. It needs, in short, a series of great debates in which the principles and measures it is using are thoroughly aired, thoroughly questioned, and thoroughly explained.”
The comprehensive peace agreement and the Bangsamoro Basic Law show how much PNoy needs to learn about the value of criticism. But he may be too stoned to change his way of governing.