With the same lawlessness and constitutional ignorance that marked his presidency from Day one (his first act was the creation of the unconstitutional Truth Commission) and ever since, President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd is now pulling out all the stops and dropping all restraints in inducing Congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic law (BBL).
With a president this batty, our only hope to stop this train to disaster is for Congress to realize this is its historic opportunity to perform a great service to the nation – by declaratively refusing to pass it. Failing that, our last best hope is for the Supreme Court to rule any approved bill on the Bangsamoro as unconstitutional.
If the high court rules on the Bangsamoro as emphatically as it ruled on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), BBL will vanish like MOA-AD from the public sphere.
Aquino’s crossing of his Rubicon
The fight over the BBL is the closest BS Aquino will get to the measure of Julius Caesar. This is his crossing of the line, just as crossing the Rubicon committed Caesar to civil war with the Roman Senate.
President Aquino met with leaders of the House of Representatives twice over the weekend to ensure that the chamber’s ad hoc committee, which is reviewing the bill, will approve the Palace version of the bill.
The meetings were held in Malacañang on Friday and Sunday, with the leaders of parties in the pro-administration coalition in attendance.
Anti-BBL lawmakers have accused ad hoc committee chair Rufus Rodriguez of having already caved to Palace demands. He even prematurely scheduled a committee vote yesterday.
Comparable meetings with senators have not been called yet, principally because the concerned Senate committee chair, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is still conducting hearings with Mindanao stakeholders other than the MILF. And Marcos, joined by other senators, appears to be in no particular hurry to meet a Malacañang-imposed deadline.
History and posterity on the line
Sooner or later, both houses of Congress will have to call an up-and-down vote on the BBL, whatever version passes muster.
Before that hour of decision comes, I want to put it to our congressmen and senators that their individual votes on the BBL could be the most important vote they will cast as lawmakers. History will record how they voted during this time of reckoning.
Posterity will ask those who vote yes to create a Moro nation within the Philippine republic and agreed to dismember the national territory, “Why?” Those who steadfastly stand their ground will be remembered with gratitude and affection.
Because of the gravity of this decision, I would liken the vote on the BBL to the vote by the Philippine Senate on the military bases treaty with the United States in 1991. It is that important to the nation.
1991 vote on bases treaty
In 1991, President Corazon Aquino staked the honor and prestige of her presidency on the approval of the proposed new bases treaty. To get the treaty approved, she even led a march on the Senate.
On September 16, 1991, by a vote of 12-11, the 23-member Philippine Senate formally rejected the new Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security with the United States, which provided for a continued US presence for 10 years. Under the 1987 constitution, US troops could not legally remain without a new treaty.
Senators who voted against the treaty were duly noted by the media. Sen. Agapito Aquino, Cory’s brother-in-law and Ninoy’s kid brother, squeezed in this sound bite: “I love my country more than I love my president.”
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile called the proposed treaty a “constitutional abomination,” because, he said, it violates Philippine law banning nuclear weapons and other provisions of the 1987 charter.
“For me, it’s a new beginning of our history as a free people,” Enrile said.
The 12 who voted to reject the treaty have since been extolled as the Magnificent 12 for rejecting all blandishments and arguments to approve the treaty.
They have been vindicated even more emphatically by the successful conversion of Subic and Clark into modern economic zones of development. They now employ way, way more Filipinos than the US bases ever did.
An appointment with history
Our current crop of legislators should approach their legislative responsibility on the BBL with a similar sense of patriotism and nationalism.
I feel fortunate in being an active journalist during these two historic votes. I was editor-in chief of the Philippine Daily Globe, when the Bases treaty was debated and defeated.
And now today, with the national map and territory hanging on the balance, and constitutional strictures summarily set aside, I am a regular journalist and columnist working with the Times.
In 1991, our senators literally made history happen.
Now, this 2015, the republic’s representatives and senators will have their appointment with history.
Last Saturday, I attended a symposium on the proposed Bangsamoro law at the Manila Golf Club in Forbes Park.
The discussion featured various scholars, legal experts, legislators, Muslim leaders, civic leaders and media representatives as discussants and reactors.
After the discussion stretched for nearly four hours, the writing was on the wall, writ large and boldly: “The cause for rejection of the BBL is loud and clear.”
Not a single soul in the gathering of several hundred people championed the case for the BBL’s passage. Not one congressman who was there said he will vote for the measure when the time comes for a vote.
Rep. Lito Atienza emphatically declared that his vote is already decided. He broadly suggested that other legislators have probably made their decision too: but they are all waiting for Malacañang to deliver the rewards in advance of the vote.
Justice Manuel Lazaro, chairman of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), announced that Philconsa will file a suit before the Supreme Court that will challenge the constitutionality of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
This is significant. If the high court rules them as unconstitutional, the entire panoply holding up the BBL will collapse. No more need to wait for a law, before going to the SC.
One panelist, a former ambassador, said that “the BBL was drafted by, in and for Malaysia.” He also revealed that the MOA-AD was drafted by and in Washington.
Another panelist confirmed my thesis that the very name “Bangsamoro” is cause for the complete rejection of the BBL.
Various representatives of the Sulu sultanate and the Tausug Muslim community took up the opportunity to declare that the Philippine claim to Sabah is still very much alive.
Toward the end of the afternoon, one could sense a consensus emerging that maybe the solution to the so-called Moro question is not in replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that President Aquino has dismissed as a “failed experiment.”
It could lie in keeping and upgrading ARRM as an autonomous regional government, in its institutional design, its funding support, and its program for the comprehensive stabilization and development of Muslim Mindanao.