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COMMENT: Transition That Will Work Imperiled (2)

II. Lying Ahead

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 April)– MILF Chair Mohagher Iqbal tells media they are ready to sign the Annexes. These are basically the same Annexes in the MILF peace draft reframed from the MOA-AD and submitted to the government panel in January 2011. But the government peace team is taking time to study them “diligently” – most probably, the same matters the peace team under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had subjected to the same study.

On question is not the Aquino III government’s prudence but the time it is taking for the “diligent study”. It betrays this fact: Government has not fully changed its attitude and policy towards the Moros, even with the change of GRP to GPH. Past presidents made promises – Arroyo repeatedly offered to MILF enhanced autonomy — to dissemble their refusal to grant; instead, Aquino III states: “We cannot commit what we cannot give”.

Trouble Signs

The delay in passing the Annexes has already pushed back Phase B by four months – and most probably by five to six, eventually. If the Transcom cannot shorten the time in drafting the BBL and the Congress cannot do the same in enacting it, Phase E, the Transition Proper, will be shortened to only one year. Can the Transcom and the Congress offset the time lag in Phase A?

More troubles loom! Let’s take a look at the MRCC and how it worked on the draft that helped the Congress enact RA 6734, the original ARMM Organic Act, for some insight into what Transcom can do in six months. The MRCC task was basically the same as drafting the BBL although situated differently.

The MRCC convened on March 26, 1988. When it reported to President Corazon C. Aquino on September 16, the draft organic act it had was evidently not the final draft of the proposed Organic Act as provided in Section 10(d) of RA 6649, the MRCC law. By that time, the MRCC had existed for 173 days or five months and 23 days; it only had 150 days to submit to the Congress its final draft.

In the Transcom

Expected to be fully organized by June, can the Transcom draft BBL in five months – July through November – or 150 days, if the Annexes are signed in May and with the FAB consolidated into the Comprehensive Agreement in June?

The Transcom is an independent body, unlike the MRCC whose work was overseen by an ad hoc congressional liaison committee (RA 6649, Sec. 11). The BBL draft will be the bill that the President will certify to Congress for enactment into the BBL, the organic law of Bangsamoro. However, as stated earlier, they basically have the same task.

Like the MRCC, the Transcom will have committee meetings, plenary sessions and public consultations. The MRCC had 55 members; the Transcom has 15. Necessarily, a Transcom member will have more committee memberships than the MRCC member had. The two MRCC members for each congressional district made public consultation easier. The Transcom members will have heavier workload. Will this motivate the Transcom members to work harder under similar time constraint?

Unlike the MRCC members who were nominated by civil society groups, appointed by the President and approved by the Commission on Appointment of the Congress, the Transcom members are partisan nominees – eight by the MILF including the chair and seven by the President. While they are Moro and IP (Indigenous People) leaders, they are obviously divided according to the interests of their principals. Drafting the BBL can be as bias-driven and contentious as negotiating the FAB and the Annexes.

Section 3(a) of EO No.120 states the first principal function of the Transcom: “To draft the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law with provisions consistent with the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”  Principles the Parties could agree on constitute the FAB following the Leonen formula. The flipside of “We agree now and discuss the differences later” is that disagreements in the details can be contentious.

For instance, FAB I(1) states “The Parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable…” without defining “status quo”. From several press statements of the Parties, it could be gleaned that MILF refers to the unitary system of government as the status quo while Government only mean the status of the ARMM. This is potentially contentious.

FAB I(4) provides: “The relationship of the Central Government with the Bangsamoro Government shall be asymmetric.” The points of contention will be in the nature and extent of asymmetry.

Expect more differences in the interpretation of the principles. These can slow down proceedings in the committee and the plenary especially if fundamental Government and MILF positions are involved in the differences to need extensive consultations. Recourse to “study with due diligence” will drag down the Transcom.

Section 3(b) of EO No. 120 states the second principal function of the Transcom: “Whenever necessary, to recommend to Congress or the people proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution.” Will this function be a source of controversy?

This function is VII(4b) in the FAB. Is this necessary when Government has assured and reassured that the FAB is according to the Constitution? MILF agreed in principles with Government to make the FAB possible.  But both knew that later in the details there will be differences that may call for the amendment of the Constitution. Call FAB VII(4b) the relief valve; note the phrase “Whenever necessary”.

While restricted to “when necessary”, recommendations to amend the Constitution are sensitive. Government is for status quo. Differences in the appreciation of necessity can be contentious. As a footnote, this did not burden the MRCC since it was restricted to Article X, Sections 15 to 21 of the 1987 Constitution.

In the Congress

When the Congress can start enacting the BBL will depend on the Transcom. Its draft is necessary, unlike the MRCC draft which was only “to assist” the Congress in enacting the ARMM Organic Law (RA 6649, Sec. 12) – the Congress’ timetable not upset by the MRCC’s failure to come up with a final draft within 150 days.

This division of function – the Transcom drafts the bill, the Congress enacts the law – can create conflicts. MILF will expect the BBL draft to be enacted as it is, basically, with any revision to be done in consultation with the Transcom and not to detract from the FAB II(2) – the BBL “shall be consistent with all agreements of the Parties” – and II(3) – the BBL “shall reflect the Bangsamoro system of life …”. But the members of Congress have legislative prerogatives and rules of procedure to follow, frowning on interference.

Will the Congress subject the BBL bill to public hearing? This will open the Transcom draft to adulteration. Parties whose interests were ignored or rejected by the Transcom may find receptive ears and minds in the Congress.

At the committee and plenary deliberations, proposed constitutional amendments, the asymmetric relation of Bangsamoro to the Central Government and any departure of the Bangsamoro governmental system from the unitary system will trigger debates – maybe long and heated. The Transcom can only observe helplessly. Will the Congress give it an observer status and the special privilege to participate in all deliberations when necessary? “Coordination” provided in EO 120, Section 4 is vague.

Considering the presidential certification of the BBL bill and all the possible conflicts and complications in the legislation process, how fast can the Congress enact the BBL? This is one crucial question.  The other: What will happen if contrary to expectations the BBL enacted by Congress turns out to be different from the Transcom draft?

In the Plebiscite

Normally, a plebiscite is a routine exercise of suffrage that when needed is provided in the approved law. In RA 6734, the holding of the plebiscite was set not earlier than 90 days and not later than 120 days after its approval by the President.  In RA 9054, the Commission on Election was mandated to promulgate the rules in the conduct of the information campaign and to set the date of the plebiscite.

The ratification of the BBL is expected since only the provinces, cities and geographical areas composing Bangsamoro will participate in the plebiscite. However, this can suffer complications. Opponents who fail to block in Congress constitutional amendments and provisions deemed detrimental to their interests and rights will question BBL before the Supreme Court. This is not a remote possibility. Anti-FAB groups who are keeping silent now can hassle BBL to the Court once signed by the President.

Should this happen, the plebiscite will be restrained. That is to be expected. How the Court will decide and how long it would take to is enigmatic. Will the Court uphold whole the BBL, strike it down, or recommend some other actions such as amendment?

Most Crucial

 Now, even without delays in signing the Annexes and the Comprehensive Agreement, in drafting and in enacting the BBL, and in conducting the plebiscite, there is only one year for the Transition Proper. How significantly practicable is one year? More delays will reduce transition to a mere gesture entrenching nothing.

Will Bangsamoro have the transition – the most vital phase of its entrenchment – that will work? That is the most crucial question.

(To Be Continued: III. What Will Work?) 

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)


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