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MINDA DA NEWS: Not the “Common Man”

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 May 2015) — MindaNews reported last Thursday, May 7 (House leaders to peace advocates: BBL won’t be less than ARMM) House Speaker Feliciano Belmente Jr. as being bothered by how the ‘common man understands” the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill now pending in the Congress (HB 4994, SB 2408).

Editor-in-Chief Carolyn O. Arguillas quoted him as saying that some “might think that when somebody is questioning the constitutionality or what to do this way or that way, they might think that one, the national government is reneging on agreements. Yung expectations might be too high because of itong sinasabi mo na ‘di naman masama kung ilagay mo yan dyan.’ You understand that this is subject to negotiation. You understand it, I understand I but does the common man understand?”

Belmonte said this during his 75-minute dialogue, together with some House members, with a delegation of Friends of Peace (FoP) headed by its chief convenor His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, O.M.I, the Archbishop of Cotabato.

FoP, composed of peace advocates in Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago, Luzon, the Visayas and Metro Manila, is now helping lobby for the passage of the BBL that will establish a meaningful Bangsamoro autonomy – more than that of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. After the establishment of Bangsamoro, FoP will help nurture peace with justice and national reconciliation.

But a meaningful BBL must first be passed by the Congress. And, if Belmonte sounded “bothered”, what he told the FoP delegation was not just more but most bothersome.

What does the Speaker mean? Let us clarify:

First, “some” refers to “common man” which means those who are not members of the Congress – like “layman” as referring to “a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not an expert in some field (Webster’s)”. The reference includes the FoP delegates.

Second,somebody” refers to the “member or members” of the Congress.

Third, in “those who are not members of the Congress might think” that when members of the House and the Senate “are questioning the constitutionality” of Draft BBL or are proposing to correct the Draft “this way or that way”, the Congress (“the national government”) “is reneging on agreements” Belmonte means that the Congress is being misunderstood.

Fourth, “Yung (The) expectations might be too high” is what members of the Congress think the supporters of Draft BBL (GPH and MILF negotiation panels, MILF, the Moros and peace advocates) would like the Congress to do – defer to their wishes.

Fifth, in “because of itong sinasabi mo na ‘di naman masama kung ilagay mo yan dyan.’” means that the supporters of Draft BBL, in their high expectations, are telling the Congress there’s nothing wrong with this or that provision being questioned.

Sixth, in “You understand that this is subject to negotiation. You understand it, I understand I but does the common man understand?” Belmonte is saying that the conflicting positions concerning the controversial provisions of Draft BBL are being “negotiated” (“subject to negotiation”) or being reconciled and that the “common man” does not understand this.

Objection, Mr. Speaker! It’s the “man in the Congress”, not the “common man”, who does not understand.  

What does the Speaker mean by “subject to negotiation”? Does he mean that for certain concessions from the President or the MILF, Draft BBL will be passed intact? Conflicting positions must be resolved through deliberation based on criteria relevant to meaningful autonomy, not by negotiation. What the “common man” does not understand is why “the man in the Congress” does not understand.

What does the “common man” know of the BBL and care for?

“Common man” consists of the upper and the lower crusts. In the upper crust are the movers of the peace process and meaningful Bangsamoro autonomy; in the lower are the masses. What the lower crusts know about the BBL is what the upper crusts have told them during the period of information campaign. They have been aware of their state of deprivation despite ARMM since 1990. They are happy with the hope that Bangsamoro will be better than ARMM.

This hope of the “common man” in what BBL will bring is what the “man in the Congress” does not understand. Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy said at the FoP-Belmonte dialogue that all that residents in conflict areas care for are the promises in the BBL for a better future for them, “jobs, peace, education”.

This, the “man in the Congress” seemed not to know; if he does, he does not care.

What does the “common man” see that the “man in the Congress” does not?

By the 1987 Constitution, the Philippine Government has offered autonomy to the Muslims or Moros. But legality and constitutionality are the excuse for its reluctance to fully give. Let us cite an instance or two from RA 9054.

ARMM is mandated to set up revenue-earning projects like economic zones for it to have economic autonomy. But it has no fiscal autonomy. Every year, for 25 years, it had to defend its budget in the Congress. The release of the funds had “strings” and “penalties” attached to the Secretary of Finance and the Commission on Audit (Article IX, Section 2). The provincial, city and municipal governments enjoy better fiscal autonomy than ARMM.

Under these conditions, it was difficult, too, for ARMM to obtain funding for significant revenue-generating projects. None has been established since 1990. So, the cycle has not been reversed – no fiscal autonomy, no economic autonomy, no political autonomy.

In Bangsamoro, the Draft BBL seeks to reverse this by providing annual expenditures in block grants and fixed development assistance fund to be released automatically without the “strings” and “penalties” attached as in RA 9054. It creates an auditing body to do the auditing of Bangsamoro funds. But the leaders of the Congress have objected to pertinent Draft BBL provisions and vowed to delete them for being unconstitutional and illegal.

In two of our last three COMMENT articles, we discussed the objections of the leaders of the Congress to Draft BBL provisions that will give the Chief Minister more autonomous authority over the Bangsamoro Police. Under RA 9054, the city and municipal mayors in ARMM have the operational control of the police forces in their jurisdictions which the Regional Governor does not have. There are more instances.

That the “man of the Congress” does not understand the autonomous provisions of Draft BBL is what the “common man” does not understand.

Is it enough that Bangsamoro will not be less autonomous than ARMM?

At the FoP-Belmonte dialogue, remarks of two Moro congressmen were encouraging. Rep. Pangalian Balindong said, “One thing is sure, it will be very hard to have a BBL that has less powers than the ARMM.” Rep. Tupay Loong cited the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro and the Constitution as their guide and assured, “If there is something in the CAB that is contrary to the Constitution, let us find a language that will conform to the two – the Constitution and the CAB,”

Perhaps, they are reflecting the sentiments of the Moro members of the House. But they are an insignificant minority? Can what they said, even with gestures of approval from Belmonte and other Congress officials present, be expected from non-Moro members of the Congress, most noticeably from Mindanao, who want Draft BBL cut to size to suit their prescription of what Bangsamoro must be. This will be seen during the AHCBBL voting on Monday.

Certainly, for Bangsamoro to be just not less autonomous than ARMM is meaningless. And, brace yourselves! It can be less unless the members of the Congress cast off their egotism and deliberate on Draft BBL (HB 4994) based on “meaningful autonomy” criteria like that suggested by the Citizens’ Council for Peace. Will they?

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J., president of Ateneo de Davao University and member of both the Citizens’ Peace Council and of Friends for Peace, noted in his article, “Strength, but not without Shame” (MindaNews, May 9, 2015) that when the Peace Council presented its report to the House and Senate leaders, there was a palpable resentment among the legislators for the message that both committees had perceived from the OPAPP and the representatives of the Peace Panel that the draft BBL as submitted should not undergo any changes in its legislation”. That’s welcoming appeals from the “common man”.

Draft BBL supporters expected to number from 8,000 to 10,000 (MindaNews, May 10, 2015: Peace groups march to Congress as BBL committee votes on May 11) will march to the Batasang Pambansa on Monday when the AHCBBL 75 members will start voting on its report. However, don’t be surprised if they will be ignored as the “common man” who does not understand the BBL.

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at patponcediaz@yahoo.com.]

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