POSTSCRIPT / February 17, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Good morning. Who’s the president?

SITUATIONER: Every morning, as soon as I wake up, I rush to turn on the TV to find out if we have a new president. (Some plotters may have pulled a fast one while we were asleep.)

If President Noynoy Aquino is still in the saddle, where is he? Before the country breaks to pieces, will the Commander-in-Chief please address the nation or mount a white steed and rally the people — or at least stand up and say where the drift is taking us?

China is gobbling up in dim sum fashion islets and shoals in our Exclusive Economic Zone. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, poised to bite off a big chunk of Mindanao, is telling the Congress to pass the enabling Bangsamoro Basic Law without changes, or else….

A motley crowd of adventurers is plotting to unseat the beleaguered President and grab state powers. And with their term running out, the usual well-placed officials are busy amassing millions before the yellow sun sets….

Meanwhile, many poor and hungry Filipinos are scrounging for something to eat in restaurant scraps and garbage heaps….

* * *

‘NO CHANGES’: Comes now the secessionist MILF telling the Congress dominated by Administration allies to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law “with no changes”. The grim report was carried by the STAR yesterday.

The BBL will ratify the deal signed between the MILF (only) and Malacañang (only) to carve out an expanded Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao enjoying powers and resources that can enable it to spin off as a new state once recognized by the foreign powers waiting in the wings.

In a letter to the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said his organization trusts “that Congress will pass the mutually agreed BBL draft with no changes and without diminishing, diluting or watering down its provisions, except probably for minor changes or changes that clearly improve it or enhance it.”

He reiterated the MILF’s desire for the Congress to keep intact the BBL “draft” or “text,” which, he emphasized, had been “mutually agreed” by the government and the MILF.

We disagree. As we have been saying in Postscript since last year, the Bangsamoro contract was just between the MILF (not the wider Muslim community) and the Executive department (not the entire tripartite government) – contrary to what the two parties claim.

* * *

NO CONSULTATIONS: Murad’s letter was disclosed by Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat in a forum in Quezon City last Thursday. It was sent last Dec. 29 to Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, ad hoc committee chair.

An MILF-dominated Bangsamoro Transition Commission, chaired by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, drafted the BBL that Murad said was with “congressional sanction through congressional resolutions.”

That is not entirely true. Malacañang went into negotiations without prior policy consultation with the Congress. It was only after the signing that the Palace, assailed by adverse public opinion, belatedly consulted lawmakers, who then went to conduct public hearings.

Murad added: “After the BTC submitted the BBL to the President, the legal team of the Office of the President headed by no less than the Executive Secretary, conducted its legal due diligence with the MILF representatives and its legal team, accordingly making sure that the mutually agreed text of the BBL is within the flexibilities of the Constitution.

“Thus, the mutually agreed BBL draft was transmitted to Congress by the President as a priority legislation and administration bill.”

* * *

UNUSUAL HASTE: Again, it is not entirely true that the Office of the President was happy with the final draft that the MILF-dominated BTC submitted.

Sending of the draft BBL to the Congress was delayed, because Malacañang’s legal team found it riddled with substantive flaws, including sections that the Supreme Court was almost sure to reject as unconstitutional.

More than half of the text reportedly had to be rewritten by Palace lawyers. This drew a protest from MILF leaders, who were already complaining of the delay. The rough draft was hurriedly sent to the Congress as a priority measure.

From the negotiations to the drafting of the documents, there appeared to have been unusual haste on both sides. The President himself, like the MILF, was running on a tight schedule.

* * *

MILF MISLED?: Murad informed the Congress of MILF’s intention to form a political organization called United Bangsamoro Justice Party in preparation for the tasks ahead, assuming the BBL is passed, signed into law, approved in a plebiscite and not struck down by the SC.

He said in his letter: “Any deviation from the mutually agreed text of the BBL may curtail this process of political mainstreaming.

“We appeal to Congress to do its part in fulfilling the commitment of the Philippine government and the MILF to a politically negotiated settlement of the Moro grievances by passing the mutually agreed BBL draft without watering down its provisions, as feared by many of our constituencies in the Bangsamoro.”

It appears that the MILF had been misled into believing that President Aquino could bind the Congress and the Supreme Court on the BBL. Malacañang must have been brimming with confidence that it had the pre-approval of the Congress and the high court.

Murad said that in entering the talks, the MILF had the “understanding that it was negotiating with the totality of the Philippine government or ‘whole government,’ especially since, among other reasons, the Commander-in-Chief powers of the President allow him to bind the whole of government, including its different branches.”

He said the “onus or the principal burden of implementing the FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro) and its annexes and the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) through the expeditious passage of the mutually agreed text of the BBL” now rests with the government.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 17, 2015)

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