POSTSCRIPT / May 31, 2015 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Ask the people via a BBL referendum

SINCE the vote of the people’s representatives in the Congress conflicts with the polled public opinion on the proposed creation of a new Moro nation in Mindanao, let us go straight to the people and ask them.

More so because it has been shown that the people’s congressional representatives can be corrupted, let us hold a national referendum to gauge more faithfully the public pulse on the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill.

The final vote in the House ad hoc committee on the BBL draft was 50-17, or 75 percent for Yes. In direct contrast, public opinion polled nationwide by a major survey firm showed that only 23 percent of Filipino adults say Yes to the Bangsamoro proposition.

Discounting the known bias of the survey firm, we shave its 23 percent Yes to 17 percent, which comes out the exact opposite of the 75-percent Yes vote of the congressmen representing a cross-section of the national constituency.

Before holding the limited plebiscite in the Bangsamoro area to determine the Moros’ wishes, we suggest that there be conducted first a nationwide referendum on the BBL to (1) measure more accurately the people’s will and (2) guide the Congress.

Section 18, Article X, of the Constitution only provides that “the creation of the autonomous region shall be effective when approved by majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite.” It does not bar the holding of a prior referendum.

• Referendum can help show the way

THE ONLY objections we can imagine will be lack of time and insufficient funds.

But lack of time is an illusory objection since there is no legal deadline for creating a Bangsamoro.

In fact, its creation may be unnecessary since there is already a more correct Moro political entity — the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which is now functioning normally despite lack of sympathy and support from Malacañang.

The ARMM was established on Aug. 1, 1989, precisely in obedience to the Constitution. A mere opinion of President Noynoy Aquino that the ARMM is a “failed experiment” is insufficient basis to now dismantle it.

Neither is lack of funds a good reason to bar a referendum. Malacañang has at least P75 billion to throw for the first year of the Bangsamoro. We will not spend even a third of that sum in a referendum – especially if we piggy back the exercise on the May 2016 national elections.

The problem started when Malacañang flung us right into the eye of the Bangsamoro storm without proper preparation, without bothering with protocol and consultation.

Let us stop tearing the nation apart with the divisive debate and ask the people directly in a national referendum if they want the Bangsamoro or not.

• Bangsamoro won’t make it to SONA

EVERYTHING considered, the bill creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (the new proposed name) is not likely to make it for inclusion in the President’s State of the Nation Address on July 27.

The groundswell of objection since the Mamasapano massacre of Jan. 25 has grown as the debate in and out of Congress, especially in media, disclosed contentious details of the bill that, to a great number of Filipinos, looks like a traitorous sellout.

It did not help any that House members led by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who had built up the ante by making noise about his deleting unconstitutional sections, scurried to the Palace to haggle with the President on a matter that was purely legislative.

Objection to the idea of gifting the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front with its own parliamentary state – an oddity in the country’s presidential system – has grown so intense that treason complaints have been filed against the Malacañang panel that negotiated it.

There are even suggestions that President Aquino himself be included in the treason complaint, if not now after he steps down from the presidency on June 30, 2016.

Malacañang may be able to buy or bully enough congressmen to vote for this pet measure, but extracting Senate approval could be more difficult, especially after 12 senators signed the committee report of Sen. Miriam Santiago rejecting the bill on constitutional grounds.

The mother committee of Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that will consolidate the separate panel reports still has to wind up its own hearings while the clock ticks closer to adjournment on June 11.

Kibitsers are watching the hand of Malacañang – if it would pull out such aces as plunder charges (based on pork barrel kickbacks) being filed against lawmakers who refuse to see the light on Bangsamoro.

 Okayed or rejected, BBL means strife

A COMPROMISE that could save the Bangsamoro bill is for President Aquino to relent and allow the Congress to water it down.

But then that would require the MILF and its Malaysian patrons to agree also to a diluted version of an autonomous federal state in Mindanao that could be the precursor of an independent Islamic state.

So, assuming the Congress massively rewrites the bill to cure its constitutional and other infirmities such as its being MILF-dedicated and unhospitable to non-Moros, will the rebels and their foreign handlers accept it?

Time and again MILF leaders said, at times in writing, that if the measure is not passed as is – meaning as it was last edited in Kuala Lumpur — they would go back to their revolutionary campaign to carve out their own Moro nation.

Simplified, it is war if the BBL is passed substantially altered and continued bloodshed in Mindanao if it is passed untouched. Such is the dilemma that faces the Aquino administration.

When in doubt or in a dilemma, one good move is to ask the people. Let us have a referendum.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 31, 2015)

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