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NATIONAL FORUM ON BBL. In photo, panel discussion on “Emerging Proposals for Federalism and Bangsamoro” with the following  discussants (left to right): a) Atty. Randolph Parcasio, Member of the Consultative Committee on the Revision of the 1987 Constution; b) Atty. Jose Lorena of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission; c) Atty. Michael Mastura, Delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention; d) Former Governor Abdusakur Tan of Sulu Province; and Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., OMI, Senior Policy Adviser of IAG. June 7, 2018 at Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati City. Photo from International Alert

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which seeks to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and raeplace it with an Bangsamoro Region, was passed at the House of Representatives and Senate before the two chambers adjourned last week. The two versions of the BBL will be reconciled at a bicameral conference next month.

President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed for the passage of the BBL and the shift to a federal system from a unitary form of government to ensure economic development and peace in the regions, particularly in Southern Philippines.

At the conference, Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, first vice chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, stressed the importance of passing the BBL as the enabling law that will implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to promote self-determination and uphold the freedom of the Bangsamoro people.

Tawi-tawi Representative Ruby Sahali emphasized the need for enactment of the BBL to correct the historical injustices that the Bangsamoro people endured throughout the century which have cost countless lives and stunted the region’s economic and social growth. Sahali said these injustices have also fueled the rise of local extremist groups in Muslim Mindanao.

Atty. Michael Mastura, delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, Atty. Jose Lorena, Chairman of the Bangsamoro National Congress, Atty. Randolph Parcasio, of the Constitutional Committee on the Revision of the 1987 Constitution, former Sulu governor Abdusakur Tan, and Fr. Eliseo R. Mercado of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) discussed emerging proposals for federalism and the Bangsamoro.

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BBL and federalism, twin pillars for peace

“The peace process will be stuck without the passage of the BBL, but it is not a panacea. Institutions must be strengthened while implementing the BBL,” said Atty. Benedicto Bacani, Executive Director of IAG, the policy group that co-hosted the conference.

Bacani says that “BBL and federalism when done right are potentially twin pillars of peace. The federal system must consolidate and build on the gains of peace agreements and implementing laws, including the BBL. It must also accommodate the terms of peace agreements and implementing laws that are unimplemented under the current unitary set-up and the 1987 Constitution. It must promote inclusivity and public support for sustainable peace in Mindanao.”

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Federal system must improve on the BBL

Nikki dela Rosa, Country Manager of the peacebuilding organization International Alert Philippines, co-convenor of the conference, emphasized that legislation of the BBL and the crafting of the federal system are complementary and not mutually exclusive processes. However, the quest for a future federal republic must not shape the fate of the BBL, she said.

Dela Rosa explained, “Alert has been doing the rounds in Congress and the Senate. Through painstaking lobby and advocacy work, we are convincing legislators that they can’t curtail certain provisions of the BBL by weighing it against something that remains unclear and uncertain,” de la Rosa said.

Dela Rosa was pertaining to the fiscal provisions in the BBL, particularly the block grant and the special development fund, that would help the Bangsamoro attain fiscal autonomy, jumpstart the local economy, and bring genuine development to its people, which have long been stalled due to continuous violent conflict.

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Translating peace agreements into public policies

Bacani pointed out that at this point, the passage of the BBL and the debates on federalism are meant to forge peace in Mindanao and prevent further armed conflict.

“The bottom line in all these institutional reforms is peace. Translating peace agreements into public policies is not an easy process,” said Bacani, “That President Duterte commitment to implement all signed peace agreements in step with legal and constitutional reforms is a source of hope for us.”

Dela Rosa said that the quest for genuine autonomy and self-governance in Muslim Mindanao has become more vital since the takeover of Marawi, and the continuing campaign of violent extremists in the country.

“It matters to all of us if the BBL is able to contribute towards preventing further violent conflict in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao, or whether it just means business as usual, and the war goes on,” she said.