BTC to hold first session on draft Bangsamoro Basic Law next week

 DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 03 March) — The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will have its first session on March 5 and 6 in Cotabato City, with only four months left to July, the target for submission of the draft to Congress.

But Ghazali Jaafar, 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and chair of the 21-member BTC is confident they can craft and submit the draft before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.

Jaafar told MindaNews that the first session will focus on the adoption of house rules and “mag-strategize kami re crafting of the new BBL.”

He told MindaNews in an earlier interview that his confidence that they would meet the deadline stems from the fact that they have a working draft — the “agreed version” submitted by the first BTC to Congress on September 10, 2014 — or what became House Bill  4994 and Senate Bill 2408.

The BBL is the legal expression of the political agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that government (GPH) and the MILF signed on March 27, 2014, to pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a  new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim  Mindanao (ARMM).

After the committee hearings on HB 4994 and SB 2408, the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL under Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and and Senate Committee on Local Governments under Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., crafted their own versions — HB 5811 and SB 2894 — bearing the same title, “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BLBAR) which the then 15-member BTC said “watered down” the “agreed version” of the MILF and the government (GPH).

The MILF-led BTC, then composed of eight members from the MILF and seven from the GPH,  as well as the MILF and GPH peace panels worked for the reinstatement of the provisions of the “agreed version” that were removed under the BLBAR versions but did not succeed. Deliberations were also delayed due to frequent absences of Representatives during the deliberations in the House (sessions were adjourned several times due to lack of quorum),  and the slow progress in the Senate deliberations (Marcos’ committee filed its own version only in mid-August 2015).

Congress under the Aquino administration adjourned in February 2016 without passing a Bangsamoro law.

President Duterte, the 16th President of the Philippines and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation, had repeatedly vowed to address the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro. He vowed to push for the passage of the BBL and the shift to a federal system of government.

On November 7, 2016, Duterte issued EO 8 reconstituting the BTC to allow for its expansion from 15 to 21 (11 from the MILF, 10 from the GPH and the Moro National Liberation Front faction formerly chaired by Muslimin Sema, now by Yusoph Jikiri).

But the composition of the expanded BTC was announced only on February 10, three months and three days after Duterte signed EO 8.  The BTC was officially launched here on February 24, with President Duterte telling the Commissioners to “navigate the hindrances and obstructions” and “hanapin ninyo ang daan hanggang patungo sa kapayapaan” (find a way to peace).

Jaafar told MindaNews that in their last sit-down meeting with President Duterte at the Matina Enclaves here on December 2, the President told them that as soon as the BTC Commissioners are appointed, it is necessary that the newly-crafted BBL will be submitted to him “later part maybe of June or early part of July.”

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on Tuesday told MindaNews that the BTC “should now start working” and work “double time” so they can submit the draft within schedule, adding that passing a “bill into law is easier than (shifting from) old Constitution to new Constitution.”

Jaafar said they expect President Duterte to certify the bill as urgent. He said

they expect that by 2018 the law will be passed and ratified by the people in a plebiscite in the proposed Bangsamoro core territory and thereafter, the  Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) shall have been appointed by President Duterte to run what would be a ministerial form of government until the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro government.)