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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

P-Noy administration pushes voting on BBL in House committee, followed by plenary vote. Militants and Bongbong promise good fight vs. BBL, but with elections coming up defenses may crumble. Former DND Secretary/National Adviser Norberto Gonzalez insists that government retain initiative in peace efforts in Mindanao, but it looks more like surrender. Unknown Comelec appointee Abas to ensure win in BBL plebiscite and parliamentary vote in Muslim Mindanao?. How will he fare in CA?




The House of Representatives has set voting on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at committee level tomorrow, Monday, and in plenary  on Tuesday, as President Aquino wants this law dusted and polished in time for his valedictory address to the nation, his last SONA on July 27. Militant party-list House members predict that voting tomorrow would not produce sufficient votes to pass in that chamber; on the other hand, Sen. Bongbong Marcos has promised to lead stiff resistance in the Senate.

But because elections are coming up, politicians cannot be relied to really put up a keen fight, so that no one would be surprised if Congress garnishes P-Noy’s SONA with the BBL as main dish. As a media guy put it, P-Noy is looking for a legacy to make his lackluster six years look like it has achieved something, and this has to be peace in Mindanao via the Bangsamoro. He has not given up on his dream of a Nobel Peace Prize.  

According to media sources funds are being distributed to gain votes for the BBL (reportedly as much as P50M down on pre-voting and double when it passes). And judging by past incidents such as the generous distribution of the now unconstitutional DAP to clinch the impeachment and conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, this is entirely feasible in the BBL voting whose implications are far bigger.

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What surprises me and millions of other Filipinos are the blatant moves being made to pass the BBL. What's with P-Noy that he has become so obsessed with passing it by hook or by crook, post-haste and insisting on zero amendment and no watering down of the 122-page  draft law. This, even when former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, one of the members of the BBL Peace Council, has opined under questioning by the Senate that “constitutional issues need to be refined.”  Davide cited among these questionable issues the possible confusion between the “parliamentary” description of the Bangsamoro government and its “ministerial” nature. Many observers also feel quizzy about the unclear relationship between the President and the elective Chief Minister of Bangsamoro. 

It’s easy to see that rush voting in Congress under “financial duress” would endanger the success of the BBL because it would open itself to outright challenge by itching IBP lawyers before the SC.  

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Consider too a number of other developments.  A total unknown and lightweight lawyer named Sheriff Abas was appointed to the Comelec just recently and it turns out that he is the nephew of Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator operating on an alias. So unknown is Sheriff Abas that even the Muslim Lawyers Association led by Sultan Firdausi Abbas does not know him nor has heard of him.

Why was this insignificant lawyer appointed to the Comelec, whose members enjoy fixed tenure and who will assume office at a time when the automated electoral system is so frightfully under question because of Smartmatic’s many delinquencies in the two past elections? It would appear to many---and can one blame them?---that Sheriff  Abas is being appointed to ensure that the plebiscite in the five Muslim provinces that will be placed under the Bangsamoro would vote favorably for the BBL.  Moreover, the parliamentary elections in this new entity also has to be taken care of.

In the minds of many observers, the appointment of Sheriff Abas, Iqbal's nephew, is a little too brazen even for an administration whose many acts of impunity take one’s breath away. What's the desperation that guides its actions? 

Sheriff Abas would be subjected to the Commission on Appointments. Can we be optimistic about the CA's handling of this hot potato. Appointing Iqbal's nephew to such a sensitive position is not a confidence-building measure.

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Then too, consider how the AFP command was forced to do a turn-around to put the MILF in a good light for the BBL voting.  I refer to the killing of the late terrorist Marwan’s sidekick, Basit Usman, which was claimed earlier by no less than AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang, and this was probably true.  Later, however, as the Daily Tribune pointed out, the AFP rewrote the script and crdited the MILF for Usman’s slaying. 

The idea obviously is to make the MILF look less like the monster that slew the 44 SAF heroes and more like the slayer of a terrorist, and therefore more acceptable to the peace-loving Filipinos on the eve of the BBL voting in Congress.

Another aim was to counter the image of Mindanao as the breeding ground of terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region. But this strategy ought to be properly handled. Former Ambassador to Jakarta Vidal Querol, a former PNP general, stressed a good point in his Facebook entry. He noted that the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), or the "Free Aceh Movement," the rebel separatist group in Aceh, northern Sumatra, Indonesia, for around three decades, LAID DOWN ITS ARMS IN THE 2005 PEACE AGREEMENT SIGNED IN HELSINKI, FINLAND, BEFORE PEACE COULD BE ATTAINED. 

In fact, noted Querol, GAM was not allowed to participate as a political party until it first laid down all its firearms, which it did--- so that in fact, the two top former rebel leaders of Aceh now occupy the top two elective posts in that province: Gov. Zaini Abdullah and Deputy Gov. Myakier Massaf. 

Querol also stressed that a peace agreement with the MILF ought to involve the surrender of “real guns, not old dilapidated ones.” Otherwise, he argued correctly, other political parties would be threatened and there would be no genuine elections in Muslim Mindanao. Note that the MILF proposes to convert itself into a political party to participate in the first parliamentary elections in the political entity that's the Bangsamoro, BUT IT REFUSES TO SURRENDER ITS HIGH-POWERED FIREARMS, nor those seized from the SAF 44 heroes.

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Everything is indeed being made to deodorize the passage of the BBL in Congress and remove the people’s running suspicion against this law and the entity it would be creating. Why? What does the administration stand to gain from its passage? Malaysia has come in very strong on this issue in the past two years and is backing the MILF to the hilt.

Thus, it is conceivable that this rich neighbor of ours would pour tremendous resources into the Bangsamoro and make it a model of development, with the help of some OIC countries. In return, among other concessions, the PH government would conceivably soften up on its claim to Sabah which Malaysia is bent on retaining as its territory because of Sabah's rich natural resources.

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The problem is that, as the former National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary in the Arroyo administration, Norberto B. Gonzales, noted in his excellent paper serialized recently in the Manila Times, titled "Some Helpful Insights into our National Security Situation," the PH government seems to have lost the initiative in the peace effort in Mindanao.

To paraphrase a commentator on the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight last week (“ Pacquiao has brought the fight to Mayweather in the first four rounds”), the PH government, Gonzales stresses, “must retain the initiative in the peace effort” in the big island. It cannot allow a single group, armed or otherwise, and especially armed, to monopolize political power or to seize the initiative of defining the future and well-being of Mindanao. It is the government’s duty to provide an atmosphere of freedom for all the peoples of Mindanao to collectively define the course of their lives.”

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Like every Filipino, this blogger prays for a peaceful and meaningful solution to the longstanding conflict in Muslim Mindanao. I have gone around that big island extensively in the mid-90s when my husband was commander of all of Mindanao, and I have seen the beauty and tremendous potential of islands like Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan, as well as the Muslim mainland.  I realize that only by truly guaranteeing peace in Mindanao can its full development materialize.  


But it cannot be the way the P-Noy government has been conducting its affairs vis-à-vis the major armed group there that promises better behavior under certain conditions it's dictating---and which the administration is only too happy to yield to. (more on Norberto Gonzales' paper on national security concerns).

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