18th Southern Mindanao Assembly of Philippine Society of Mechanical Engineers

To the officers and members of the PSME Southern Mindanao Assembly, led by the Assembly Chairman Romeo Lestojas and CEO Gladys Villamor,

Chairman of the Philippine Board of Mechanical Engineers, Jesus Redelosa,

Friends from the business and the industrial sector,

Other esteemed guests and friends,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning to all of you!

Maayong buntag kaninyong tanan!

Assalamu Alaykum!

This particular symposium convened by your professional organization could not have come at a more opportune time. And I thank you for having invited me to be part of the 18th general assembly of the mechanical engineers of Southern Mindanao, and to be given this very valuable opportunity to reach out to your organization and to all my Mindanaoan friends, from outside the halls of the Senate.

You are all perhaps aware that we in Congress, most especially myself as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, are presently undertaking this huge task of deliberating on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as proposed by Malacañang. In fact, I just sponsored the substitute bill last Monday, and it is now scheduled for interpellations and amendments from my colleagues in the Senate.

As mechanical engineers who have sworn to be the ethical vanguards of the formidable machines running in our plants and factories and keeping our economy ever vibrant and robust, especially here in this part of the country, and who at the same time also depend on the industry sector for livelihood, you are collectively a distinct set of genuine stakeholders in this national exercise.

So I beg your indulgence and allow me to relate this year’s theme to this particular matter of extreme national significance, on account of its great impact on your profession and all the other professions in general, and also on our efforts in pursuing global competence and global recognition for all our professionals, most especially our engineers.

At the outset, I hope that everyone is aware that the essence of the BBL is to recalibrate and to seek to enhance the terms of the grant of autonomy to the present ARMM regional government. Through this enhanced grant of autonomy, wider and more extensive powers are sought to be given to the proposed “Bangsamoro Regional Government”.

As you know, under the present organic act for the ARMM, embodied in R.A. 9504 of 2001, the ARMM regional government is like a local government unit, but with a special relationship vis-à-vis the national government, on account of the higher degree of autonomy guaranteed to it by our Constitution. As such, special powers, functions and operational control, not generally granted to and possessed by “ordinary” local governments, are given to and wielded by the ARMM government.

Now, let’s talk about some of the more relevant and impactful regional powers that are sought to be enhanced under the BBL. For example, the Bangsamoro Regional Government is proposed to be given exclusive power over “trade, INDUSTRY, investment, enterprises and regulation of businesses taking into consideration relevant laws”, including the the power industry, certain manufacturing industries, economic zones and industrial centers, etc.

Considering that under the BBL the Bangsamoro Parliament shall have “authority to enact laws on matters that are within the powers and competencies of the Bangsamoro Regional Government”, it can then be argued that the Bangsamoro legislature shall be free to formulate policies and legislate on these exclusive areas on its own. The Bangsamoro legislature can thus enact laws that could effectively amend, render inapplicable or even entirely supplant important and relevant industrial laws that otherwise apply to the entire country without exception.

This leads to the observation that in the future, industrial policy in the Bangsamoro region could end up being substantially different from, or at a great disconnect with, those of the national government.

And so with this possibility of variance and divergence, the Bangsamoro legislature should ensure and should be able to pursue and promote conducive and attractive industrial and business policies that will encourage the private sector to invest, put up and sustain productive industries within the Bangsamoro region for the benefit of its economy.

Now, how about the designers, managers and operators of the mechanical behemoths whirring and purring within the fortresses of these plants and factories? What is the impact upon them?

Aside from the industrial sector, even the manpower and the human resource of our industries also stand to be affected by the BBL. I am referring to the members of the labor force and other professionals who earn a living from the industrial sector within the Bangsamoro territory. More importantly, I am referring to the mechanical engineers who practice their professions in the Bangsamoro territory.

Hence, as a corollary principle, the Bangsamoro regional government should also be able to establish a logical and equitable labor and professional regulation policy within the region.

Which brings us to the next point. Under the BBL, the Bangsamoro government shall henceforth take over and shall have exclusive control over “LABOR, EMPLOYMENT AND OCCUPATION” within the Bangsamoro region. Again, following the logic that I used earlier, the Bangsamoro Parliament will be free to pass laws on these subjects to be made effective within its territory, and such laws shall prevail over relevant national laws that are in general application throughout the country, such as the Philippine Mechanical Engineering Act of 1998 (RA 8495), the Labor Code of the Philippines (PD 442), the Professional Regulation Commission Act (RA 8981), and others.

As a result, the Bangsamoro government could end up establishing a separate Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that would enforce labor laws, and a separate National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) that would adjudicate the labor claims of employees.

On the side of professionals, the Bangsamoro is also entitled to establish a separate Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) that shall regulate the professions and other licensed occupations, including the conduct of board examinations and admission to the practice.

Unfortunately, with regard to the regulation of professions, of which mechanical engineering is one, there are no specific mechanisms in the BBL that aim to guarantee the highest possible standards for the ethical practice of professions and for admission thereto. In fact, I wrote to the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) about this. However, the PRC was not able to send us their opinions and recommendations to remedy these areas of uncertainties in the BBL.

So all these ruminations serve to pose a threat to the integrity of the mechanical engineering profession— admission to, continued membership in, and practice of which are being regulated by RA 8495, or the Mechanical Engineering Act of 1998.

What will happen to all our full-fledged professionals? What will happen to you? Will you retain your statuses as such, having previously hurdled—NOT TOO LONG AGO—the tests of competence and the bar of professional ethics a long time ago—some of you even with flying colors!

Thus, we will have to leave this matter up to the sound discretion of the Bangsamoro regional government to address accordingly, prudently, fairly and equitably.

Let us push the agreement a little further. What will happen to those who are studying now, those currently reviewing for the Board Exams? What will happen to those aspiring to become part of the professional disciplines in the future, and who desire to practice their professions within the Bangsamoro region? Will they be governed by the same standards of competence and ethics, and subjected to the same uniform procedures and tests for admission, which are required of and given to all aspirants and applicants all over the country by the CHED and the PRC?

On this note, we also have to understand that “EDUCATION AND SKILLS TRAINING” is likewise an exclusive power of the Bangsamoro Regional Government. And as we are also inspired by the theme of achieving “global professional recognition” in this year’s assembly, we might as well reflect on the impact of the BBL on the efforts of government, the private sector and our higher educational institutions to attune the standards of our Philippine engineering education to global standards, in an attempt to achieve “substantial equivalence” of our programs with those of, and mutual recognition of our professional qualifications by, developed countries.

For example, this “Washington Accord” of the International Engineering Alliance (IEA) that we are working so hard for to become part and signatory of. If we become a regular member of this international agreement, our professional engineers who shall be licensed by the PRC shall also automatically be authorized to practice in other members-States, since our engineering programs and professional accreditation process would then be recognized as “substantially equivalent” of those of the other members-States.

Right now, we are on “provisional status”, in fact, since 2013. My office got in touch with the Philippine Technological Council (PTC) yesterday, and we were told that we have a period of four (4) years, plus an extension of two (2) years, within which to comply with the requirements to become a regular member and signatory of the Washington Accord. According to the PTC, our application is on the right track, and our chances are “high”. Hence, traces of the sweet smell of success are being smelt. Soon, the Filipino engineering program, the FIlipino engineering graduate, and the Filipino licensed professional engineer will all finally become “globally recognized”.

If the BBL passes, the Bangsamoro Government, in the exercise of its exclusive powers, should be able build on the progress and gains made in this direction. It has to ensure that the engineering programs within the Bangsamoro region will be attuned to the standards set by the national government, so that they can also keep pace with the overall efforts so far made by the country in upgrading the programs and making them at par with global standards, such that the graduates of engineering programs within the Bangsamoro region will likewise be qualified to practice in other jurisdictions that are signatories to the Washington Accord.

The functions and responsibilities of the mechanical engineer in the industry and in society have stably evolved over the years. They are already quite clear-cut and established, as we speak. Thus, the mechanical engineer’s indispensable role and continued relevance in the industry—not to mention his or her economic potential—is assured. Simply put, your practice, your roles, your niche, as well as your fair share of professional fees, are already safely guaranteed by the present set-up.

However, the lack of clarity and seamlessness in the transition of power and governance, and the uncertainty in the continuity of policy and predictability in the regulation of both the industry and the engineering profession can trigger a very unsettling feeling not only among the industry participants—ALL OF YOU HERE—but also in the keen and concerned public servant, like me.

Nabalaka kaayo kog daku ma-o man gani nga ako kini tanang gihimo.
(I am very concerned, that is why I am doing all these.)

Admittedly, the substitute BBL bill is still a work in progress, and can still be further refined and improved. I beg to disagree with those who who claim that it is “Anti-Moro”, or that it has no “soul” at all. For several months, I have painstakingly tried to make it as fair, balanced and inclusive as possible.
In any event, I can still introduce my own refinements and amendments to the substitute bill, to timely address noted deficiencies and weaknesses. And then, no less that fourteen (14) Senators will also avail of the opportunity to contribute to its improvement.

The industrial sector of Mindanao, especially the mechanical engineers of Mindanao, can be assured of your humble public servant’s continuing commitment to pursue fairness, balance and inclusivity, and also, more importantly, to protect the industrial sector and the professions. I fervently hope that this can be my humble contribution to successfully ending our country’s continued quest for that seemingly elusive and enigmatic formula for peace, justice and development in Muslim Mindanao, and to the strengthening of our integrity and unity as one Filipino nation.

There are still lots more to be done in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, especially during this interpellation and amendment process.

But whatever happens, however your elected representatives and, ultimately, the People decide, we are greatly comforted by the very crucial and very telling pledges that the mechanical engineers had made when they took their oaths.

As mechanical engineers, all of you had sworn to “honor and respect the supreme authority of the State, the Rule of Law, the primacy of the general welfare, the fundamental rights of persons, and the obligations and privileges of citizens recognized and guaranteed by the Constitution of the Philippines.” Further, you have sworn to be “governed by the Golden Rule, the ideals of service to man and his environment, and the indispensability of unwavering public confidence in his professional competence, integrity and humanity.”

We count on you to live and reduce this pledge to actual practice. I believe that as we gradually push the BBL forward, step by step, you should reflect on these things discussed today. This will be a particular—and possibly the rarest—time in your careers, where you ought to feel and appreciate the transcendental primacy of your responsibilities to the State and to the community, as you had sworn in your Oaths.

As I have shared with the businessmen and mining engineers in my last visit to Davao in June, I firmly believe that at the end of the day, the ultimate desire and aspiration of all our kababayans, Muslims or non-Muslims alike, is, in simple terms, “HAYAHAY NGA BUHAY” (magandang buhay), or better and more fulfilling lives for themselves, for their families and for their posterity.

And this is all the more true for the mechanical engineers, who are known for their legendary “KAYOD-INHINYERO” brand of work ethic and dedication, in their desire to uplift the quality of life of their families.

We want the industrial sector and the mechanical engineering profession to always be “NIUSWAG UG NILAMBO” (malakas at asensado). We do not want it to be “PURDOY” (lugi/bankrupt), just as much as we dread the prospect of “WALAY PANGITA” (walang trabaho), especially for the mechanical engineers of Mindanao.

On our part as elected representatives of the people and public servants, our primordial duty then is to lay the building blocks to enable our people to achieve the better and more fulfilling lives they aspire for.

Maghina-ut kita nga dili lamang ang kalinao ug pagkinaugalingon para sa atong mga igsoon nga Bangsamoro, hasta ang ilang kalambuan ug kauswagan, ug apilan na ang tibuok nasud!
(Hangad ko ay hindi lamang kapayapaan at kasarinlan ng ating mga kapatid sa Bangsamoro, kundi pati na rin ang kanilang kasaganahan at kaunlaran, at ng ating buong bansa.)

Asahan ninyo na ginawa ko at gagawin ko pa ang PATAS at ang TAMA: tama para sa kapayapaan at kaunlaran sa Mindanao; tama para sa bansa; at tama para sa ating kababayan, lalo na para sa buong industriya at sa lahat ng mga inhinyerong mekanikal sa Mindanao!

Let me end on that note. Daghan nako nasturya!
(Marami na akong nakuwento!)

Again, thank you for your invitation, and I hope that everybody had a very meaningful, thought-provoking and productive symposium this year!

Mabuhi ang Southern Mindanao Assembly ng Philippine Society of Mechanical Engineers!

Mabuhi ang Mindanao!

Mabuhi ang makusganon (strong), nagkahiusa ug mauswagong (united and prosperous) Pilipinas!

Daghang salamat ug maayong buntag kaninyong tanan!

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