31st Annual Conference of Rotary Club International – District 3870

Maayong buntag kaninyong tanan!

As-salamu alaykum!
Natuto na ako because of the hearings that we’ve been having.
Thank you very much to the entire Rotary Club District 3870 family for this very kind invitation to be with you at the District Conference this year held no less than in the “City of Golden Friendship”, the beautiful city of Cagayan de Oro!

Thank you also to the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro for all the efforts that they have exerted to organize this event of friendship and camaraderie among the District members.

I envy all of you because the theme that you have chosen for your 2015 District Conference is “HUDYAKA!” (did I pronounce that properly?), which, I was informed by my staff who is a Bisaya from Cagayan de Oro, means “extreme merriment”! Nakakainggit po talaga, kasi naman po, the theme of my legislative work right now in the Senate right now is exact opposite, it is “EXTREME STRESS”! So, while yours is “HUDYAKA!”, mine is “GRABE KAHAGO!”

I say this because at the Senate, especially in the Committee on Local Government of which I am the Chairman, has a lot of work right now in connection with – I’m sure you know – the Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL. We are coming to the end of our deliberations, and we are hoping to wrap up the hearings… The last scheduled hearing is on the 25th of May. We may have to extend a bit while your Congressman, Rufus Rodriguez, is doing his schedule.

I have to explain: Congressman Rufus’ committee contains 75 members na pinaghati-hati nila sa iba’t ibang cluster, and each cluster is conducting their own hearings in different places. In the Senate, there is only me conducting the hearings, so I am doing the work that the 75 congressmen are doing. That’s why we are a little bit behind. We had a hearing, during the recess, to do with the ceasefire mechanisms which I thought were too slow and too weak, especially after the Mamasapano incident. Last Tuesday, we had a hearing with the Peace Council and we have scheduled hearings in Jolo, Sulu and Zamboanga City next week. We have futher hearings in Manila where we will be joined by the MNLF, the indigenous people group – the IPs – of Mindanao, and other concern sectors. These comprise the final leg of our committee hearings which we are trying to bring as close to the hearts and homes of our Muslim brothers and sisters as possible.

These hearing schedules are on top of the voluminous piles of papers that we need to sift through, analyze and process, including the 0ne hundred ninteen (119) provisions of the BBL. There are a multitude of interrelated and important peace agreements and documents that are binding upon our Government. We have collected four (4) file drawers containing noteworthy laws, position papers, reports and memoranda from important stakeholders. And last and most importantly, in all our efforts, we are also duty-bound to consider and be guided by centuries’ worth of our rich history and culture as a Filipino people.
And so, you could say that we are coming to – I suppose, if it were a basketball game, nasa last two minutes na tayo.

Nevertheless, despite the heavy schedule, I welcome the opportunity to come and be with you here in CDO. When I received the invitation from Rotary Club District 3870, I suppose masasabi nila malakas talaga ang mga Rotary Club sa akin! Ako’y nagpapasalamat na kayo ay ako’y inanyayahan.

Aside from that, on a more serious note, I also made it a point to join you here today, cognizant of the fact that the territorial coverage of District 3870 comprises areas that are directly affected by this proposed BBL organic act—more specifically, the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, the cities of Marawi, Cotabato—as well as areas on the peripheries that are just as concerned about this bill .

This is consistent with the official mandate I have been given and my own personal mission to study the BBL and to pass a BBL that is not only thoroughly and conscientiously studied, but also one that will be capable of successfully ending our quest for a just and lasting peace, stability and development, finally, in Muslim Mindanao. And more importantly, a BBL that likewise unites us as a nation—Muslims and non-Muslims—and respects the integrity of the Republic of the Philippines, as much as it unites, respects the autonomy, and achieves the collective aspirations of the Bangsamoro. The one that we as a nation have been waiting and longing for, but has been so elusive to us, for so many years.

The closest that we came – the only successful agreement that we have forged – with the fighting forces of the seccessionist movement in the 70s was the Triplo Agreement, which was signed in Tripoli. There was also, of course, the final agreement, the Jakarta agreement, in ’96.

I am often asked as I go around the country that very simple question: Will the BBL pass or not?

I have to explain that there is no “one” BBL. There is a draft BBL that was given to us, the House of Representatives, and given to the Senate. So when you ask the question, “Will the BBL pass?” My question back to you is, “Which BBL do you refer to?” Do you refer to the one that the President gave us? Or do you refer to the one that has been presented in the House of Representatives? Do you refer to the one that is being suggested by the IPs, or the one being suggested by the Peace Council?

In other words: there are many versions of the BBL. The job of the legislator is to look at the draft BBL, to listen to all the suggestions of all the stakeholders, and to make sure that we have the best possible bill that we can have. Now, we have heard many, many discussions, I’m sure that you have all been paying great attention to them. We have been hearing many discussions as to what are the things that we need to put. There are constitutional issues, there are political issues, there are administrative issues, there are economic issues. All of these have to be examined thoroughly. We have to look and make sure that everyone who is affected by the BBL has their time to say whatever it is they feel, what their opinions are, and how they fell they will be affected by this new government that our government is proposing.

And so we have to ensure in Congress that the law that we are writing is in fact 1) constitutional; 2) legal and enforceable, because there is no use writing a law that we cannot enforce. And so this is the problem that we are faced with. That’s why I’m always at a loss when people ask me, “Will the BBL pass?” Is it the one that we wrote last week, or the one we finished yesterday, or the one we are going to do next week, or in the next month?

It is a work in progress. I think that’s the best way to describe it. And right now we have, as I said, we have scheduled all of the hearings. We proposed that the hearings will be finished by the 25th, and at that time we will then go away to have a very good look and see what it is we have learned from all of the hearings. The point of the hearings is to have people come and speak, and try to learn what their particular issues are. One segment of society, one area of society. We have to hear from the local government, we have to hear from the IPs, we have to hear from the Sultanates, we have to hear from the MILF, from the OPPAP. We have to hear from retired officers, and now – because the Peace Council was formed – we had to listen to the Peace Council.

So all of this has been the tension between the position that the Administration has taken. “Pass the BBL without any changes,” that is what they continuously have been saying. In fact we also hear an even more – shall we say – ominous statements from the MILF and the OPPAP where they say, “Pass the BBL without changes or there will be war.”

There was a pronouncement very early on in the process: Better no BBL than a mangled BBL. But we are legislators, we are not the rubber stamp of what the Executive has done. We have to look at the law and we have to make sure it is as good a law – that it will pass all the tests for a good law – that we can do. That’s why I have tried to make sure that I have heard from anyone who has something to say, especially those who represent a sector of society that are stakeholders in the BBL.

It turns out that the sectors of society that are stakeholders in the BBL is in fact the entire nation.

There are some quarters that have insinuated that we were merely delaying and derailing the BBL’s legislative fruition. Well, I have to disagree! Congress is not to pass upon the original draft BBL simply to give our automatic thumbs-up, as if we were a mere rubber stamp. Congress is as much a bulwark of the rule of law and constitutional supremacy in our beloved country, in the same way that the Supreme Court always loftily claims that it is.
The Executive Department had committed and bound us to a deadline: the 2016 elections, which is only just a year from now. The actual law is supposed to have taken effect by then, as to make it possible for the Bangsamoro officials to be elected at the same time.

But we know of that deadline. It is not a real deadline. It is a deadline that has been put there for political reasons, rather than to make sure that it is a good BBL. In my view, it is more important that we get the BBL right than that we follow these deadlines that are being imposed upon us by the Executive. Unfortunately, it is as complicated a bill as ever that has been in Congress. We have never created a regional government before. We have regions now, but they are administrative regions. They have been created for administrative purposes. We have only experimented with regional representation during the interm Batasang Pambansa where we had regional batasan members that were elected on a regional basis. There is a lot of talk about federalism. This was our first step towards that. So even in that time, we were already approaching the idea of federalism. Although that surrounds this argument, right now what we were talking about is not the federalization of the entire Philippines but only a regional government. Furthermore, that government is parliamentary, which is not the same as the Republican and unitary government that we have in the rest of the country. Thirdly, it is considered – that’s why it came to my Committee on Local Government – a local government, and yet all the structures and the rules that apply to it are different from every other local government. The other local governments – we have the provinces, the cities, the municipalities and barangays – they have a standard structure that is followed all around the country. This is an entirely different government structure that we are proposing for the Bangsamoro government.

This is something that we have never done before. The closest that we have come to it – as I said – was the Tripoli agreement wherein two regions were set aside as autonomous regions. These became, eventually, after the 1987 Constitution, the ARMM. We had ARMM and CAR, but CAR by plebiscite did not prosper, so ARMM was the one that was created.

So here we are now with this proposed BBL, and we are working very, very hard to make sure. I have been criticized, I have seen the pictures and posters that have been set up: “Senators against the BBL.” I can understand why people think that but the fact of the matter is what I am trying to do is I am trying to make the BBL perfect because there is so much at stake and it is so important. This is such a grand opportunity for us, perhaps, to move the peace process forward.

What has come out in our discussions is that we have to view BBL… I also have to differ with people who say, “BBL will bring peace to Mindanao.” BBL is only part of what we need to do in Mindanao. BBL is an agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF as you well know. All of you here are from Mindanao. As you well know, the minute that that comprehensive agreement was signed, there was an uprising in Zamboanga specifically by the MNLF to say, “What happened to our Jakarta agreement of 1996? Why are we suddenly being pushed aside?” And that is problem a problem that is contained within the BBL. It is a problem that we must confront if we are saying that the purpose of the peace process is to bring peace. We have to discuss what is the context that the BBL exists in, in the context of the Tripoli agreement, and in the context of the Jakarta agreement of ’96.

It is not a simple thing to do whatsoever. As I said, if we are going to do it properly, we cannot be rushed. We had the timeline, nakalatag na lahat ng aming mga plano at mga hearings. But the draft BBL was transmitted to us six months later than expected. We were expecting it – I was first told that it was coming in April of last year. It eventually came end of September. That’s six months. Then, of course we all know, Mamasapano, the massacre, happened. We had to stop our hearings and try and find out what really went on. Once we were satisfied, to a greater extent, that we had a good idea of what happened and what the failings were, then it was alright to proceed with the hearings so that we could incorporate the findings of the hearings on Mamasapano into the whatever was necessary to be included in the BBL.

Last Tuesday, May 5th, the Peace Council formally turned over to the Senate its Report and Recommendations, as to what to say about the BBL. We were rather surprised, I have to say, because the first statement of the Peace Council was to say that the BBL is “overwhelmingly acceptable and deserves the support of all Filipinos.” I took this as saying that “this is a blanket approval of the BBL” by the Peace Council. Much to my surprise, when we had the hearings, they had many suggestions and many insights as to what changes needed to be made to the BBL. And so I think everyone is in agreement – except perhaps OPPAP and the Palace – that the draft BBL cannot stand as it was written. And if I am asked – to go back to the question that I spoke about at the very beginning – when I am asked, “Will the BBL pass?” one thing that I can answer is that the draft BBL, as it was given to us will not pass either house of Congress because there are too man problems, there are too many areas that are not clear, there are too many constitutional issues that have not been remedied.

So that is our job in Congress. That is our job as legislators and we will continue to do that job until the job is finished.

The different views that we have heard about the Bangsamoro – never mind the BBL – but the Bangsamoro government have been very interesting. So I could say that now we are back on track. Barring any untoward incidents that can distract national attention and disturb our official duties, we hope to terminate Committee hearings, as I said, by the end of May. Then have to buckle down to the very intricate and – again I will admit – difficult work of actually drafting and formulating of the Senate version, which the Committee shall then put forth to the Plenary.

I hope that these information and updates have given you an idea of where we are with the BBL. I know that everyone is very interested. I’m sure that you have been watching closely what has been happening in the House and what has been happening in the Senate in this regard. Just that we are trying to finish it and be able to say when it is done that this is a bill, this is a structure, this is a regional government which will actually work. Number one, it will be enforceable. That the structure that we designed will actually work, that there will be governance, there will be checks and balances, that there will be democracy, there will be self-governance. It is the principle of recognizing the differences in culture, in history, in law, in religion… All of these will become part and parcel of what we will, in the end, present to the rest of the Senate.

I hope this information that I’ve given you will be able to inspire you, friends in the Rotary, in every possible way. You are all influential personalities, shapers of public opinion in your communities and perhaps you can use your formidable skills and ability to be sharp, critical and incisive in diagnosing and analyzing the problems and that we are facing when it comes to BBL. I’m not saying that you should do our job for us, but it is in your interest to understand what this is all about. More so for those of you who live in Mindanao, the BBL is going to affect every single citizen of the country. The expression that young people use is, “Don’t get me started” because once I start on this subject, I can talk about this for the next two days, non-stop. There are so many details and so many intricacies to this issue, and they’re all interconnected. If you change one thing, it affects something else. It is something that is more then hundreds of years. People say that this conflict only began in my father’s time. The very name, “Moro” that we use for our Muslim brothers is a Spanish word. And that is because it started with the Spanish. When the Spanish colonized the Philippines, they came and they wanted for everyone to become Christian. And of course the Muslim Filipinos did not want to become to become Christian and they fought for their religion. That was the beginning of this conflict.

That is a long, long time that we are talking about. Magellan came in 1521 and this problem started soon after. Again, many, many things have happened in the past, many things are intruding upon the issue. We will continue to try and understand, at least, what the effects are to what we are doing today from the actions and events that happened hundreds of years ago. I hope that you are patient and that you will understand that there are many, many things that we need to do and are continuing to have to do.

But again, you, who are leaders in the community, have a role to play in helping people understand, in helping put forth your opinions, in helping give your side of this story, whatever that might be. We have heard many. Each hearing that we have held, each speaker that I have listened to, I have learned at least something new. Every day that we are continuing to conduct these discussions, every day something else crops up, there is more detail. “The more you look, the more there is,” as they say. And so that is the situation that we are in now, but rest assured we are not going to stop the work, we are going to do the best job that we know how to do to make sure that this BBL will in fact become part of the effort that will finally, hopefully, being peace to Muslim Mindanao. It is a very tall order, but it is a challenge we do not shirk from. It is a challenge that we face frontally, and it is a challenge that we welcome because it is an important goal. And if we plan to achieve that then we must take into account all the different elements, not only the different groups but also the different elements of government, of governance, of power sharing, of finances, of our relations with other countries. All of these have to be taken into account and we will do that. That way, we can say when I finally bring it to the Senate floor, I can say that this is one that we can live with, this is a law that not only can we live with but I am confident will succeed.

Until then, until I am confident that we have a law that will succeed, then we will beg your patience and – especially all of you in the Rotary – understanding, especially now that I have made this long explanation to you. I beg your understanding as to what it is that we are doing.

But so long as you continue to take an interest, the Rotary Club of the Philippines will never fail to demonstrate to the public, through your constant and tangible deeds, not only your ideals. This is part of what your founder, Paul Harris, had envisioned. More importantly, your continued relevance and importance in our society and the entire Filipino nation.

I will leave it at that. I would not be surprised if you said that my explanation raised more questions than answers, but that is the nature of the work that we have before us.

Hanggang ditto na lamang po. Daghan na ko nasturya.

So again, let me take this opportunity to
congratulate everybody on the successful holding of your District Conference 2015!

Mabuhay ang Rotary Club of the Philippines, District 3870!

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

Daghang salamat ug maayong buntag kaninyong tanan!

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