Q and A at Assumption College San Lorenzo

News & Interviews
1 September 2015

Q: My question is how would BBL or rather The Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region affect the business and the economics in the Philippines?

BBM: A great deal. In fact this is one of the worries that we have because when we look at the process where the negotiating panel of the Philippine government was going through the peace process they were talking only to the MILF, they did not talk to the business dealers, they did not talk to the Sultanates, they did not talk to the MNLF, they did not talk to anyone, except the MILF. We immediately said this is not going to work. Because if you do not involve the stakeholders, if you do not involve everyone who is going to be affected by this, not only involvement, but get their agreement, get their understanding, get their support, this is not going to work. This will not succeed. So we had hearings with the business communities and trying to find out from them what would be their view, was going to be the effect. Well, one of the main problems that they highlighted was that the Bangsamoro parliament will then enact laws in terms of the functions of government. They were a little apprehensive that the functions of government was defined by the Bangsamoro parliament will be very, very different from the policies that are defined by the national government and that would be a big problem. The area that we are talking about, the seas where all of our large fishing fleets, fish, those are the fishing grounds of the fishing industry out of Gen San, out of Davao, out of Zamboanga. All of these will be affected. There is another element. There is this so called barter trade which we have in Muslim Mindanao with some countries, where we allow the exchange of goods for goods. That again, we do not know what the Bangsamoro parliament will enact into law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. So it is more an uncertainty, as to what will happen to us because we do not know what the Bangsamoro parliament is going to do. That is how it affects that specific area. Now, the other way that it will affect the rest of the country is that there is a very large fund that is being given to the Bangsamoro government every year by the national government. It is very large. I say very large because it is in the amount of approximately seventy five billion pesos every year. Now, the reason it is particularly interesting or important to the other parts of the Philippines is simply this. All that money will come from all the other LGU’s outside of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. None of it will come from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Therefore, what the other LGU’s were saying was that if we are going to sacrifice because if you take one hundred pesos from the national treasury and give it to Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, that’s one hundred pesos less that we, that other local government units can avail. So if it’s seventy five billion, that is seventy five billion less that the other LGU’s around the country can avail. Now to be fair to the LGU’s, they did not object. We understand it is necessary to accelerate the development of Muslim Mindanao. It is part of the peace process. They did not object. What they would just like to be very clear about is to make sure that these very large amounts of money, taken from them essentially, will be used properly. Why is that a... because in the ARMM, we have all heard about the all those horrible and reckless news reports where the billions of pesos that the national government was giving to the leadership of ARMM, where did it go? It went to buy arms, it went to buy nice cars, it went to build beautiful houses, and for the most part, well into their pockets. And we do not want that anymore. So that is something that we have tried to make very, very clear, in that the auditing procedures are very strict, are the same as any other local government unit. The Department of Budget and Management will continue to exercise its oversight function. In fact, on other words, it can turn down an appropriation that is made. Let us say, the government, just a ridiculous example, says that we want to buy a war ship. Then at least the COA can still say, no you can’t do that or DBM will say we disapprove of that kind of expenditure. So, to allay the fears and the concerns of the other LGU’s, what we have done is strengthen and make very, very transparent the process of accounting and of auditing. That way we can be sure that if we are sacrificing all of these funds, for the development of Muslim Mindanao. It actually goes into the development of Muslim Mindanao, not into some people’s pockets, not into luxury items, and certainly not into arms.

Q: Thank you.

BBM: Thank you.

Q: Does not approve…

BBM: If there is no to prove, then I suppose we’d have to go back to the negotiating table with the MILF. In the Senate, I believe it will be approved, perhaps not exactly the version of the substitute bill as I had proposed it, because the reason I say that is because the Senators will have given us all their inputs. So if we include all of that, they have nothing to object to anymore. So they will agree, I think that it will be bad. In the House of Representatives, is a different situation all together. They were not given the opportunity to make changes. They were not given an opportunity to debate. That’s why right now, if you read the news, some of the House leadership is saying, that they are complaining that the Congressmen are not coming in to work because they are trying to avoid the vote on the BBL. Because many of them don’t want to do it. But I guess, the powers that we are putting pressure on them, that’s the dynamic that’s going on now so I do not know what will happen in the House. I’m very confident in saying, in the Senate as the amended version, the substitute bill that I filed, the amendments that they will suggest and that will be accepted, once they are all put in, I believe it will be passed by the Senate. However, should that not happen, for whatever reason, then there’s no bill. There’s no Bangsamoro Basic Law. There’s no Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. There is no law that will enact a new government. What will in fact happen is Muslim Mindanao is that we revert back with the old system, to ARMM. The system, the government that was operating before all of this will just continue to operate. As a matter of fact, if the law is not finished by October, which is the filing of Certificates of Candidacy for all candidates, I believe that the assembly members of ARMM will file their Certificates of Candidacy as candidates to the assembly of ARMM parin. So, balik tayo sa dati. But in terms of the peace process, then we’ll just have to go back and talk to the MILF because, if that’s acceptable to the people. So we have to find another solution. So, I do not know what will happen after that. I hope, I hope, that the threats that some of the elements of MILF have made that they will go back to war, will not be fulfilled. Because I sincerely believe, from my interactions with the leadership of MILF, they really want peace. I think they are tired of war. I really believe that. It’s just the form that they have proposed is unacceptable in law, and unacceptable in principle. But again, we will revert back to ARMM and probably have to go back to the MILF and try to draw something new up again.

Q: Thank you Senator.

BBM: Thank you.

Q: My question is, as students, how can we contribute to the culture of peace in the Philippines?

BBM: Well, at the very least understanding. You must realize that the fighting that goes on in Mindanao, is not a Mindanao issue. It is an issue that concerns the entire Philippines. I talked just now about the and you can see immediately what is involved. But if there’s continued fighting in the Philippines in Muslim Mindanao, that is a drain on many, many other things. We can see that every time something happens, I had an instance where I was governor still of Ilocos Norte, we organized this international tournament and a bomb went off in Basilan. My friends who were helping me organize it in other countries called me and said, we’re cancelling. I said why. Because there’s trouble in the Philippines. But why? Because there’s a bomb that went off in Basilan. I said, Basilan further from Ilocos Norte that in Hong Kong. So, you can see, sorry our people are afraid. So this is how it affects us. Our tourism is affected, our business are affected. So it is very important that people at the very least understand what we are trying to do. Try to understand, read up on it so that you know what are the issues. What are we really trying to do. And in fact, when they say that the SAF 44 died to get Marwan, the terrorist, the so called bomb maker and funder, the Malaysian fellow who they eventually killed before they were all killed himself, they say that the sacrifice of the SAF 44 was for him. I disagree. I believe their sacrifice was to bring to the top of the minds of all Filipino citizens what is happening in Muslim Mindanao and what we in the government are trying to do. Now, without your understanding and without your support, when I say you, I mean all the citizens of the Philippines, then I believe that we will not succeed in this peace process. We cannot do this without the support of the citizenry and the first part of gaining that support will be to have an understanding. That is why I go around. This is the, I don’t know how many schools I have been to, but this is part of the long series of talks that I have given to different schools. So just to try to trigger some interest and some discussion. Maybe not the entire studentry, but at least those who are interested. Just to give an understanding. So I think, as students you do your job to learn. The more you learn, the more you will understand. That way you can actually express an opinion that will guide us in what we do. That is very, very important to us.

Q: Thank you Senator

BBM: Thank you.

Q: As Senator, what’s your next priority bill?

BBM: My next priority bill?

Q: Opo.

BBM: I am the Committee Chairman on Local Government. The priority bill that I have put in, we have very little time remaining so I’m pushing what I call the, Barangay Benefits Bill. Which is basically giving to our barangay officials because right now our barangay officials do not get any salary. They get an honorarium. They are not members of the GSIS. There’s no insurance for them. They do not get retirement benefits. In my work as Governor of Ilocos Norte, I recognized and felt the importance of our barangay workers. Not only the elected barangay officials, but also the volunteers. If anyone of you has worked in local government at all, you will know that the larger part of the barangay officials, are the volunteers, not the barangay chairman, not the barangay kagawads, it’s not the barangay council. They are the tip of the iceberg. The rest of it are the volunteers. So we are trying to provide them with benefits so that when they retire, they get some benefit dahil sila ang inaasahan natin, sila inuutusa natin, marami tayong pinapagawa sa kanila, at sila’y naman matiyaga na tuloy-tuloy na nagtatrabaho at ang lagi kong sinasabi, hindi mararamdaman ng taong bayan ang serbisyo na dinudulot ng gobyerno kapag wala diyan ang ating mga barangay officials at barangay volunteers. Kaya’t iyan ang pinrioritize ko dahil ang pangalawang priority ko ay palakihin ang IRA share ng local government because as of now the sharing between local governments and the national government is forty percent of the national collections goes to the local governments, sixty percent goes to the national government. I believe that we should look into that again because again from my own personal experience the funds that go down to the local government are insufficient. Kulang na kulang talaga para may magawa ang mga local officials na pampaganda doon sa area nila and so we’re trying to find ways to improve that situation by giving them more funding and in that way allowing them to take some initiative in the development of their communities. In that way, because I truly believe, that although the national government of course leads the way, the ultimate driving force of our economy, of our society, is at the local level. And if the local level is strong, then I believe the rest of that is strong. And because of that belief, those are the two bills that I prioritized on.

Q: Thank you.

BBM: Thank you.

Q: Good morning sir. What are the consequence of having a parliamentary form of government under the republic...

BBM: Well it is an experiment that we’re doing. We have never done it before. What we did have in the early eighty’s. I think it was the eighty’s, we already had a parliamentary form of government in the Philippines in the Batasang Pambansa. Where assemblymen were elected on regional basis. And there was only one House, there was no upper House anymore. It was a parliament. But it was a different form in that we had a President and the Prime Minister. That was an experiment that did not continue and when the government changed we reverted back to the American system. Well they did a version of the American system. The implications I believe are something that we really have to look at in a way because although the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region is still considered a local government, it is an entirely different kind of local government than a city, or a municipality, or province or even a barangay. We’ve never had that before. So the simplest way I can explain it, is if the national government is supreme in terms of the government organization, and the local government is somewhere here, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will be somewhere in between. And that’s what we are trying to define. Because we have never had a regional government, much less a parliamentary regional government. There’s actually an argument that’s unconstitutional. But the reason that we left in the parliamentary form of Bangsamoro government is because the legal opinion, I tried to gain as much legal opinion from the best minds that I could talk to, and the opinion is divided. People say it’s constitutional, some people say it’s not. So let’s say, let’s leave it and see where the discussions take us in the Senate. So the implications that we will have to adjust many, many things. What we have been able to do is to make it more in alignment with the general processes of the local government units. What we try to do is to make sure na hindi naman maging lugi iyong local governments na nasa loob ng Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. So we make sure that none of their powers, their authorities, their privileges, were taken away from them. But at the same time, we are to recognize there is autonomy, we have to provide autonomy and that’s the balance we are trying to do. So what the implications will be, we will have to see. But I think, there will be a lot adjustments that will have to be made by the national government so as to take in to have a coordinated working relationship with Bangsamoro Autnomous Region. I believe that some of the most contentious areas are going to be the peace and order in terms of the armed forces and what they are allowed to do whilst fighting the other armed groups that have turned their back on the peace process. I believe that’s going to be the most contentious and because of that the question of decommissioning I think is also going to be something that we will have to work our way through because it is again a joint effort between the national and the autonomous Bangsamoro government. And so that relationship, we still have to define. Although we have something on paper, how it actually works on their ground is something that we will just have to, I hate to say make-up as we go along, we’ll have to slowly fight as we have gained more experience in the process. So, there are quite many implications that I can already see but I have no doubt that there will be other implications that we will not anticipate that will pop up that we will have to adjust to.

Q: Thank you Sir.

BBM: Thank you.

Q: I am... AB Psychology, as much as I would hate asking this, we cannot of course decline not thinking about the worst case scenarios, I believe that someone asked this political question on what if the bill is not passed? Now I would like to continue that question, if the bill is not passed, let us say, what if the bill is not passed, there would be potential war time perhaps when it comes to, especially this is like the Muslim port, where even religious parts might uphold. I would like to ask what measurements would you take?

BBM: Well unfortunately, those were the statements that were made both by the MILF and the President, saying if you do not pass the bill exactly as we have given it to you, there will be war. In fact, the President actually said stat counting body bags. Panakot lang iyan. I believe panakot lang iyan. I do not think that again as I said previously, I really honestly believe that the MILF is to find a peaceful solution. I really believe that they can see that to return to war is short sighted. And we must continue. We cannot stop whatever else happens to the Basic Law, whatever else happens to the framework agreement that the government has signed with them. We cannot allow them however, to use the threats of war to force our hand in passing what is an illegal law. So, immediately that puts us in what do we do? As a legislator, I’m saying, if in the end, they continue to insist on the draft BBL, and somehow it was passed in its original version, within a few weeks, that will be struck down by the Supreme Court because it is clearly unconstitutional. And where does that leave us? It does not leave us any closer to peace. So, I think that this is the best road. It is still the best road. To actually find something. A version of the Basic Law that will be inclusive, that will include all of the stakeholders, not only the MILF but everyone who is going to be affected by the Basic Law. That is still the best way to me. We hope that all we can do is fervently hope and pray to continue the peace process and talk to our partners. Who we consider now our partners in peace in Muslim Mindanao, the MILF and the MNLF. And between them we must continue the peace process, because at the very least if you are communicating with one another then that is the breaking out of action fighting. That is the one thing we want to avoid. In any way that we possibly can. And so I think the only way that we can say, let’s start with you assumption, the Basic Law is not passed, whatever form, is simply not passed, then the worrisome parties?) is that I spoke about the leadership of the MILF but there are parts of the MILF, you know the MILF is not in the AFP. The AFP when an order is given by the Chief-of-Staff, when an order is given by a Commander, everyone under it has to follow that order. The MILF is a much more loosely organized, organization. There are elements within the MILF that have threatened, saying, when this fails, we are going to start fighting again. That’s very... But we believe that if we can explain properly why we are doing what we are doing, and that this is actually a very sincere effort to find peace. A very sincere effort to recognize the differences in the culture, in the history, in the religion, in the law, of Muslim Mindanao, the differences with the rest of the country, that recognition and hence the provision of the autonomy, is a sincere effort that even if we fail in this effort, we can explain to them that we continue to sincerely search for peace with them. Then I think that we can at least have some assurance that the war, the fighting will not break out anymore. This is a risky, there are no guarantees in this process, certainly there are risks involved, but each person, each individual, each office, each department of government, has to play its part. That’s what we are trying to do. As long as it is sincere, and as long as no one is trying to over anyone, then the communication continues, then I believe that we can still, even after should it fail, the efforts fail, that we can still continue with the peace process. What I always keep at the top of my mind, is what we have to see for here, is not a peace of paper, is not a law, not your version, my version, anybody’s version, what we are pushing for here is, peace. And that you have to keep that paramount. If this is attempt fails, we will just have to keep pushing and wait. We will just keep going. We’ll keep on making more proposals. We’ll listen to their proposals. Let the process continue. Of course, again, it has to be seen sincere and it has to be seen to be inclusive. And if we do that, I believe that we can still, continue the peace process even if the Basic Law is not passed into law.

Q: Thank you.

Q: ... Earlier on, for the last question, earlier on you said, normalization of communities, and that, it’s not sufficient that people surrender their arms. What specific justification will you give to the provinces who do not wish to be included in the BL Bar?

BBM: You are speaking about the BIFF. They have turned back themselves. We do not want any part of the peace process. The Abu Sayyaf, the ASG, has also turned their back on the peace process. We just have to find ways to isolate. If we have to fight them, there’s no other way because they have decalred war upon the government. We are not operating here in the Philippines in a vacuum. There’s a very worrisome and very dangerous development going on in the Middle East. I’m sure you all have seen, you watch the news, what’s happening in the Middle East, especially in Libya, in Syria, the ISIS, they are gaining ground. The worrisome part of that is that, BIFF and ASG have already pledged allegiance to ISIS. So we have to very careful in what we do because we do not want an undue influence from such a group to enter into the Philippines. They have already in a sense, but they are not yet operating here. So, again, if those groups, we just have to isolate them and try and show the general populous that their of separating parts of the Philippines, of Mindanao from the Philippines, through fighting, through war, with the Philippine government is not going to succeed. And it will not actually arrive at what they want. And we will fight as hard as we can, we will do everything that we can, including fight, to defend the integrity of the Republic of the Philippines. That has to be made very, very, clear. And that has to be a central part of anything, any policy that we undertake in Muslim Mindanao that we will not allow any part of the Philippines to be removed from the Republic. Once that it’s made clear, perhaps, those other elements will slowly come back to a fold. That is what happened to the MNLF. Where it is through negotiation, a recognition of the differences. The one thing that we always have to remind everyone, especially those who are unfamiliar with Muslim Mindanao, not all Muslims in the Philippines are the same. You cannot say, you’re a Muslim I know what you’re about. That’s not true. There are tribes, there are sultanates, there are differences. There are Muslims in Mindanao that do not want Bangsamoro. It’s a much more complicated picture than you would initially think. So, a recognition of that, you must be a little more, be more sophisticated, in understanding what’s the agendas of this group, what are the reasons they feel that way, what are the underlying purposes, all of those things. We cannot just say, this is a that does not work. As long as we are continuously sensitive to culture, to history, to leadership, you know the sultanates, there are many sultanates in Mindanao. The sultanates existed before there even was a Republic of the Philippines. They have been there for hundreds of years. So, we must respect that. We must respect the role they play in their community. So if we continue to that, I think it’s a question of respect, it’s a question of understanding, it’s a question of sensitivity. As long as we can continue to behave in that way, with those elements in mind, I believe that somehow we really, if we get the biggest warring groups back into the fold of the Republic, of the Philippine society, then we can slowly work on those other elements. It’s not going to be easy. As I said, they declared war on our government, but nevertheless, it’s something that we have to continue to try with an eye to the developments that are going on in the Middle East, as one. Not an easy problem at all.

Q: Thank you Senator and I wish you all the best.

BBM: Thank you very much.

Student Facilitators: Thank you for your questions and thank you Senator. And now, to present the Certificate of Appreciation, may we now call on the Higher Education A-Team, Professor Ricardo Cruz, Doctor Angela Regala, Professor Tess Berba, and Atty. Armee Javellana. Let us all give them a big round of applause.