Speech at the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry

29 May 2015

Good afternoon and peace be to everyone!

Maayong hapon kaninyong tanan!

Thank you for having invited me to your 5th General Membership meeting. Let me also take this opportunity to personally thank you for the kind words and your appreciation of my work in the Senate.

Your invitation could not have come in a more propitious time.

For purposes of this gathering, you have asked me to share with you my thoughts on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)—currently a hotly debated issue of our nation—and especially on how it can impact on businesses and our economy.

First, let me thank you for bringing this matter up, for this is just indeed a very serious concern, and an inescapable topic of all BBL-related discussions. But, to tell you frankly, it has not been thoroughly dealt with yet in the hearings. Wala pud. Sadly, not even our Government panel was able to convincingly show that this point had been thoroughly discussed and analyzed when they prepared the draft of the BBL with the MILF.

This is the main reason why I have deemed it prudent to touch base with you today, to tell you personally that we—for the life of me—are not going to allow this to be disregarded.

Indeed, this particular matter is like the proverbial elephant in the room, which is just too big as to escape our notice and too tremendous that we cannot afford to neglect its threatened consequences.

You see, in our several public hearings, we first devoted the initial part to a discussion on the legalities, the constitutionality and enforceability of the BBL. This concerned the modality of accommodating the BBL, with the view to making it legally enforceable—either by the simple expedient of a national legislation or ultimately through a major overhaul of our Constitution.

Then, we catered to the parochial interests and expertise of particular sectors. We have heard from the Government panel, the MILF, even the MNLF, constitutionalists and legal experts, cultural groups, indigenous peoples groups, local government officials, the Sultanates, the military, historians and the academe.

Yet, if you notice from my enumeration, the business sector—an undisputed powerful driver of our economy—is not included. But not to worry. Well, to patronize your sector a bit, you can say that we saved the best for last.

Hence, we have scheduled a penultimate public hearing in Manila on June 2 for this particular issue, wherein we have invited key government agencies, such as the NEDA, DOF, BIR, Customs, the DTI, DOLE, the Bangko Sentral, the Mindanao Development Authority, and representatives from the business sector, as well as other concerned private sector groups, including no less than your umbrella organization on the national level, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), among others.

Let me even extend this personal invitation to your organization to submit its valuable and savvy insights and inputs on the business and economic implications of this very important proposed legislation on the wider Mindanao community and the nation.

As the surviving members of the Constitutional Commission has succinctly stated in their position paper, the BBL passage, in the final analysis, is about the “development of the people”, “their needs, their aspirations, their choices, and about empowering them with the environment and the institutional framework for social justice”. The conversation thus should not be confined to a mere debate about “semantics” or “constitutionality of words”.

The work of the legislator—we in Congress—should precisely be to ensure that the BBL will truly lead to the genuine “development” of our brothers and sisters in the Bangsamoro areas and in Muslim Mindanao, in the true spirit of social justice. And a crucial part of this task is to carefully take stock of the impact of the proposed law on the people and their community, including the business community, and on the economy in general.

I find it odd, therefore, that some quarters would still dare say: “Ipasa n’yo na ‘yang BBL! Just lay it before the Bangsamoro people and let them decide their own future and fate!” Congress is being urged not to delay the legislative process and passage of the BBL. They claim that, anyway, there is a plebiscite requirement, through which the people can signify their approval and ratification.

Well, I beg to disagree. In my humble view, it does not simply work that way in our republican system and our constitutional and represenative democracy. What are we representatives of the People for?

As an adjunct to our law-making functions, we in Congress are also to mandated to ensure that the People are not only consulted, but also informed and educated, about any and all legislative proposals and other substantial matters of public interest that are being laid on the table for them. This duty is built in the representative character and the relationship of trust between the People and us their public servants.

And the need to educate the People is even more crucial and essential in the BBL because this proposal could result in, among other things, the relinquishment of immense State powers—traditionally and historically wielded by the national government—to a special local government, in this case, the Bangsamoro government. Powers greater and broader than those currently granted under the ARMM Law of 2001 (R.A. No. 9054), are now being proposed either to be shared with the National government or to be granted exclusively to the Bangsamoro government.

And all the more so if these immense State powers are capable of influencing market behavior in the affected communities, and can dictate the pace and sway of the economy.

To highlight to you the importance of educating the people, let us recall the Scottish independence referendum in September of 2014. Like the BBL now before us, the push for Scottish independence was a major proposal in that it could have resulted in the independence of Scotland and the break-up of a 307-year-old union with England.

Such a historic and monumental proposal was not just presented to the Scots for their on-the-spot or precipitate decision-making (“Yes” or “No”), as if they were already presumed to be completely knowledgeable about the effects and consequences of Scotland’s independence.

Massive educational campaigns were launched, both for the pro-Independence and the pro-Union (“Better Together”) sides. Heated debates that tackled even the minutiae of the proposal were conducted.

Most importantly, a 670-page “White Paper” was published by the Scottish Government for the consumption and education of the Scots, aptly entitled “Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”. The White Paper was a detailed guide and blueprint about to the viability of Scotland if it were to be independent country, running an entire gamut of areas, topics and services vital to the succesful administration of government, such as the aspects of employment, finance and economy, among others.

And then shortly, came a contra-analysis from the UK government (“Scotland Analysis: Fiscal Policy and Sustainability”) that disputed the claims of the pro-Independence camp and argued for the preservation of the Union.

It is this kind of a fair and healthy analytical exchange of well-researched analyses and expert opinions, which aim to enlighten and empower the electorate, that is clearly lacking in this entire exercise.

Kinahanglan kini diri!
(Kailangan ito dito!)

If these were not enough, the Executive had also not only committed and bound us to a single and exclusive negotiator (the MILF), but to a fixed deadline as well: the 2016 elections, which is only just a year from now. The actual law is supposed to have taken effect by June 2016, as to make it possible for the Bangsamoro officials to be elected at the same time.

With such a fixed deadline and a tight schedule, how do we possibly prepare and ensure a reasoned and informed electorate that can prudently absorb and digest all these important repercussions about their development and their future?

Considering these constraints, how can the People, for example, possibly, fairly and reasonably understand the impact and serious implications on their lives, on the economy and businesses, in light of the grant of extensive State powers to the Bangsamoro government?

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

With painstaking effort, not to mention a great deal of stress, I tried to bring the conversation as close to the hearts and homes of our Muslim brothers and sisters and of others affected by this grand and historic effort of our nation. This official and personal mission of mine, quite literally, has taken me as far as Cotabato City, Marawi City, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga City and Jolo, Sulu—and now, Davao City!

Under the BBL, the Bangsamoro Government is expressly granted exclusive government powers, previously withheld to the ARMM Government under the ARMM Law, such as the power of taxation; the regulation of trade, industry and investment and regulation of business; labor and employment; regulation of local power generation, distribution and transmission; agriculture and food security, including the manufacture of food, drinks and drugs; land management and housing; regulation of public utilities, including take-over powers; regulation of the financial and banking system; and the like.

Certainly, these powers, among others, concern essential and basic public needs and services that are being supplied and provided by the businesses and the private sector. These powers then have direct correlation and influence on the private sector, which the BBL recognizes as a “mover of trade, commerce and industry”, whose rational and business decisions and actions while calculated to ensure a healthy, efficient, productive and prosperous market economy, are nonetheless affected by market conditions.

But then again, many serious questions remain unanswered and significant issues yet unexplained.
For example, has the Government been able to project and assess the impact of a possible labor and business diaspora, as a result of a change in market behavior owing to a major overhaul of our exisitng institutions? How about a study on the capacities of adjacent LGUs, like Davao City, to absorb these changes in the wider Mindanao market? What about the business and credit implications of the implementation and promotion of Islamic finance and banking in the affected areas?

Moreover, what ramifications are expected of Mindanao’s energy supply in the event that Lake Lanao, which provides for the electricity of a substantial part of Mindanao and which is presently under the control of the National Power Corporation (NPC), is constituted as “Bangsamoro waters” and hence under the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro government?

I do not wish to sound like an expert in market and economic analysis. Moreover, I also do not want to be misinterpreted as questioning the capacity of the Bangsamoro for self-governance. But these are just some of the business-related scenarios that are currently playing in my head as we are deliberating on the BBL. At any rate, the main point that I am driving at is that Government should at least have studied these possible scenarios and duly presented their findings to the public, reasonably prior to subjecting them to the routine process of a plebiscite.

In sum, in all our efforts to ensure a genuine exercise by the people of a free, reasoned, informed and educated choice, an fair and objective report on the substantial implications of either choice (pro or anti) is, without question, material and indispensable prior information. Because I am of the firm belief 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)!

We want our businesses to always be “NIUSWAG UG NILAMBO” (malakas at asensado), and not “PURDOY” (lugi/bankrupt), just as our labor force dreads the prospect of “WALAY PANGITA”.

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.)

The business and industrial sector of Mindanao, especially the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, can be assured that your humble public servant is doing everything to reach out to everyone affected by the BBL, including your sector, for purposes of getting their sentiments, and at the same time enlightening and informing them about the effects and consequences of their choice in this herculean task being undertaken by our country in this crucial period of our national history. Most especially in this very important aspect of the BBL’s business and economic implications. This, I firmly hope and believe, is my humble contribution not only to successfully ending our country’s continued quest for that seemingly elusive and enigmatic formula for peace, justice and development in Muslim Mindanao, but also to the strengthening of our integrity and unity as one Filipino nation.

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

There are still lots more to be done in the Senate in the coming days, as we head onto the final session day on June 10. But you can count on my guaranteed objectivity and fairness and my wholehearted service and assistance to the Filipino people in seeing this to its proper and nationally beneficial conclusion.

Again, thank you for your invitation, and I wish you all a very meaningful and productive membership meeting!

Mabuhi ang Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry! Mabuhi ang Ceudad sa Davao! Mabuhi ang Mindanao!

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

Daghang salamat ug maayong hapon kaninyong tanan!