By now, many pundits, observers and even some supporters of the original draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) have given up on its passage.
They say it will be difficult, foolhardy and too late to pass a bill that will retain the novel provisions that have practically disappeared in the substitute bill now pending in the House of Representatives.
Even the fate of this “diluted” substitute bill is still up in the air as the opponents of the BBL smell blood and are poised to pounce on what they perceive as a lack of consistency, passion, commitment and transparency and the seeming disarray of the administration’s forces in Congress who were expected to marshal the measure to fruition. These anti-BBL forces revel in the apparent incoherence of the ruling coalition as to how it intends to work for the passage of a bill that is faithful to the peace agreements between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
However, there are those in the government who believe that the substitute bill is still true to the spirit of the agreements. And some sectors that lobbied for their respective issues and concerns in the bill are content, albeit grudgingly, with what is awaiting resolution in Congress.
After the majority members were perceived to have been too confident—or even absent—in the earlier debates on the bill in the House ad hoc committee hearings, a substitute measure was passed in seeming haste during the committee vote. The majority lost at least one staunch and influential supporter among the minority ranks because of this disputed procedural imposition. But there are also sincere pro-Bangsamoro legislators who were not only unhappy with the watering down of the original BBL draft but who even wanted to enhance the initial submission.
At the Senate, the chair of the committee on local governments that is hearing the bill in the chamber has unilaterally decided to dump the BBL, proclaiming that it would lead the country to “perdition.” Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. made this conclusion after conducting a road show of hearings attended mostly by critics of the bill. He smugly announced that he would draft his own version for the Senate to consider.
Congress resumed session on July 27, and whatever’s left of the BBL is still expected to go through a rough time in the legislative mill after President Aquino’s swan song.
Indeed, the odds do not seem to be in favor of an accord for peace.
One can almost hear the celebratory drumbeats of the haters, the bigots, the bashers, the spoilers, the “all-out war” freaks, the political opportunists and the paid hacks. And sadly, one can hear the muted sighs of those who sincerely believe that the BBL is flawed.
But, like the attitude of the Philippines’ perennial sentimental favorite basketball team, there are those who will never say “never” in pushing for the passage of a just and inclusive BBL, one that is true to the spirit and letter of the agreements negotiated and signed by the government and the MILF. For it is these pacts—the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro initialed in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in 2014—negotiated assiduously and sometimes painfully for 17 years, that embody and address the legitimate aspirations and disquiet of the Moro people.
Call them perpetual optimists, these believers are convinced that conscience and truth will eventually triumph over political expediency, the half- and outright lies, and the arrogance inside both chambers of Congress.
They pray that the majority of the lawmakers will vote for a BBL that will be acceptable to the Bangsamoro and the rest of the Filipino people because it is the right thing to do, even if these public servants are anxious about the prospect of losing an election with such a stand.
They hope that the lawmakers will vote for the return of the substantial provisions in the bill, and not only because they were lobbied and convinced by peace advocates or were whipped into doing so by their party or promised something in return for their vote.
These believers hope that the lawmakers will vote correctly because they trust that they are casting their lot on the right side of history. And because they believe that a BBL that genuinely reflects and recognizes the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Bangsamoro, the indigenous peoples, the marginalized and vulnerable sectors and all other inhabitants of Mindanao is the soundest step toward achieving sustainable peace, social justice and progress in Mindanao and the rest of the country.
They also trust that the mass media and social media will shift from the current shrill discourse and choose to educate, enlighten and edify rather than strengthen the ignorance shackling many Christian Filipinos and fan the flames of animosity against Muslim Filipinos.
But more so, these idealists believe in the innate goodness and right discernment of the Filipino people, be they the cluster which, surveys claim, still has to form a stand on the acceptability of the BBL or that which has initially determined, for various reasons (including ignorance of the facts) that the BBL is faulty. These idealists are hopeful that the majority in these two clusters will eventually join the 22 percent who approve of the BBL.
These believers also understand that persistent dialogue will eventually carry the day, and that any imperfections in the proposed bill will eventually be negotiated and ironed out by the principals and parties concerned, be they the government, the MILF, the other Moro fronts and entities, the Lumad, the women, and other interest groups lobbying for their respective interests in the proposed law.
Indeed, we Filipinos should once again show the world—and ourselves—that, as in Edsa 1 and 2, we are unremitting in our partisanship for the true and the good, and that we see through the fleeting glare of populism and will work for what is correct.
I am one of the millions of Filipinos who believe, who will never say “never” to peace.
I am sure you are also one of us.
Gus Miclat is the executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue and a convener of the All-Out Peace movement