Duterte wants federalism ahead of BBL passage

President Duterte strikes his signature pose with the members of his delegation while on board a Philippine Airlines chartered flight back to the Philippines. Joining him are Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez, Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, Presidential Communications Sec. Martin Andanar, PNP chief Dir. Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Chief Presidental Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

DAVAO CITY — Which should come first – federalism or the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)?

For President Duterte, only under a federal system can the constitutional questions on the BBL be resolved.

“So let’s start to sort it out. Let us show the Moro that we are trying our best, that those constitutional provisions that will be violated can be corrected if there is a federal setup coming,” the President told a press briefing here upon his arrival from India early yesterday in response to a reporter’s question on which of the two should be finalized first.

The BBL, which is being pushed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is being hampered by questions regarding its constitutionality.

He said the push for federalism began many years ago and that the late president Corazon Aquino had even promised it to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari.

“I do not want to make a big issue about it but it was the time when Cory Aquino went to Jolo to talk to Misuari and made some concessions about a federal setup,” he pointed out.

He said his administration was “having the beating” for promises unfulfilled during the previous administrations.

“Now it’s in my time that they’re demanding payback,” he said in Filipino.
“And they’re threatening to go to war” or “do something if they are not given the things that they want,” he maintained.

“It is an echo and re-echo of what was promised them,” he said, referring to persistent pleas for self-determination from Mindanao Muslims.

What came out of the government’s efforts then was the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), he said.

“This is my take: Either we figure out new regions, if I can do it administratively without violating any provision in the Constitution. So if it’s only a matter of laws, then we can ask Congress for the corresponding change,” the President said, apparently referring to Charter change initiatives in Congress.

The crafting of a charter for a federal government was stalled by bickering between the Senate and the House over procedures for voting on amendments. The Senate wanted the two chambers to vote separately while the House leadership insisted they should vote as one.

Leaders of both chambers eventually broke the impasse by agreeing to focus their efforts first on pinpointing amendments and discussing them thoroughly before debating over voting procedures.

The President said he was letting the two chambers resolve their differences by themselves.

“To make public my stand, I never talked to anybody. I have not talked to the Speaker and you can ask them, nor to any congressman, about federal setup,” Duterte said.

He reiterated his appeal to Mindanao Muslims for more patience, and to give the government “a chance to work out something.”

He stressed that war is “the last thing that I would want to happen to my country” and he would exhaust all means to prevent one.

“Let me make myself very clear: I do not want violence, I do not want war. I only want to talk,” the President stressed.

“So let’s avoid violence. If the thing that we are working at now does not fit your paradigm of what you want, we can always talk and change everything,” he said.

“It’s not my style to do that because you are not criminals. This is something which is a matter of principle to everybody,” he pointed out.

The President said he is aware of “historical corrections” that needed to be made for the Bangsamoro people.

“I know that, of the historical corrections needed but at the same time, I can only promise you but I have to stand for the Republic whether I like it or not. Maybe after this… kung ano na lang (whatever comes). I’m not saying I’m postponing. It can be discussed together with the proposal,” Duterte said.
Some senators, meanwhile, believe the BBL should be given priority over the proposed shift to federalism.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri , in an interview over radio dwIZ, said the BBL is easier to tackle and could in fact be finalized by March at the House of Representatives and announced by the President in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.

“We should prioritize the BBL because Charter change would take time to complete. Hopefully, if the House would be able to finish their version by March then we can have bicam (bicameral conference committee) meetings during the break and when we resume this can become a law and the President will have something good to include in his SONA in July,” he pointed out.

Zubiri, chairman of the Senate local government subcommittee on the BBL, has begun public hearings on the BBL. He also expressed belief the BBL would not undermine the push for federalism.

“I don’t think federalism would be affected by the BBL because we can incorporate this when you amend the Charter,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri, together with Senate committee on local government chairman Sonny Angara, Sens. Joseph Victor Ejercito, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Cynthia Villar and Risa Hontiveros visited Cotabato City, Maguindanao and Marawi City last Thursday and Friday as part of consultations for the BBL.

According to Zubiri, residents in the provinces were eagerly awaiting the approval of the BBL.

“Everyone that we spoke with during the hearings said that what they want the most is for Congress to give them the BBL because this will be the solution to violent extremism,” the senator said. “They will be able to say that the agreement has been fulfilled and now we have genuine peace, autonomy and we no longer have to fight with the government,” he added.

Angara, for his part, challenged those against the BBL to visit Marawi and see what extremists were capable of doing.

“If they are against the BBL then they should be prepared to fight. They should personally fight the terrorists when they emerge,” Angara said.

Zubiri said that he would be ready to sponsor the committee report on the BBL by the end of February. He said he expects the Senate to approve the measure by March 22.

“We must put a stop to violent extremism. Because of the status quo that we are doing, violent extremism is getting strong. The people here are telling us that the peace process was neglected. The government failed to fulfill all its promises. So let us try to stop this. And this is the best time to do it because our president is from Mindanao,” Zubiri said in pitching for BBL.

Sen. Cynthia Villar expressed the same sentiment. “Peace should be promoted in Mindanao so as not to trigger another Marawi siege,” she said.

“I’d like to commit to Sen. Zubiri. We will support the hard work of the chairman and assure that the proposed BBL be reflective and inclusive of all the ambitions and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people,” Angara said.

The BBL hearings at the Senate will continue on Jan. 30. In February, hearings on BBL will be conducted in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga.

Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairman Ghazali Jaafar reiterated his position that the passage of the BBL would pave the way for lasting peace in Mindanao.

Jaafar attended the public consultations on the BBL at the Mindanao State University (MSU) on Friday.

“What happened in Marawi City was caused not because Muslims do not like Christians. What happened in Marawi City is what we are going to address through the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Jaafar said.

“This problem is a political problem. So it cannot be solved by means of social solution or military solution. It can only be solved through a political solution. What is the political solution? Grant us the implementation of the Bangsamoro (Basic Law),” Jaafar said.