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Commentary
May 19, 2015

BBL: To Fold, To Hold, or To Walk Away

Ramming the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) through Congress at this time, before June 11th, is ill-advised. Ideally, the BBL should be one that is acceptable to the President, Congress, and all parties concerned. The framework legislation should not simply be a piece of paper. It should be one that has a reasonable change of working and could pass the constitutionality test before the Supreme Court.

Also, the BBL legislation should provide a transition period, say 5 to 7 years, under the supervision of an international body, say a United Nations commission. The transition should be long enough for confidence-building and the education and training of the civil servants who will man the autonomous government, strengthen and build institutions, and construct the needed infrastructure for the new autonomous region.

Right now, public knowledge of the BBL is quite limited. According to the March 20th to 23rd survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), 83 percent of respondents said they had “little or no knowledge” while 17 percent said they had “extensive or partially sufficient knowledge” about it.

BBL

Right now, even with limited knowledge, more Filipinos disapprove of the BBL rather than approve of it. The same SWS survey results found that 48 percent of Filipinos disapprove of the proposed BBL, 23 percent approve, and 28 percent were indecisive. A big number of the President Aquino’s ‘bosses’ don’t like the BBL in its present form.

The SWS survey results also found that the benefit-cost calculus is not in favor of most Filipinos. The majority was not hopeful that the proposed Bangsamoro government would bring peace in its core territories or that the government would benefit from the peace talks with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

According to the nationwide SWS survey, 56 percent said the peace talks with the MILF would yield “a little benefit/no benefit at all” to Filipinos, while 42 percent said otherwise.

But these perceptions may or may not change in future surveys. Perhaps, as public understanding of the BBL increases, public sentiment might change.

On the other hand, in the next opinion survey, the respondents should know exactly what it is voting on. Unfortunately, nobody knows precisely the final form of the BBL and how much would it cost the Filipino taxpayers.

The process is ongoing and the final version of the BBL is yet to take shape.

The general consensus is that the BBL, in its present form, has several constitutionally flawed provisions. The House Committee plans to delete these constitutionally questionable provisions. The Senate, on the other hand, also plans to purge the BBL of the constitutionally flawed provisions, and in addition, continues to consult with stakeholders in areas that would likely be impacted by the proposed BBL.

In brief, the final version of the BBL is still evolving and given the complexity of the BBL, the June 11th deadline appears unreasonable.

President Aquino, on the other hand, was quoted as saying that a “watered-down” version would be unacceptable “because it would be tantamount to reducing the benefits according the Bangsamoro people.”

The question is what would Mr. Aquino do if he were faced with a version of the BBL that is different from what he submitted to Congress? Will he veto or sign it? Will the President go against the desire of his ‘bosses’, speaking through their representatives in Congress?

In a representative democracy, each individual representative is supposed to vote for a legislative proposal according to the preferences of his constituency. But, in reality, does the individual representative even bother to consult with the citizens who voted him in office? That’s a different matter, however.

Until a final version of the BBL is known, a nationwide sample survey on the people’s approval or disapproval of the BBL based on the present BBL version is inconclusive.

The best way to know the preferences of the Filipino people for a measure that would change the way national wealth and resources are going to be distributed amongst country’s political units (regions, provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays) is through a national referendum.

If the Filipino people in a national referendum were to reject the modified BBL, then the President should veto it. He should listen to his ‘bosses.’ Giving his plummeting public approval and trust ratings, ignoring the disapproval of bosses would be too risky. In a democracy, it is important to get the consent of the governed.

Mr. Aquino might choose to ignore his bosses and signs the modified BBL legislation into law. The question is would the MILF panelists accept it?

Another source of uncertainty is whether the modified BBL, assuming it will pass Congress, can withstand a legal challenge before the Supreme Court.

And with about a year in office, Mr. Aquino can ill afford to be tied down to time-consuming legal battles.

With time running out, Mr. Aquino might do some kind of risk analysis. What version of the BBL can he ‘persuade’ Congress to pass and at what cost? Is this version acceptable to the MILF? If the version that Congress is inclined to passes is unacceptable to the MILF then why spend so much time and money to have it passed?

The ultimate objective is to pass a law that will work—that is acceptable to all parties concerned; that has an excellent chance of ensuring enduring peace in the region; and that can withstand constitutional challenges in the Supreme Court. A law that is has little chance of being implemented and cannot guarantee long-lasting peace in Mindanao is a mere scrap of paper.

Too much attention to a piece of legislation that may not have a chance of being implemented has other opportunity cost. The President has many other important things to worry about in his final days in office: the Freedom of Information Act, the competition policy act, the rationalization of fiscal incentives, the deteriorating public infrastructure, the insufficient and unreliable power supply, and so on.

As in the famous song of country and pop superstar Kenny Rogers, Mr. Aquino should know when to fold, when to hold, and when to walk away.

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