BONGAO, TAWI-TAWI ­– President Rodrigo Roa Duterte assured the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will be prioritized before the shift to a federal form of government is carried out, said Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza.

BBL muna bago ang federalism. Klaro sa kanya na ang uunahin ay ang BBL, saka na ang federalism (BBL will come first before federalism. It’s clear with him that BBL will come first before federalism.),” Sec. Dureza said during the Senate’s joint public hearing on the BBL held at the Mindanao State University.

He emphasized the importance of the public hearings being conducted by the Senate on the BBL, explaining that these consultations primarily aim to obtain the views of residents who will be the main beneficiaries of the proposed law.

Dahil galling din dapat sa taong bayan ang input dahil hindi (lang) ito para sa atin, hindi para sa MILF, MNLF, kundi para sa lahat (The input should come from the people and not from us because this is not only for us, nor the MILF or MNLF, but for all),” Sec. Dureza said.

The joint Senate public hearing in Bongao, which was held  after the Jolo leg of the consultations, was attended by representatives of Bangsamoro civil and youth organizations, officials and staff of the provincial government of Tawi-tawi, MSU students and local residents.


Key to ending the decades-long conflict in Mindanao

In the same gathering, Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), expressed the Bangsamoro people’s gratitude to members of the Senate for spearheading the public hearings on the BBL.

According to the MILF leader, it is crucial that the BBL is passed by Congress and enacted into law, as this will lead to the establishment of the Bangsamoro government.

Jaafar said the BBL will give flesh to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between the national government and the MILF, which aims to put an end to the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao.

Naniniwala kami na ito lang ang mapayapang paraan upang mawakasan na ang giyera sa Mindanao with dignity (We believe that this is the only peaceful way to end the war in Mindanao with dignity,” he said.

Jaafar said the public has nothing to fear with the BBL’s passage, as he explained that the proposed Bangsamoro government will be “democratic” and will still be under the authority of the national government.

For his part, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on the BBL, said the Senate is determined to pass the law by March 22.

The senator from Bukidnon pointed out that the establishment of a Federal form of government is not feasible at this time, as the current political dynamics in Mindanao is entirely different from the ones in Visayas and Luzon.

“Uunahin po talaga ang BBL, we will pass the BBL ahead of charter talks. Uunahin kayo dahil the federal set up in Visayas cannot be the federal set up in Luzon and in Mindanao dahil unique kayo. (The BBL will be prioritized and be passed ahead of charter talks. You will be prioritized because the federal set up in Visayas cannot be the federal set up in Luzon and Mindanao, because you are unique.),” Sen. Zubiri said.

“’Wag po kayo magaalala, we guarantee you [its passage] as soon as possible. Ito ang pinag-uusapan namin araw-araw, (Don’t worry, we guarantee you as soon as possible. This is what we discuss everyday.),” he added.


BBL to usher development in Tawi-Tawi

Sen. Zubiri also noted that once the BBL is passed, Tawi-tawi will be among the areas that will largely benefit economically, as the province can blossom into a top tourist destination that could even rival Boracay.

“Mas maganda ang beach niyo … Maganda ang sand, napaka-pino. Ito (BBL) na po ang instrument for peace, this for me is a long lasting political solution. This is the game-changer, ito ang mag-iiba sa status quo (You have beautiful beaches, and have the finest sand … This (BBL) is the instrument for peace, this for me is a long lasting political solution. This is the game-changer, and will change the status quo.”).


A landmark bill

In the meantime, Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali lauded the unity being shown by members of the Senate in pushing for the BBL’s passage.

“This is the only time that I have seen senators [travelling] together,” Rep. Sahali said, referring to the public hearings and consultations being done by the Senate subcommittee across Mindanao.

The congresswoman said she has been very vocal in her support for the BBL.

She has stressed to her colleagues in the House of Representatives that “this (BBL) is not an ordinary legislation. [That] this is a landmark bill.”

Rep. Sahali is optimistic that the proposed law will be passed by Congress, saying “I can already taste and feel victory.”

The BBL, which was drafted by the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission appointed by President Duterte, aims to provide genuine autonomy and address the political marginalization and historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.

Legal luminaries such as retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide and retired Associate Justice Rodolfo Azcuna have thrown their full support behind the BBL’s passage, saying the proposed law does not contain any “legal infirmities” and is “constitutionally compliant.” ###