To me and perhaps to everybody else, this Press Conference on the Prospects for and the Status of Passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at the Lower House of Congress is very crucial and timely.
Of course, we can explain why the BBL has not made it through in Congress in all these attempts. But we will not revisit them anymore, lest they will bring back hard memories. On the positive note, we witnessed how everybody joined hands to push for the BBL: The government, the MILF, the international community including the United Nations, European Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Catholic Church of the Philippines led by Cardinals Orlando Quevedo and Luis Antonio Tagle, the various Protestant Churches in the Philippines, the civil society organizations and non-government organizations, both domestic and international, and many more including eminent personalities such as those belonging to the Friends of the Peace Process the likes of former Supreme Court Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Jaime Zobel de Ayala Zobel, Christian Monsod, and Father Joaquin Bernas. And of course, on top of this list and without saying, is President Benigno Aquino III, whose clout with the MILF leadership is still very much intact to this day. We know how he put into the BBL both his personal and official capacities to ensure its passage.
What should be done, therefore, to save the BBL from being relegated to the dustbin of history? Who are the lead actors in this process of passing the BBL?
For me, there is no need to state what is obvious; instead, I am making these humble propositions:
First, I appeal to the honourable members of both Chambers of Congress to rise up to the occasion and be statesmen even for one moment in the history of this country. The fate of the BBL is in your hands, and history will judge you on how you dispense with the BBL, which is the key solution to the Bangsamoro Question, a problem that has pestered us not only for decades but even for centuries. And second, I see now the wisdom of certifying it as urgent bill. Certifying a bill as urgent exempts it from the "three-day rule", or the requirement that bills are to be read three times on separate days. It would also mean that the House or the Senate could pass the BBL on second and third readings on the same day. Both the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) have provided that the BBL should be certified as urgent bill. Without glossing over the validity of the reasons advanced by government by not doing this yet, but I think this time, the BBL should be certified as urgent bill in order to fast tract its passage in Congress.
Frankly speaking, we have hard time explaining to our constituents why up to this time the BBL is not certified as urgent bill, in spite of the fact that this is part of official agreement of the Parties. It is only our trust of President Aquino, which has been built over the years, which we use to keep at bay those trying to entertain serious doubts on the legislative process right now. Good, they still take our words for it.
I strongly believe that genuine peace with justice is within our grasp. This is through the passage of the BBL. Let us not lose this golden opportunity, so that the long years of conflict will never happen again. Let us bury this hatchet and face the future with renewed hope and true happiness. Let us hasten the path towards real reconciliation.
However, sad to say, many people including some so-called leaders of society and media practitioners are making this reconciliation very difficult to succeed. It seems they want no less than we humiliate ourselves and bow in surrender to them. Sometimes, we feel that this country is not really ready to extend to us the olive branch of peace.
Will the BBL make it in November-December this time? I cannot answer this question; I can only hope, not do anything beyond that, because, personally, I completely stopped analysing. The future is not for me to determine. I just do what is required of me as chairman and member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that crafted the BBL.
Thank you and good afternoon.
Iqbal’s opening statement during the Press Conference on the Prospects for and the Status of Passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at the Lower House of Congress on October 7, 2015.