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BTA backs BHRC Bill

Majority Floor Leader and Office of the Attorney General expresses support at Human Rights Summit

SIX months after the ratification of the Bangsomoro Organic Law on 25 January 2019, representatives of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) pledged support for the operationalization of the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission, as created in the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), during the Bangsamoro Human Rights Network (Network) Summit last July 16th in Cotabato City.

In separate statements before 192stakeholders of the Network, Atty. Badr Salendab of the BTA Office of the Attorney General, and Majority Floor Leader Atty. Lanang Ali, Jr. of the BTA parliament articulated the reasons that motivate the new Bangsamoro government to pursue the passage of the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission (BHRC) bill into regional law.

With the transition of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the passage of the BHRC bill is deemed essential by stakeholders as the institutional human rights framework in the BARMM

Much like other entities of the former ARMM , the Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) is going through a transitionand requires a new charter in order to operate within the BARMM.

The envisioned passage of the BHRC bill requires more than broad grassroots support; it also needs elite sponsors from within the new Bangsamoro government as well.

According to Atty. Badr Z. Salendab, the BTA Office of the Chief Minister, the highest office within the current regional government, is supportive of the effort to create a new human rights body for the Bangsamoro.

He added that the very animus of the effort that established the Bangsamoro political entity is “a human rights struggle against historical injustice, human rights violations, dispossession and marginalization” against the Bangsamoro people. “The BTA must [therefore] strengthen the functions and duties of the BHRC,” he said.

From Salendab’s perspective, the BHRC already exists, at least by legal fiction. “[The Bangsamoro Organic Law] created the BHRC,” he said at the Summit press conference. “What is left is not the creation, because this is done, so [what remains] is the implementation of this law.”

Implementation of the law, however, is far from perfunctory. Animating the prospective BHRC requires concrete steps, including public consultations, lobbying, bill drafting, and passage through the parliamentary process.

Ali underscored the importance of these procedural matters, specifying the necessity of a complete draft of the BHRC bill given that the BTA parliament has only 3 years to legislate all foundational regional laws that flesh out the government of the BARMM.

“We needed a [complete] BHRC draft bill already because we cannot work from zero,”. Ali remarked. “We will also submit this to the BTA for further consultations… to improve and enhance this draft.”

The statements of support from the Office of the Chief Minister and the Majority Floor Leader signal the political will that may be necessary to successfully threading the time-constrained legislative agenda of the BTA.

In turn, this political will could potentially put the BHRC bill among the priority bills of the BTA, which include the prospective Administrative Code, Revenue Code, Electoral Code, Local Government Code, Educational Code, Civil Service Code and a law on Indigenous Peoples.

Despite inherent uncertainties in the procedural journey of the BHRC bill, Ali nevertheless reiterated the importance of human rights-related legislation within the framework of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

“We believe that peace is important to human rights, especially to the victims,” he said in his statement to the Summit. “[On the] amnesty and pardon for the political crimes of MILF and MNLF combatants, we will work with the [prospective BHRC] to make that they will be set free by the general amnesty. I am in support of settling this, and in crafting every law that will implement the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB)… Contradictory acts will not be made.”

Among those in attendance were civil society organizations from all over the Bangsamoro region, representatives from the military, police and other branches of the civil service. He said, “we should work together to help the BTA parliament, to support the Bangsamoro problem and BHRC to move forward”.

In addition, as a Bangsamoro Community where the prevalent religion is Islam, Bangsamoro Grand Mufti Abu Huraira Udasan of the Regional Darul Ifta in the BARMM was also present to render support. He said, “Islam preserves human rights…peace is the norm…war is exception. He also mentioned that “Life is a basic human right…and Human Rights must be preserved and provided with standard.”

The statements of support for the BHRC bill coincided with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between and among civil society organizations (CSOs), and the presentation of human rights monitoring guidelines for CSOs. The agreement and guidelines, in parallel with the support expressed by the BTA, underscore the need to support and strengthen the BHRC as an institution to promote and protect human rights in the Bangsamoro.

(Nick Tobia is a development sector professional affiliated with the National Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies Consultancy Group. He is a Rei Foundation Fellow for peace research and a consultant for the European Union's GOJUST Programme in the Philippines.) 

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