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Raising concerns: ZABIDA participates in City Dev’t Meeting

ZABIDA Executive Director and BUB Co-Chairperson Ms. Esperancita Hupida raised her concern on whether the City is still allotting enough funds for Poverty Reduction initiatives and projects for the year of 2017.

ZABIDA as part of its good governance program, gets involved in the Bottom-Up Budgeting strategy of the National Government for government transparency, accountability and participation. In Zamboanga City, the Zamboanga City Poverty Reduction Action Team (ZCPRAT) being the principal body govern the BUB process in which ZABIDA’s Executive Director, Ms. Esperancita Hupida, is the Co-Chairperson.

On March 2, 2017, the Local Government conducted a City Development Meeting. ZABIDA Executive Director and BUB Co-Chairperson, Ms. Esperancita Hupida together with ROOF President and ZABIDA Board of Director, Dr. Grace Rebollos showed their participation in the meeting at Centro Latino, Paseo del Mar. Development projects for the year 2017 were presented to the BLGUs and members of the civic society as well as the alotted budget for each development projects particularly with regards to the City Water System, Electricity and Infrastructures. Ms. Hupida, on behalf of the Civic Society, present NGOs, and the Bottom Up Budgeting council, raised said concern.

The present City Council and BLGU officers did not provide any concrete answer, however, Ms. Hupida’s concern, challenged the City Council to take action. (Deorenzie Frances Carreon/ZABIDA)

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How About a Peace Commission?

A day before the resumption of Congress’ session this week, government peace panel chief Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer appealed anew to the legislators for the speedy passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which has been stalled by extended public hearings, interpellations and lack of quorum in both chambers, on top of the investigations of the Mamasapano massacre. To emphasize BBL’s indispensability as the legal mechanism to operationalize the successes achieved by the peace negotiation of government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Prof. Ferrer argued: “Nothing can be taken away from all our gains in the peace process with the Moro fronts in Mindanao. We have proven to the world that we can put aside our differences, sit down, and actually attempt to reach consensus and compromise on how to effectively put armed conflict behind us.” The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) has, indeed, catapulted the Mindanao peace process to a logical point of no return, with or without the BBL.

          “Let us act with wisdom and with full appreciation of the pressing and immediate need to correct this historical disunity,” she persuades the lawmakers.

          The BBL was generally expected to sail smoothly in Congress when the President submitted it as a priority bill in September 2014. But four months later, the Mamasapano tragedy unleashed a Pandora’s box of widespread discrimination, anger and distrust towards Muslim Filipinos. Oppositionists and racists have since grabbed the situation to flog the BBL or milk the mess for political or other motives.

          The government through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) with the GPH and MILF peace panels have since waged a massive effort to overcome Mamasapano’s adverse fallout. Despite it, the BBL’s fate remains unclear at this crucial moment when Congress is running out of session time and the lawmakers are obsessing with the coming elections.  Even if the President would certify it as an urgent bill, as the MILF has asked, does PNoy have enough votes in Congress to get it approved now? With the elections coming up quickly, the political stakes may be too high for such a roll of the dice.     

          The albatross hanging from BBL’s neck may not be made up only of the deep-seated anti-Moro prejudices and mistrust among the majority Filipinos. Legitimate questions have been raised about the constitutionality of its parts, and of fears that the Bangsamoro will turn into a runaway political entity later.  Some – even within the Moro communities – see it as divisive rather than inclusive.  Even its authors have conceded that BBL, like other peace legislations elsewhere, is not perfect. And for a senator of the land, Tito Sotto, to wear in a popular TV show a Muslim attire as a scary Halloween trick is but another proof of the phobia that enchains the BBL.

          One way to make the BBL more friendly even to fearful lawmakers may be found by giving more appropriate attention – heretofore little – to its own Article VI on “Intergovernmental Relations”.  The article provides for a checkpoint “Central Government-Bangsamoro Government  Intergovernmental Relations Body” to arbitrate disputes and issues through consultations and negotiations, the creation of a Council of Elders to protect and advance the interests of sectors and communities, establishment of a Philippine Congress-Bangsamoro Parliament Forum “for purposes of cooperation and coordination of legislative initiatives”, and assistance to Muslim Filipinos not residing within the Moro region. Exerting a central role in this backup mechanism is the regional chief minister, referring or deferring to the President whenever necessary.

          But why not make that “Central Government-Bangsamoro Government  Intergovernmental Relations Body” a presidential peace commission that develops and implements peace-building policies and programs, in addition to the fundamental BBL-prescribed function, merging into it the main OPAPP duties as well? All classified cultural sectors are represented in the commission (with the MILF retaining  proportionate representation and power). Without getting into the way of the Bangsamoro, its main long-term job is to promote cultural identities not only of and among the divided tribes in the Bangsamoro  but (many) others in serious states of conflict in Mindanao and nation – as entry point for strengthening political unification and cooperation towards socio-economic security and justice. As it is, for instance, the government has left it to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to unite the competing Moro fronts, leaving much of the core peace process to chance, which is fickle going by past record. Raising the level of cultural identities and ethnic respect and trust may be one way to promote and harmonize social relations, and from there develop rock-solid political unity  and cooperation.  Contrarily, as long as there is inter-cultural frictions and the political turfs it engenders (so ubiquitous among Filipinos), the natives will keep their guns for self-protection – and hardwired bogeymen Sottos will play “Trick or Treat?” every which way. 

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The BBL on the Mountaintop

Mindanao’s long and bloody journey to peace reached yet another important milestone when on September 10 President Aquino ceremoniously submitted the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to Congress. He had certified it as a priority measure, and leaders of the House and Senate vowed to pass it into law in quickest time, so that by 2016 there shall be formed a new and presumably stronger autonomous government that will propel a new mechanism and spirit of socio-economic welfare for Filipino Muslims and co-habitant indigenous peoples.

The BBL, though yet to be forged into an organic act, appears to be more sophisticated than all previous Mindanao peace accords, all of which had failed. The Ramos-Misuari 1996 FPA eventually led to the Zamboanga Siege last year; there seems to be a hidden logic, the comic hand of God, in the fact that the BBL was made public on the occasion of the anniversary that attack.

Let us hope and pray that the Sisyphian stone as embodied by the BBL will remain atop the mythological mountain and not roll down again. The spoilers of peace whether Christians or Muslims never sleep. As it is, there are the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who although they emerged from the ribs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) seem beyond the brotherly persuasions of the latter; then the Abu Sayyafs, Islamic Command and other lost commands of the MNLF, Jemaah Islamiyah, and what have you. If the reports are true, the local radical ranks may soon include a faction of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – and they have logistics from Middle East oil.

The establishment of an authentic Muslim autonomous government can help deflect or lessen these Hydra-like forces of violence from rebellion and terrorism. That will be one of the more urgent missions of the MILF-led government in waiting. That is why folks like Zamboanguenos who staunchly oppose or are fearful of the BBL and its implications have more overriding reason to instead support it. As has been said by the good saint of peace Francis (not the sitting Pope), humans cannot advance without daring to undertake the impossible. (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)

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Fridays with “Motherly Yours, Lilia”

Every Friday at 8:00 AM, a fresh breath of hope blows across benighted Zamboanga City when Congresswoman Lilia Nuño goes on the air in a local radio station for an hour-long public affairs talk program. She would discuss – with a clear and tender voice – important issues and developments and the actions she has taken or taking on these – most of which deal with the basic sectors of agriculture, health, environment and livelihood. Her thorough-going engagement with the city’s poor and marginalized folks is made more amazing by the fact that as a congresswoman her main mandate menu should have been on legislation, not administrative community development. By exercising the alternative privilege of her office, though, she thankfully fills gaping governance gaps caused by the shortcomings of other local politicians.

And she is bootstrapping these socio-economic problems to be solved not only in immediate terms but as policy challenges whose solutions will be institutionalized, to benefit the city into the far future.

This week, for example, she discussed with an environmental scientist the state of fresh water supply in the city, occasioned by the observance of World Water Day on March 22. They noted that the city has been placed under a water rationing regimen for the past month because of dwindling supply, even before official summer started. They talked of the need for mitigating measures, for the necessary expansion of the city watershed areas, for renewable energy (vis-à-vis the observance’s theme of “Water and Energy”. Indeed, mini-hydroelectric plants built in the city’s uplands could have buffered the power problem of the city).

People can talk about such socio-economic issues until their faces turn blue and then nothing fundamental really happens, no real positive change happens. But in the good case of Congresswoman Nuño, she displays a political will to institutionalize their solutions in the form of policies and legislations and, therefore, not dependent of the whimsies of patronage politicians and their minions.

The challenges of the fresh water resource, by the way, are immense and urgent. In the long run, the city cannot depend on the supply deficit filled up by underground water, which the Zamboanga City Water District has been tapping more and more. Meanwhile, commercial and residential water requirement is increasing. In many parts of the world, prolonged droughts are causing serious conflicts over water – and the prospects are truly dire. But given political will and action, something can still be done to obviate disastrous conditions from happing here in the future. The city’s topography provides a ready solution just waiting to be developed.

On another matter, Congresswoman Nuño has welcomed the appointment of Romulo de la Cruz as archbishop of Zamboanga. This she couched in terms of the archbishop’s exposure to the peace-making problems in Mindanao, out of his stints as prelate of Basilan and Kidapawan. She expressed the hope, therefore, that De la Cruz will pursue interfaith dialogue to help Zamboanga’s folks recover from the negative inter-cultural effects of the MNLF attack last September.

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