THE bicameral conference committee tasked to resolve differing provisions of House Bill 6475 and Senate Bill 1717on the Bangsamoro Basic Law finished on July 18 thebill for the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Credit goes to the members of the bicameral committee, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),advocates, civil society organizations, and Moro communities who worked on the final push towards getting the committee report closer to being ratified by both chambers of Congress and the bill signed by the President. These are expected to happen in time for the 3rdState of the Nation Address of President Duterte on July 23.

Although copies of the reconciled bill have yet to be made available, talk isthat among the final changes to the bill was on its title, from Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The removal of two words matters because the first version would have made the Bangsamoro only a part of the ARMM region.

But the second version runs the risk of being viewed as a maneuver by central government to contain two aspirations in one territory: the Bangsamoro identified with the MILF and the MNLF’s ARMM. While BARMM could be interpreted as a manifestation of the unity of the two fronts and increasing social cohesion among ethnicities and communities in the Bangsamoro, it also underscores the importance of securing the territory defined by the BTC in the original BBL version.

Territorial integrity here pertains to the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays of NorthCotabato that in the original BBL bill are partof the Bangsamoro. These areas indicated interest in joining ARMM in 2001. However, the bicameral bill stipulates that the mother province and municipalities of which these expansion areas are part have to, respectively, vote to approve the inclusion. Historically, the mother units and even other expansion areas (cities of Cotabato and Isabela) voted against.

The advocacy is that the Bangsamoro Region should not be less than ARMM. But it could end up being the same as ARMM in terms of territory. Worse, it could even be less than ARMM if the plans of politicians in Sulu who favor federalism but not the Bangsamoro play out.

While we look forward to analyzing the BARMM, it is interesting to note that there is a homonym to this acronym.

Barm is the foam on top of fermenting liquid such as liquor or ethanol. Beer drinkers are familiar with the frothy mass that they have to go through to get to the potent brew underneath. To enthusiasts, barm is hollow and unsatisfying in itself and has to be endured. Barm is also used to leaven bread so it would rise and trigger fermentation in another batch of liquor. May these descriptions not apply to the BARMM.

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