Progress in doubt as Marcos, Rodriguez
file new versions but pressed for time
QUEZON CITY – The controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill , which seeks to form a new and expanded Bangsamoro region or autonomous state with strong political and economic powers and ensure peace and progress in Mindanao, is virtually dead.
No less than the key members of the Senate and the House of Representatives made the assessment citing lack of time to pursue the separate measures in the two chambers of Congress during the remaining days of their session.
While some miracle may still happen for the passage of the measures, it will need later to be approved in a plebiscite and at least six months more to prepare for a possible Bangsamoro elections planned to be synchronized with the 2016 national elections.
Discussions on the bill have been suspended in the House and Senate following the death of 44 Special Action Force troopers in a clash with Moro rebels, many of them MILF members, last Jan. 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Due to that incident, many senators who once made known their support for the BBL which was crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), made a turnaround on their stand on the measure.
Also, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairmen of the committees handling the BBL, filed watered-down versions of the original bill so they could hurdle the issues of violation of the Philippine Constitution, putting in doubt the peace deal brokered by the government of President Aquino with the rebel group Muslim Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The two new bills have been renamed “Basic Law on Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” bill.
The MILF itself seemed resigned to the fate of the BBL, as it stated in an editorial on its website that it lamented that the passage of the BBL is hampered by the lack of quorum in the House and the diluted version of the measure in the Senate.
In an editorial posted on its website luwaran.com, the MILF said President Aquino’s commitment is the only thing that “keeps the ember of hope still alive” for the BBL.
“President Aquino promised recently to push the BBL in all directions. But the lack of quorum in the House has continued to haunt those who appear to be pushing for it,” the editorial read.
For his part, newly installed MNLF vice chairman Punduma Sani said both substitute versions of the proposed BBL being pushed by Rodriguez and Marcos are not acceptable.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, a member of the TWG of the MILF peace panel, pointed out that Marcos’ version of the BBL allegedly failed to live up to the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
Sinarimbo, said the version of Senator Marcos merely repeated the mistake of Republic Act 9054, more known as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) law.
Earlier, Mohaqher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator and chairman of the BTC, rejected the Marcos version saying it practically erased the gains of the 17 years of peace negotiations.
Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local government handling the BBL, was the first to state that the BBL is dead and has no chance to be passed in the Senate and the House.
“We really have a hard time passing it in this Congress because we have a very difficult task and no time to finish it,” he told reporters in San Fernando, La Union.
Marcos said the lawmakers have little time for the BBL because Congress will adjourn on Oct. 9 and will tackle the 2016 budget when the two chambers resume session after the holidays for the dead.
“By November, if the budget is there, all other hearings will be cancelled so we can finish it by December. And then by January to February, we expect lack of quorum because it’s already campaign period,” the senator from Ilocos Norte said.
He disclosed that both the House and the Senate are still in the period of interpellations on the provisions of the BBL and they are not yet in the period of amendments.
Congressman Rodriguez, explaining his move while in Cagayan de Oro City, said he filed the Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region which was stripped of 48 unconstitutional provisions as a substitute to the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law even as Sen. Marcos claimed that the BBL was as good as dead.
Last June 21, a petition with the Supreme Court was filed by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) questioning the legality and constitutionally of the BBL and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) even before the Bangsamoro law is passed.
Even as Marcos and Rodriguez are pushing for their own versions of the BBL, the congressman from Cagayan de Oro City remained optimistic that lawmakers would approve his substitute bill when Congress resumes session on Nov. 3, adding that his new bill is scheduled for House deliberation from Nov. 3 to Dec. 16.
Rodriguez said 48 unconstitutional provisions in the BBL have been removed from his substitute bill.
“Let us just hope that we will be able to get the needed quorum during the Nov. 3 to Dec. 16 deliberations, otherwise the BBL is dead,” said Rodriguez.
“We are running out of time as the campaign period for the 2016 elections starts in January,” he added.
The MILF said while the measure is moving in the Senate, the substitute bill introduced by Marcos had severely revised the original proposal.
“The main obstacle is the kind of the substitute bill introduced by Senator Marcos. The deliberation could have been faster if he had not only crafted his version of the BBL from out of the blue,” the group said.
“He set aside almost completely the original BBL, which was crafted on the basis of the letter and spirit of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB),” it added.
The MILF said Marcos’ substitute bill is “way far below the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),” the region that the President once described as a “failed experiment.”
According to the MILF, some deletions and additions in the substitute bill are clearly unconstitutional, like the removal of “inland waters” conferred to the ARMM and the mention of “sultanates rights” which the group said is against the constitutional principle that the state will not recognize the title of nobility or royalty.
As early as March, Congress leaders predicted that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is dead if Congress doesn’t pass it by June 11.
“I personally think that if the BBL isn’t passed [when Congress adjourns] sine die in June, it’s dead,” House Ways and Means chairman Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo said then.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. have agreed to pass the proposed BBL before the second regular session of Congress ends on June 12 during their legislative meeting and they failed as it is now October and Congress is set for another recess.
While admitting the BBL will not solve all the problems besetting Mindanao, Quimbo said Senate and House leaders were of the opinion that it must be approved approved by both chambers of Congress.
Quimbo explained in March that it will be difficult to have the bill approved later than June since a plebiscite still needs to be held on the measure following its passage. Afterwards, the Commission on Elections will need at least six months to prepare for the Bangsamoro’s region first polls, which will be synchronized with the 2016 national elections.
Discussions on the bill have been suspended in the House and Senate following the death of 44 Special Action Force troopers in a clash with Moro rebels last Jan. 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.