BBL Draft with the President; then What?
Patricio P, Diaz
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, August 23, 2014 – In a rare occurrence, Luwaran.com, the official website of the MILF Central Committee on Information has beaten the local and national media, including the OPAPP Website, in publishing the latest development concerning the Bangsamoro Basic Law draft. In its early morning report (August 21, 2014: Bangsamoro Basic Law submitted to President Aquino), it said, “The draft of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has been submitted to President Benigno Aquino III at around 8:00 pm last night.”
The report clarified that the timeline agreed last August 15 to submit the revised BBL draft to the President was “August 20”, not “August 18”.
The report states:
“Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., in the presence of Atty. Alfredo Benjamin Caguiao, Aquino’s chief legal counsel, and Atty. Mike Musngi, assistant executive secretary, received the document, signed by Mohagher Iqbal, as chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
“As per agreement of the parties, after the review of the President, they will meet again to finally put in place the final text of the BBL which the President would certify as urgent bill to Congress.
“The two parties are also in the same level of understanding that an ‘agreed version’ of the BBL is the only way that would strengthen their partnership in jointly pushing for the early passage of the bill in Congress.
“In the cover letter of the document addressed to Secretary Ochoa, Mohagher Iqbal, signing as BTC Chairman, said: ‘We are respectfully submitting the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) … and we are ready to adhere to our understanding to work on the final text of the proposed BBL after its review by the President’.(Bold ours)
“A reliable source told Luwaran that President Aquino would start his review of the BBL today”.
(This was replicated by INQUIRER.net in its 12:39 pm August 21 report, “Draft of Bangsamoro law submitted to Aquino”, datelined Manila:“The draft of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law has been presented to President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday night.”)
It must be noted: The reports says that the BBL draft was presented to the President through Executive Secretary Ochoa at 8:00 pm, August 20 and the President “would start reviewing it today”, August 21; but it is silent as to when the draft will be submitted to the Congress. The prevailing timelines are “August 26” and “by the end of the month”. Why then was the media fed the August 18 timeline? Both parties will jointly push for the early passage of the BBL.
After all the scrambling, it is reassuring that a “mutually agreed” copy of the BBL draft is in the hands of the President for review. Then, What?
First: Then, what after the President’s review?
“Parties” in Paragraphs 2 and 3 must be referring to the GPH, MILF and BTC. The copy presented to the President is not yet the finally “fine-tuned” copy referred to by Secretary Deles. “As per agreement”, after the President has reviewed the copy, he will return it to the “parties”. It must be the BTC that will “finally put in place the final text of the BBL” – the “finally fine-tuned” draft; the GPH and MILF panels will jointly approve the fine-tuned text then return the BBL draft to the President for certification to the Congress.
How long will it take the President to review the draft? How long will it take the parties to put in place the final text and fine-tune it? These are the enigmatic questions with the anticipation that the BBL bill can be certified to the Congress by the end of August.
Second: Then, what in the Congress?
The BBL bill timeline, despite the certification of the President and the priority category assured by the House Speaker and the Senate President, will still be fitted into the legislative calendar of the Congress; like all important measures, the bill will still pass through the legislative mill – not just rubber-stamped “Approved”.
The Second Regular Session of the 16th Congress has calendared its regular sessions: For 2014 — July 28 – September 26; October 20 – October 31; and November 17 – December 19; For 2015 — January 19 – March 20; and, May 4 – June 11. It adjourns sine die June 12 until July 26, the end of the legislative calendar.
Observe: The Congress meets in regular session three times in 2014 and once in the first quarter of 2015. Counting out the holidays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the Congress will only have 47 working days for the remaining regular sessions in 2014 starting from August 26, the earlier date set for the submission of the bill to the Congress; the January 19 – March 20 session that covers the first quarter of 2015, only has 36 working days.
(Note: MindaNews [August 17, 2014: Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress: less than 50 session days left ‘til yearend] has done the actual count. This we replicated in our “Mind da News: BBL: Vital Questions”, MindaNews, August 19, 2014.)
If the BBL bill is submitted to the Congress on August 26 or end of the month, how the Congress will attend to the bill while tackling the first priority General Appropriations Bill of 2015 and other measures well ahead in the legislative mill will be interesting to watch. The House leaders have promised to pass the BBL by end of December; the Senate, by the first quarter of 2015. Will they fulfill their promises?
It is vain to expect the BBL bill to come out of the legislative mill as certified. How the certified draft will be revised and diluted will be vital to the peace process. The bill will undergo thorough scrutiny for adherence to the 1987 Constitution and existing laws. Inputs from committee hearings and some legislators may be grafted into the bill. Government may relish the enacted BBL. How acceptable will it be to MILF is the crucial question.
Third: Then, what after the enactment of the BBL?
Normally, the enactment of the bill and its being signed into law by the President is the occasion for a big, loud “Hurrah”. In laws like the Bangsamoro Basic Law, ratification in the plebiscite and subsequent promulgation will be a matter of formality.
But, in the case of the BBL, hold the hurrah. Once enacted, the BBL may be questioned in the Supreme Court. In fact, it will not be a surprise if this happens as soon as the President certifies the draft bill to the Congress. No matter how thoroughly the Palace or the Congress apply the “constitutional polish”, leaders of some local governments or interest groups will find flaws to anchor on their complaints. These leaders or “aggrieved parties” are just waiting for the final texts of provisions on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, territory, ancestral domain, etc. before making their moves.
Should this happen, even if the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the BBL, the litigation time would further constrict the already constricted timeline of the Bangsamoro. Should the ruling be adverse, the Bangsamoro would risk being aborted.
Fourth: Then, what of the transition of the Bangsamoro?
Even if the BBL is enacted as guaranteed, it will be signed in the first quarter of 2015 after the Senate has passed its version. Only then can the Bicameral Conference Committee reconcile the House and Senate versions to be approved by the Congress. The plebiscite will be held in the second quarter of 2015. Since the election season will start in January 2016, only the third and the fourth quarters or six months will be left for the transition proper.
The President and the Palace have always been concerned about “enough time” for the election of the regular officials of the Bangsamoro and its inauguration before the President steps down on June 30, 2016. Enough time for that is assured. But will there be for the transition proper?
Should the BBL have a contentious passage in the Congress and the bill or the law is haled to the Supreme Court, that will be another story.
Fifth: Then, what on the election of the first Bangsamoro regular officials?
The transition period will be most crucial to the election of the MILF party candidates. What can the Bangsamoro Transition Authority do in six months? In an editorial early this year, the Luwaran, the official website of the MILF Central Committee on Information, said that one year is not enough for the BTA to set up the mechanisms and modalities of the parliamentary government of the Bangsamoro. To be elected, the MILF political party must stand on significant changes done by the BTA.
Sixth: Then, what after the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro?
MILF is expected to govern the Bangsamoro long enough to carry out political, social, economic, cultural, moral and values orientation according to the vision of Ustadz Salamat Hashim, the MILF founding chairman. MILF is on a mission.
But this will depend on the BBL the Congress will pass, the proper transition of the Bangsamoro, the rule of the MILF party in the regional and local governments and the financial and technical assistance the Bangsamoro will get until it can stand alone.
That the “mutually agreed” BBL draft is now in the hands of the President is momentous. On what will happen after that will depend the realization of the Bangsamoro as envisioned. To set the chain of events moving, will the BBL draft bill be in the Congress on August 26 or by the end of the month?
[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]