GENERAL SANTOS CITY, January 26, 2016 – “A-DL” is Anti-Dynasty Law; “FOIL” is Freedom of Information Law. BBL is the original Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. All three are still bills marooned in the 16th Congress. As BBL has been debased and pining for redemption and passage, A-DL and FOIL, long resigned to their fate, are comforting it: “Hindi ka nag-iisa” (You are not alone.)
Is BBL rightfully in company of A-DL and FOIL? How common are their tortuous and hapless quests to secure safe and expeditious passage through the legislative mill?
A-DL’s vs. Political Interest
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed the first anti-dynasty bill on January 24, 2011 (SB 2649) as the enabling law of Article 2, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution providing that “The State shall guarantee equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasty as may be defined by law.” This and its counterpart in the House are still pending without hope of passing. Note well: It took 25 years since the 1987 adoption and ratification of the present Constitution before the first bill could be filed.
Don’t ask; just see why? Political dynasties have long been dominating the Congress. In the 8th Congress (1987-1992), 122 of the House members or 62 percent were from political dynasties; in the 9th (1992-1995), 128 or 64%; in the 10th (1995-1998), 136 or 62% and in the 11th (1998-2001), 140 or 61% (Wikipedia). The party-list was introduced in the 11th Congress with 14 members elected; excluding this number, the political dynasty members in that Congress were 66 percent of all district representatives.
Political dynasties have organized party-lists in circumvention of the Party-list Act, RA 7941. In the 14th Congress of the Philippines, according to a survey, more than 75% of the lawmakers are members of the old political families (Wikipedia). That showed how the political dynasty-dominated Congress had put loopholes in RA 7941 to make it easy for the political dynasties and their wealthy allies to circumvent.
Under the pending proposed law, which prohibits relatives up to the second degree of consanguinity and affinity to run for elections or hold public office, about 68 to 70 percent of lawmakers will not qualify. If the bill is amended to cover only elected positions, only about 50 percent of Congress members will be affected (Philstar.com, June 15, 2015: Anti-dynasty law to affect most Congress members).
However, such amendment is inconceivable. Such a law will be unacceptable to the political dynasties while it will negate the purpose of anti-dynasty law as provided in Article 2, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution.
What are the odds of passing the bill in the 16th Congress? Zero! The political dynasty members will not sacrifice their political interest.
Only by a paradox or farce will an anti-dynasty law pass in the 17th Congress – one that changes the definition of “political dynasty” to enable the dynasty members to continue reigning without violating that anti-dynasty law. Just like the term limit law — the 1987 Constitution limits the House representatives and local government officials to a three consecutive three-year terms; but as implemented, reelections are allowed after a lapse of one election. This in effect is a limit that perpetuates and abets political dynastyism.
The records of the House Committee on Rules showed that 19 FOI bills were filed with the Committee on Information in 2013 and early 2014. Five more were added to these — their consolidated version still on second reading.
In an undated on-line statement, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said that “27 years since the first freedom of information (FOI) bill in Congress was filed, the Philippine Congress has yet to pass an FOI Act”. The statement’s reference is either 1987 after the 8th Congress was installed in July that year or 1988. Apparently, interest in FOI was renewed during the Arroyo administration but no Act was passed upon adjournment of the 14th Congress in June 2010.
Under President Aquino III, HB 133 was filed on July 21, 2010 by Bayan Party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño; two years later, the administration bill was submitted to the Congress on February 3, 2012 which 22 of the 23 senators endorsed and the House adopted as HB 2013. Yet, the 15th Congress failed to pass an FOI Act.
In the 16th Congress, SB 1733, the administration bill slightly amended, was passed on March 6, 2014. HB 3237, a consolidation of 24 bills but actually a faithful adoption of HB 2013 was reported out by the House Committee on Public Information on November 4, 2014. It is still on second reading without hope of passing when the 16th Congress adjourns sine die.
Both SB 1733 and HB 3237 have been favorably endorsed – but not certified as urgent – by President Aquino III. Being identical, complementary and supplementary, they will be easy to reconcile at the Bicameral Conference Committee. The CMFR assessed HB 3237 thus: it “is a genuine and strong FOI bill that fully protects the people’s right to information while carefully balancing it with legitimate interests of individuals, the state and the bureaucracy”.
What then is holding the passage of an FOI Act? Behind the feigned optimism to pass the FOI law and the blame game, the passing of the buck, between the President and the congressional leaders, this truth too damning too to deny has stood in the way – that our political leaders, their relatives, protégés and cronies have so much personal baggage in their closets that they loathe to open to the public.
BBL to BLBAR
On September 10, 2014, President Aquino III presented to the Senate President and the House Speaker copies of Draft BBL during a ceremony at the Palace attended by leaders of both Houses of the Congress and the Government and MILF peace panels. Draft BBL was reported out in the House as HB 4994; in the Senate, SB 2408. Passage of the BBL was set in March 2015.
The January 25, 2015 Mamasapano disastrous operation by the PNP Special Action Force that killed international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan at the cost of 44 SAF commandos derailed the BBL. When deliberation on it was resumed, it was drastically amended – HB 4994 about 50 percent of it by deletion, substitution or revision; SB 2804, by 80 percent in like manner.
Both Houses substituted BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) with BLBAR (Basic Law of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) – in the House re-numbered HB 5811; in the Senate, SB 2894. HB 5811 is reportedly with the approval of President Aquino III, hence, also referred to as the “Palace version”. SB 2894 is the “Marcos version” – it having been written by Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., chair of the Committee on Local Government, with the approval of the Committee and of the entire Senate.
BBL was strongly opposed for its provisions considered unconstitutional and illegal; it had to be amended to be acceptable to the majority. Yet, the substitute bills are still strongly opposed in both the House and the Senate. HB 5811 was still in the period of interpellation when the House adjourned for the Christmas break due to the frequent suspension of sessions for the lack of quorums.
When the House resumed session last January 19, the interpellation was terminated. House leaders said the HB 5811 is now acceptable after 40 amendments had been done. It will be submitted to the plenary on Wednesday, January 27, for approval under a big “IF” – if there is a quorum.
House leaders have admitted that the lack of quorums reflect the opposition of the majority. IF there will be no quorum on January 27, the majority still oppose BLBAR, the Draft BBL that has been purged of constitutional and legal infirmities.
Even if HB 5811 is passed, that is not BBL but BLBAR; the House leaders have refused to consider the restoration of 28 deleted or watered down provisions requested by MILF. It should be asked – much more so if for lack quorum on January 27 HB 5811 cannot be put to a vote: Was BBL opposed and changed to BLBAR just because of its provisions deemed by the majority as unconstitutional and contrary to law?
There is more – obviously the most compelling one. BBL was feared. This has been discussed many times before. Christian Monsod reiterated it in a report of The Philippine Star (January 25, 2016: House leaders keeping fingers crossed on BBL). Monsod is one of the living framers of the 1987 Constitution and a member of the National Peace Council chaired by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. that analyzed Draft BBL.
As reported, Monsod echoed two former senators, referring to Heherson Alvarez and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who explained that the powers detailed in the BBL are within the bounds of the Constitution and that anti-BBL propaganda merely emanate from Muslim antipathy and distrust. (Bold Italics ours)
The Star quoted Monsod: “There is a provision in the Constitution that it would deem part of any agreement or law in the country. The BBL will pass constitutional scrutiny. We have to distinguish the articulated reason to the objections. Former constitutional framers already said that they have no problem with the constitutionality of the BBL.”
“The issues they have are out of their own fear. It’s not about constitutionality anymore, it’s about power. They are afraid that their powers will be lessened once the BBL gets passed.” (Bold ours)
“The peace process is more than the BBL. It is part of [it]. To have peace, we must first pass the BBL.”
The A-DL is against the political interest of almost all members of the Congress. The FOIL will expose the dirty linen our political leaders, their relatives, protégés and cronies have in their closets that they loathe to open to the public. The BBL, demonized by anti-Moro bias, is feared by the majority that it would lessen their power.
Why then were the anti-dynasty, freedom of information and Bangsamoro bills filed in the Congress – in the case of FOI, more than 20? They are constitutional mandates to promote and protect democratic rights and peace. Our political leaders always pose as champions of democracy and defenders of the Constitution. But when their political, private and political interests are on the line, the posing ends.
That’s the common fate of A-DL, FOIL and BBL. (Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)