TO THE POINT: BBL: Halal or Haram?

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 15 April) — After failing to deliver the Bangsamoro Basic Law by end of December 2017 and before the Congress recessed in March 2018, the Senate President and the House Speaker assured President Duterte and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that Congress will pass the BBL before it adjourns sine die on June 1.

They gave the assurance in response to the urging of the President during their meeting with him, the MILF led by Chairman Al Had Murad Ebrahim, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza in Malacanang for about an hour last April 4, MindaNewsreported last April 5.

In the past Aquino III administration, Congress had also promised but failed to pass the BBL by end of December 2015, before its recess in March 2016 and in May before its adjournment sine die. Let’s hope to see history not repeating itself by June 1.

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Merely passing the BBL is not the question. The legislative process can be fast-tracked. The critical question is this: “Will it be acceptable to the MILF and the Moros?

What is acceptable?One that is compliant with the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro) and substantially adhering to the 2017 BBL Draft of the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission).

What is not acceptable?One that is not compliant with the CAB or the watered down BTC BBL Draft 2017.

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What was the status of the BBL when Congress went into recess last March 23?

In the Senate, SB No. 1717, the approved BTC BBL Draft 2017 as adopted, was on the interpellation and amendment stage. As reported in INQUIRER.net, April 3 — citing Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the Senate Local Government Subcommittee, who is steering the measure — the interpellations will end on May 21 to be followed by amendments on the 22ndand the approval on third and final reading on the 23rd.

At the House of Representatives, the BTC BBL Draft 2017 as House Bill 6475, has been consolidated with the three other Bangsamoro bills earlier filed HB 92, 6121 and 6263; but the three committees in charge have yet to complete their report. MindaNews lastApril 5 reported that the committees will meet on April 16 to 19  to amend the consolidated bill to be reported to the plenary session on May 15.

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Last February 28, SB No. 1717 was sponsored into the plenary session by Zubiri and Sen. Sonny Angara of the super-majority and Sen. Risa Hontiveros of the minority, showing the bi-partisan support for the bill.

In his sponsorship speech, Zubiri summarized ten features of SB No. 1717 indicating that it is substantially identical with BTC BBL Draft 2017. Notably, the bill retained Article VIII of the Draft on “Wali” in its entirety and adding a section on how the Wali may be removed by the Parliament. It provides for a three-year transition period.

In the Senate and House substitute bills, Basic Law of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) of the Aquino III-era 16thCongress, the article on Wali was deleted. Draft 2017, like that in 2014, has just a one-year transition period.

MILF Chairman Murad, told the Manila-based news channel ANC, “Generally, SB 1717 is already acceptable to the MILF… it is acceptable to us.”(MindaNews, March 6, 2018)

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In reality, SB No. 1717 is the approved BTC BBL Draft 2017,  Zubiri, as chair of the Senate Local Government Committee on BBL, originally filed his own BBL proposal as SB No. 1646. Invited to the first hearing last December, the MILF were hesitant to attend since the bill was not the approved Draft 2017. On January 16, he withdrew SB No, 1646 and replaced it with Draft 2017 as SB No. 1717. On the day before, President Duterte, who was with the MILF, called him for assurance to pass the BBL (INQUIRER.net, January 16, 2018).

The same INQUIRER.net report did not mention anything about the President having called the House leadership for the same assurance.

SB No. 1717 shows that either Draft 2017 is originally constitutional or has been slightly revised to ensure its conformity with pertinent laws and the 1987 Constitution.

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We are still in the dark about the BBL bill in the House. That Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez along with 90 co-sponsors sponsored BTC BBL Draft 2017 as HB No. 6475 is a positive ground to hope but not an assurance the committees will come up with a consolidated measure closely and substantially adopting the Draft to be like SB No. 1717.

Chairman Murad has considered SB No. 1717 as “generally acceptable” to the MILF. Can the same be said of the House measure when eventually reported out?

Speaker Alvarez gave the same assurance, as Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III did, to pass the BBL within the May 14 to June 1 sessions.. But, the task appears not as easy; the Senate has only 22 members while the House has 295.

This means, first, like in the Senate, the House must limit the interpellations to May 21; the amendments to the 22ndand have the bill approved on third and final reading on the 23rd.  Second, attendance must be strictly enforced to have a quorum every session day.

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Alvarez sounded assured BBL would sail smoothly through the period of interpellation and amendment as, he said, there are only a few minority congressmen who would like to introduce amendments. He must be confident the super-majority will solidly support, accepting in totothe consolidated version of HB 6475, 92, 6121 and 6263.

But the facts are not that reassuring. First,HB 92 and 6121 are mangled versions of BTC BBL 2014 that failed to pass in the Senate and the House of the 16thCongress. HB 6263, while purportedly amending four controversial major provisions of BTC BBL 2014, is obviously intended to preserve the territory of Lanao del Norte. The three are in conflict with HB 6475.

Second, the House Committee on Local Government, Committee on Muslim Affairs and Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity jointly steering the BBL formed a ten-man sub-committee under Rep. Wilter Palma of Zamboanga Sibugay to consolidate to consolidate the four conflicting bills. The three Zamboanga provinces and Zamboanga City are known to be hostile to BBL.

It is not farfetched to foresee the consolidated House BBL bill to be much different from SB 1717.

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Unless SB 1717 is badly watered down at the plenary, an acceptable CAB-compliant Bangsamoro Basic Law is half-assured. The other half depends on the House. We can only ask questions:

  • What can make the three committees change their minds during their April 16, 17, 18 and 19 meeting to abort the consolidated version submitted by the Palma sub-committee and, instead, adopt solely HB 6475?
  • Should the Senate and House bills differ radically — with SB 1717 passed as presently provided — can the House panel be prevailed upon to defer to the Senate panel at the Bi-Cameral Conference Committee to substantially adopt SB 1717 as the Republic Act to be known as Bangsamoro Basic Law?

The BBL still hangs. Will it be palatable, halal? Or, unpalatable, haram?

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patricio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City and later the Mindanao Kris. He 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 patponcediaz@yahoo.com)

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