DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 August) – Four months after its submission to Malacanang (Office of the President), the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), reviewed and now “mutually acceptable” to government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is finally on its way to Congress but it’s a race against time with only less than 50 session days left until December 31, 2014, the Aquino administration’s target for passage of the law.
The final draft of the BBL will be submitted to President Aquino “before end of next week” and to Congress “before end of the month), Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles told MindaNews on Friday afternoon, after the GPH and MIFL issued a joint statement that that they had “concluded discussions” on the remaining unresolved issues of the BBL.
The Joint Statement, signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Mohagher Iqbal who signed as chair of the Bangsmaoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to draft the Basic Law, was issued August 15, exactly 138 days to the end of the year, the target date for passage of the BBL.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III was supposed to have certified the bill as “urgent” when he delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28 but by then, the peace panels to whom the BTC in a July 3 resolution, elevated its concerns on the Malacanang-proposed revisions to its draft, had not succeeded in coming up with a “mutually acceptable” draft.
In last year’s SONA, the President urged Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law by yearend 2014 to allow enough time for the transition period before the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro government in May 2016. The Bangsamoro, according to the GPH-MILF roadmap, should be in place by June 30, 2016, the same day President Aquino ends his six-year term.
In his SONA on July 28, Aquino said: “if we are able to legislate the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of the year and conduct the necessary plebiscite, we will be able to give the Bangsamoro Transition Authority one and a half years to show positive change.”
“Should this be delayed, however, the period for proving that it was right to choose the path of peace will naturally be shortened,” the President said.
Based on Deles’ statement, the final draft BBL will be submitted to President Aquino before August 22 and to Congress before August 31.
Assuming that the earliest it will be submitted to Congress after the succession of holidays — will be Tuesday, August 26, that is 128 days to December 31, out of which there are a total of 77 days listed under “resumption of session” in the legislative calendar and a total of 51 days for three periods of recess.
The sessions that started July 28 will go on until September 26. Legislators will go on break from September 27 to October 19, resume sessions from October 20 to 31, take a break again on November 1 to 16, resume sessions from November 17 to December 19 and go on Christmas break from December 20 until January 18.
Out of the 77 days, however, MindaNews counted only 47 actual workdays because 30 days of the 77 are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Congress has a four-week day only (Mondays to Thursdays) purportedly because legislators go home and devote their Fridays to their constituents.
But Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, eyed to be the chair of a special House committee that would handle the proposed BBL, told MindaNews Friday evening that there is “enough time” to pass the law.
“Very good, very good,” he said, upon learning that Deles said the final draft BBL would be submitted to Congress before end of the month.
“Kayang-kaya” (It can be done), Rodriguez said, adding committee hearings can be done “during weekends” or even “during recess.”
He reiterated earlier statements that he would invite Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), the group from which the MILF broke away in the late 1970s, and Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the MILF, to the committee hearings on the BBL.
Misuari and Kato are both fugitives from the law but Rodriguez said “we will ask for a suspension of the effects of the warrants of arrest” as they are being hunted down for political offenses. Misuari and Kato have pending warrants for criminal offenses.
Rodriguez also said he wants to invite the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which brokered the peace process between the Philippine government and the MNLF and which is an observer in the GPH-MILF peace process.
On July 1, he told MindaNews that if the draft can stand the test of constitutionality, there should be no problem.
He said daily hearings could be conducted in the capitals of the six regions of Mindanao in August and September to hasten passage of the urgent bill.
Rodriguez said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can begin preparations for the plebiscite while Congress is deliberating on the bill.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez had earlier said they need six months to prepare for the plebiscite.
If the bill is not passed by yearend, Congress, according to its legislative calendar, will resume sessions on January 19 and will go on recess again on March 20. Between January 19 and March 20 is a total of 61 session days but take out Fridays to Saturdays and the Chinese New Year holiday on February 19, there will be only 36 workdays left to March 20.
Once the BBL is ratified in a plebiscite, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) takes over and begins the ministerial form of government.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman has repeatedly said they are preparing for a smooth transition from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro.
If the GPH-MILF roadmap is followed, the Bangsamoro government shall have been set up and its first set of elected officials shall have taken their oath of office by June 30, 2016, the same day President Aquino ends his six-year term. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)