QUEZON CITY (MindaNews /17 May) – When members of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL) convene at the Nograles Hall on Monday afternoon, May 18, Committee Chair Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro expects they will start voting “section by section” of the 18-article, 242-section BBL.
“No more amendments, no more postponements,” he told MindaNews in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon.
“We’re ready to vote. Tomorrow (May 18), the second Chairman’s Draft will be the basis for voting,” he said, adding the Committee members would be presented choices, for instance, on “deletion” or “modifying language.”
For Rodriguez of the Centrist Democratic Party, the voting will definitely push through as scheduled. But several Committee members are not as optimistic that voting on “Version 2” of the Chairman’s working draft can be done starting 1:30 p.m. of Monday (May 18), particularly because “Version 2” has yet to be distributed to the Committee members morning of May 18.
Rodriguez released a 107-page “Chairman’s Working Draft” on Wednesday afternoon which he said was “Version 1” because “there will be a Version 2” for distribution morning of May 18. “Version 1” draft has been criticized by various sectors, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for allegedly making the future Bangsamoro government less autonomous than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) it seeks to replace.
Version 1, Version 2
Rodriguez defended his “Version 1” adamantly. “No, never (would it be less autonomous than ARMM),” he told MindaNews. “We’re giving them more, not less, powers,” he said.
The heading of the 107-page draft is “Chairman’s Working Draft.” It did not say “Chairman’s Working Draft, Version 1.”
The voting on the BBL was originally scheduled for May 11, 12 and “if necessary,” 13, Rodriguez said. But no voting was done on May 11 as the chair allowed additional amendments. Voting was reset for May 12 but three hours after Rodriguez adjourned the meeting, Committee members were informed the voting on May 12 and 13 had been cancelled and the new schedule would be on May 18, 19 and 20.
Rodriguez on Tuesday noon told Mindanao reporters he would have the consolidated draft incorporating the amendments introduced May 11, distributed on May13 to give congressmen enough time to study the new amendments. Among those who introduced new amendments were North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco (LP) on the Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples, Davao Rep. Anthony del Rosario (LP) representing “LP and allies” whose proposals included the Peace Councils’ recommendations.
Rodriguez also allowed Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte (LP) who manifested he would submit his proposals in writing, to do so, a move that did not sit well with Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat (LDP) who insisted to Rodriguez as they were walking from the South Wing Annex to the Session Hall at the main building on May 11 that the new amendments should be discussed on the floor.
Rodriguez said the May 12 and 13 voting was cancelled because “many congressmen went to see me after the hearing, requesting that since the amendments were only presented (Monday), they said they need to have a copy of the consolidated amendments so they can study these.”
MindaNews asked Rodriguez thrice in a text message Friday why he released “Version 1” when it did not contain the new amendments and why the distribution of “Version 2” morning of May 18 is too close to the voting. “How can the congressmen study the amendments?” MindaNews asked. Rodriguez sent no reply.
“Who is he?”
Before adjourning on May 11, Rodriguez had repeatedly said there would be no more discussion on the amendments as there is no more time. On Sunday afternoon, he told MindaNews he would allow for a “short discussion” before the voting.
“Sino ba siya? (Who is he?) Is he the technical working group?” a fuming Lobregat asked.
“He’s changing the rules,” Lobregat told MindaNews in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon.
He said Rodriguez wants only a “short discussion” before voting “but who caused the delay? He did by cancelling the voting last week.”
“It has become confusing,” said Gabriela Rep. Luviminda Ilagan.
“The additions will require more time for study and the no more discussions rule will prove stifling to the members. The meeting will become unruly if the members are suppressed. How the session will be managed will largely be in the hands of the Chair,” she said.
“If he implements his rules strictly, he will be like a lion trainer wielding a whip before a pride of lions ready to pounce on every chance to question anything and everything about the BBL,” Ilagan told MindaNews.
Vote on agreed version
“We are ready to debate and even vote on the agreed version by the majority members of the Ad Hoc Commtitee,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate told MindaNews.
“We are not amenable to the so-called clean version of Chair Rufus as it is arbitrarily incorporated some but also deleted many proposed amendments without the benefit of voting or at least consent of the respective proponents,” he said.
The Makabayan Bloc has scheduled a press conference for 12 noon Monday at the House of Representatives’ Media Center.
Rep. Rodolfo Biazon (LP, Muntinlupa), a retired general and former Armed Forces Chief of Staff said he has yet to see a copy of the working draft and would like to study the amendments on the provisions on defense, security, law and order.
“We cannot anymore delay this (passage of BBL),” Rodriguez told reporters last week, reiterating they only have until June 30 “to finish everything.”
At the Senate, he said, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. informed them he would finish public hearings by May 28.
Marcos held public hearings in Jolo, Sulu and public hearing in Jolo, Sulu last Wednesday, May 13 and in Zamboanga City on Thursday. These hearings were earlier cancelled due to the Mamasapano tragedy.
Marcos reiterated to reporters covering the two hearings that he does not want to be rushed into passing the law before Congress adjourns sine die on June 11.
Once approved by the House Committee, the draft law would be passed on to the plenary for debates by May 25. He said he expects debates to last for two weeks, from Monday to Thursday.
“We’re willing to defend the measure from 4 o’clock up to midnight or from morning to evening,” said Rodriguez.
He expressed optimism that they will have a “comfortable majority.”
“As long as mawala ang contentious issues, I think we will have a good support for the bill,” Rodriguez said, adding they hope to approve the BBL before June 11.
Congress adjourns sine die on June 11 and will return on July 27 for President Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA).
After the House of Representatives passes the BBL, this will be passed on to the Senate.
A Conference Committee is then constituted, composed of members from both Houses of Congress to “settle, reconcile or thresh out differences or disagreements on any provision of the bill.”
From the Conference Committee, the bill is passed to the President for his approval or veto.
Rodriguez said he would still push for the deletion of the what he said were unconstitutional provisions on special bodies in the future Bangsamoro.
The Peace Council tasked by the President to look into the provisions of the BBL, in its report said: “Overall, we agreed that the BBL is overwhelmingly acceptable and deserves the support of all Filipinos. On the few provisions that needed some refinement, we offered recommendations.”
The Peace Council also said that the wording of the BBL is clear. “The Bangsamoro special bodies were created with the goal of supplementing, not supplanting, the work of their national counterparts. As such, sections which provide for the creation of these Bangsamoro bodies include the clause, “without prejudice to the powers, authorities, and duties” of the National Constitutional bodies (for the civil service and the auditing bodies), and the clause, “shall have a coordinative and complementary relationship” (for the Human Rights Commission).
“We don’t agree with (the Peace Council’s recommendations on these bodies). “We don’t agree that it can solved by (re-wording) language,” he said.
Rodriguez said Mindanao lawmakers outside the core territory are “concerned about the opt in provision in the BBL as it smacks of a “creeping territorial expansion.”
The original provision provides that “areas which are contiguous and outside the core territory may opt at anytime to be part of the territory upon petitions of at least ten percent (10%) of the registered voters and approved by a majority of qualified votes cast in a plebiscite.”
Rodriguez said the total number of representatives voting on the BBL is 98: 75 Committee members and 23 ex-officio members.
The bill will be passed by a majority of those present. The Committee’s quorum is 15. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)