QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 10 June) – The House of Representatives suspended interpellations on the substitute bill to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at 9:20 p.m. Wednesday before adjourning sine die, with only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up to interpellate, finished, and the rest awaiting their turn after President Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27.
Only two representatives – Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano – were able to interpellate during the 10-hour period spent on the BBL on Wednesday, half of that used up by Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, who clocked four hours and 47 minutes with Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, defending the Committee’s substitute bill, HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”
It was Lobregat’s fifth day at interpellating and when the presiding officer ruled on the motion to suspend his interpellation at 9:20 p.m., Lobregat clarified if it was mere suspension and not termination.
By then, Lobregat had clocked a total of 10 hours and 32 minutes of interpellation in five days.
Lobregat, who had over a hundred proposed amendments during the Committee hearings, but whose motions were repeatedly voted down by the majority, found his platform – the plenary – to say his piece.
His interpellations covered a wide range of issues — from history to energy, Constitution and devolution, rebellion and normalization, power-sharing and wealth-sharing, the vast oil and mineral deposits in Sulu and the Ligawasan Marsh, what’s in the proposed law and what is not in the proposed law but are in the peace agreements, the controversial opt-in provision – among others.
The House leadership on Monday had announced they would not be able to pass the Basic Law before adjourning sine die but would finish the period of interpellations on Wednesday, the last session day that was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. instead of 4 p.m.
Since Monday, however, only three representatives had completed their interpellation– Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan on Tuesday, Zarate and Alejano on Wednesday.
Lobregat started interpellating on June 3, continued on June 4, 8, 9 and 10.
Last week, only five managed to interpellate: Minority leader Ronnie Zamora of San Juan City and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya on June 2; Negros Oriental Rep. Pryde Henry Teves on June 3; Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Seth Frederick Jalosjos and Palawan Rep. Frederick Abueg on June 4.
In his remarks before adjourning sine die at 10:31 p.m. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte told the plenary that “we have sought to ensure a more meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro and move closer towards enhancing its institutions and pave the way towards more effective provision of vital services to our people in the region.”
The Committee version of the BBL is “being fine-tuned to ensure greater inclusiveness and greater efficiency in practice,” Belmonte said, adding “we want the best law possible because we know that there is no such thing as a good war or a bad peace.”
BBL: Bigay Bawi Law
HB 5811, the Committee-approved BBL, however, has been criticized as “less than ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that the Bangsamoro seeks to replace.
Zarate began and ended his interpellation by referring to HB 5811 as “Bigay-Bawi Law” (Give-Take back).
“BBL is a Bigay-Bawi Law,” Zarate said in his opening remarks. He ended his interpellation by saying, “it is becoming increasingly clear that we are now taking away through amendments by the Committee, additional powers given as agreed upon… as negotiated in the last 17 years.”
“This process is a bigay-bawi process. It is not reflective of tunay na autonomy,” Zarate said, adding he hopes the sponsor, Basilan Rep. Vice Chair Jim Hataman-Salliman, one of eight vice chairs of the Committee taking turns to defend their substitute bill, “will support amendments that will not water down further the law.”
Zarate cited a major provision on natural resources, as part of the “bigay-bawi” feature of the substitute bill.
Section 8, Article XII grants the Bangsamoro “the authority, power, and right to explore, develop and utilize the natural resources” but the substitute bill amended this by deleting “including surface and sub-surface rights, inland waters, coastal waters, and renewable and non-renewable resources in the Bangsamoro” and adding mines and minerals “except for the strategic minerals such as uranium, petroleum, and other fossil fuels, mineral oils, and all sources of potential energy, provided that the Bangsamoro Government shall be consulted.”
The Bangsamoro’s power to declare nature reserves and aquatic parks, forests, watershed reservations and other protected areas in the Bangsamoro was also deleted.
In his reply to Zarate, Hataman-Salliman cited experiences in other countries with political settlements where “gradually itu-turn over ang power” (power is turned over gradually).
“Puwede po naman i-amend ito in the future,” (We can amend this in the future),” he said.
But Zarate said taking back this supposed exclusive power to the Bangsamoro shows the lack of trust in the Bangsamoro, to which Hataman-Salliman replied, “the Bangsamoro struggle is a continuing process.”
“Di po titigil sa kanilang pakikibaka sa ibat-ibang porma maging political ito hanggang di po nakaamit ang tunay na kapayapaan at kasaganaan ng buhay sa kanilang lalawaigan” (They will not stop their struggle, through other forms such as political, until they achieve genuine peace and progress in their area), he said.
Why the MILF?
Alejano’s interpellation, which lasted two hours and 24 minutes with the presiding chair reminding him to give way to other representatives, did not focus on the provisions of HB 5811 but on the peace process with the MILF, why government engaged in peace talks with the MILF when ‘independence is (its) ultimate objective,” why Malaysia is the facilitator and countered Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop who took the sponsorship role, when the latter said it was then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who invited Malaysia to facilitate the GPH-MILF talks. Alejano, a former military officer who said he was “detained for seven years out of frustration over policies in Mindanao” said it was the MILF.
Arroyo in 2001 sought the assistance of then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir to help facilitate the peace process with the MILF. The peace negotiations had collapsed when the Estrada administration waged an “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000. Arroyo vowed an “all-out peace.”
Alejano wanted to know who said the ARMM is a “failed experiment.”
“It was the President” said Acop.
“Why are we changing ARMM?” Alejano asked. He wanted to know if there is a comprehensive review of the ARMM, if cases had been filed against ARMM officials, why ARMM will be abolished “when ARMM is a product of peace agreement” and again questioned the role of Malaysia in facilitating the talks with the MILF, saying this is to “keep the Philippines from reclaiming Sabah.”
Acop reminded Alejano that “Malaysia is not the sole facilitator, there is a multi-state involvement” in the peace process.
“We should look at the intent of these governments,” Alejano said.
After Alejano’s interpellation, Lobregat followed, ending another round of four hours and 47 minutes, before giving way to the adjournment rites.
Out of Lobregat’s total of 10 hours and 32 minute interpellation in five days, seven hours and 18 minutes of that had Rodriguez defending the bill on June 8, 9 and 10.
A Representative later told MindaNews that Lobregat was not expected to have taken so long Wednesday but as he was interpellating, the House leadership was trying to muster a quorum and even the possibility of approving on third reading the resolution on amending the Constitution’s economic provisions.
The roll call made shortly before adjournment had 267 representatives allegedly present, but no voting was done on the proposed Charter change. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)