BBL’s substitute bill at the plenary: a night of speeches but who was listening?

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 02 June) – “Be on the right side of history,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL) urged his colleagues at the end of his 53-minute sponsorship speech for House Bill 5811 on Monday, the first of eight sponsorship speeches delivered until the session was suspended at 7:22 p.m. due to lack of quorum.

EMPTY HOUSE. Empty seats  occupied by congressmen at the House of Representatives when it opened the plenary for the revised version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law Monday afternoon on June 1, 2015. An hour past 4pm; a total of 193 congressmen answered the roll call paving the way for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law to be introduced in the house. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo
EMPTY HOUSE. Empty seats b at the House of Representatives on Monday, June 1. There were 193 “present” at 5 pm but most of them left immediately after responding to the roll call.  MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

Lack of quorum also delayed the session that was supposed to have started at 4 p.m. While opening prayers were said at 4:01 and the order of business started, the session was suspended as the number of representatives inside the session hall could not constitute the required quorum of 146 out of 290 members.

Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, majority leader, had earlier expressed apprehensions over the issue of quorum.

HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” is the substitute bill to HB 4994, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. The AHCBBL approved the substitute bill on May 20 by a vote of 50 in favor, 17 against, and one abstention.

A roll call was finally made at 4:53 pm. after the bell was sounded to summon the representatives to show up at the session hall to muster a quorum. A total of 193 responded to the call, but a number were seen leaving the hall immediately after, so even before Rodriguez’ ended his speech at 5:55 p.m., only about half of the supposed “present” were still around.

Most of those who opted to stay behind, however, hardly paid attention as speaker after speaker urged them, appealed to them to support the Committee-approved bill. From the gallery, one could see representatives busy with their respective huddles. One was seen playing computer games, another was on the phone for the most part of the 2.5 hour session, at least two managed to find time to later pose for a selfie with movie actor Robin Padilla who arrived as Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur, was delivering his speech.

BINOI IN THE HOUSE. Robin Padilla pose with the audience in the gallery of the House of Representatives on June 1, 2015. Padilla calls for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
BINOI IN THE HOUSE. Robin Padilla poses with the audience in the gallery of the House of Representatives on June 1, 2015. Padilla calls for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Balindong was followed by the vice chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee: Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman, Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong, Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop.

TUCP party-list Rep. Democrito Mendoza wasn’t able to deliver his sponsorship speech. Deputy Speaker for Visayas Sergio Aposolo was Monday night’s last speaker.
By six p.m. Monday, only about half of the supposed 193 present remained in session, and by seven p.m., around 40.

Whose rights?

In his 53-minute speech, Rodriguez acknowledged that while peace in Mindanao will not be achieved immediately with the passage of the substitute bill, it will “provide the groundwork on which the foundations for peace and development in Mindanao shall be laid.”

“What we have is not a Bangsa Moro but a Bangsamoro autonomous region, under one flag, one nation…,” Rodriguez stressed.

He said the bill “will address centuries of inherited disadvantages suffered by our Muslim brothers and sisters; will erase the accretions of antipathies against Muslim brothers and sisters; and will be an affirmative action to correct centuries of neglect and injustice on  our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

The Committee-approved bill has been criticized for offering an autonomous political entity that is “less than the ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that it seeks to replace. A Moro peace advocate who was listening to Rodriguez at the gallery, lamented, “lahat ng rights nasa (substitute bill) – women, non-Moro, Indigenous Peoples, labor, settlers. Ang nawala ay Bangasmoro rights” (the rights of the women, non-Moro, IPs, labor, settlers are all in the substitute bill. What is gone are the Bangsamoro rights.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan described Rodriguez’ speech as “a bombastic delivery disguising the Bigay-Bawi features, appeals to the emotions of the tri-peoples” while Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Rodriguez described “the state of the diluted and watered down right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro.”

Balindong spoke of the need to “ensure that the BBL grants authentic, meaningful, and functional autonomy to Muslim Mindanao so that it can effectively build institutions that will secure our identity and posterity, while being responsive to the unique needs of our people.”

“Institutions especially pertaining to the administration of justice and education should be developed in the context of the cultures and traditions in the Bangsamoro. We need to develop the regulatory practices that will ensure the effectiveness of the Sha’riah justice system, the Madrasah system of education, and the Islamic banking system, he said.

Hataman-Salliman, chair of the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, said the Bill is a “landmark legislation because it seeks to put an end to the decades-old war and enable development initiatives to take root in conflict-affected areas in Muslim Mindanao” and “aims to improve the institutional mechanisms of the present ARMM and introduce political and economic reforms which are meant to empower the ordinary Moro, Lumad, and other marginalized Filipinos in the Bangsamoro Region.”

A seargent at arms takes a photo of Basilan representative Jim Hataman-Salliman as the latter delivers his sponsorship speech on HB 5811 on June 1, 2015 at the House of Representatives in Quezon City. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
A seargent at arms takes a photo of Basilan representative Jim Hataman-Salliman as the latter delivers his sponsorship speech on HB 5811 on June 1, 2015 at the House of Representatives in Quezon City. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

An instrument of social justice

“In essence, this Bill is an instrument of social justice, a tool to rectify the historical injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro, he said.

“Today, we are at the crossroads of our life as a nation,” Sema, whose husband, Muslimin, chairs one of the factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said.

“We were divided by foreign invaders, pitted against one another in war, and as some of their intended biases and prejudices survive in our borrowed cultures today, they have long abandoned our land, leaving us to realize today that, as we strike one another, we hurt our brothers and sisters who were just separated from us by our colonizers.”

Sema said HB 5811 is “another challenge for us to unite or shall I say, to re-unite. The bright future will not come sooner to us, unless we learn to forgive and forget the hatred against one another that had been sown in us by people who do not want our nation to live in peace.”

Sema noted that “we may be different in some areas, but we are united in many ways, in many words, in many aspirations. We are united in our pursuit for peace, for happiness and for progress.”

“I say Muslim Mindanao is a nation, and so are the Cordilleras, the Visayas, the Warays, the Bicolanos, the Ilocanos, the Ilonggos, the Kapangpangans, and the rest. We are a nation of a many nations. And we are called on to unite because in many things, we are one,” she said.

Reconciliation, Unity

A total of 193 House members are declared present during a roll call on June 1, 2015. Their seats however are visibly empty. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
A total of 193 House members are declared present during a roll call on June 1, 2015. Their seats however are visibly empty. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Loong, chair of the Committee on Muslim Affairs, said “today we have finally formulated the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro that we have truly aimed for” as he explained that questions hounding the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between government and the MNLF which the latter has repeatedly said has not been fully implemented, have been “properly addressed with the incorporation of most of the 42 contentious points” reviewed by the GPH, MNLF and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation. He said this will “certainly pave the way for the reconciliation of the MNLF and MILF positions and the unity of the two liberation movements.”

Loong also said the MNLF under the bill, is given the chance to participate in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, to here to the principle of inclusivity. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)