QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/05June) — The House of Representatives is not likely to meet its June 11 deadline to pass the Committee-approved Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with only a total of five representatives finishing their interpellation this week out of at least 33 who signed up.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL) on Tuesday night admitted that lack of quorum is affecting their June 11 target to pass its substitute bill to the BBL – HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” — but won’t go for the Senate’s new October deadline .
“This should be finished . this should already be finished,, by June 11. Kasi we’re ready naman to defend it,” Rodriguez told MindaNews Tuesday night.
Rodriguez was absent Thursday. On Friday, he told MindaNews “we are still on track to finish it by June 11.”
Told the other representatives are not as optimistic, Rodriguez said, “kaya pa” (we can still finish it).
But Lanao del Sur Rep. Pangalian Balindong, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, told MindaNews on Thursday morning that meeting the June 11 deadline is not likely.
“I doubt with more than 30 members yet to interpellate and many more to introduce amendments,” he told MindaNews.
Asked what would be a realistic deadline, Balindong replied, “we will gauge in the progress of today’s session.”
Asked after the session Thursday night, Balindong said, “I don’t think we can meet the deadline on June 11. Mahirap (it’s difficult).
Congress adjourns sine die on June 11.
Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman, one of the vice chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee, said they are still “banking on the agreement that we are going to finish this on June 11 unless may bagong plano si Speaker na di pa natin alam (unless the Speaker has a new plan that we still do not know of).
“Apparently, all is not well in the ruling coalition’s front, especially with the development in the Senate,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said.
“I think the last minute intervention of (President) Aquino and the Malacanang-initiated version that was made to be voted upon by the House Ad Hoc Committee boomeranged and, unfortunately, this will result to an even more diluted and watered down law and a further setback to the Moro people’s quest for genuine self-determination. “
Gabriela partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan said “the general sentiment is why we are rushing when the Senate is taking its sweet time.”
Zarate, Ilagan and the other members of the Makabayan bloc voted no to the substitute bill when it was put to a vote at the committee level on May 20, claiming the committee’s version will not address the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro and will instead perpetuate the status quo.
Fifty representatives voted in favor of what is now HB 5811, 17 against and one abstention.
“Hindi nito sasagutin ang historial injustice committed against the Bangsamoro people,” Zarate said in explaining his vote. He said the substitute bill’s promised autonomy is hollow as the control, specifically on resources, still lies with the central government, making it “an empty victory for the Bangsamoro people.”
MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal acknowledged the difficulties both Houses of Congress are experiencing.
Iqbal told MindaNews the fate of the BBL is now in Congress but he expressed hope it would be a BBL faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB.
He reiterated an earlier statement that “the bottomline is, kung ang naipasa ay watered down BBL, di tatanggapin ng MILF yan. (if what is passed is a watered down BBL, the MILF will not accept that).
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon (LP) said it is “physically impossible for us to finish by June 11.”
“What is the sense in hurrying us (to pass the law by June 11) when the Senate is not going to finish anyway. Do we accomplish anything? Granting we pass the law, we still cannot accomplish anything without the other body,” Biazon, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee, told MIndaNews.
Senate President Franklin Drilon on Saturday said October would be the new deadline for the passage of the law as the Senate Committee on Local Government under Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. had yet to finish its committee hearings.
On Tuesday, Marcos delivered a privilege speech rejecting the draft BBL in its present form. He was referring to the draft law that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted to Congress in ceremonial rites in Malacanang on September 10, 2014, and the basis for their hearings.
Marcos said he would present a substitute bill but did not say when. The Marcos Committee has scheduled an additional public hearing on June 9.
At the House of Representatives on Thursday, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, who did not finish his interpellation on Wednesday, took the floor again but apparently feeling exasperated by the responses from Misamis Occidental Henry Oaminal, another Ad Hoc Committee vice chair, reserved his right to interpellate the chair himself on the first round on Monday.
Lobregat raised a number of issues on Wednesday and Thursday, among others, the origins of the word “Moro,” the first time “Bangsamoro” was used, what Rodriguez meant when he said “be on the right side of history” during his sponsorship speech on Monday and what happens to provisions the Committee deleted but are provisions in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on March 27, 2014.
Rodriguez was a no-show on Thursday. On Wednesday, he left the session hall shortly before Lobregat’s turn.
On Tuesday night, representatives were informed by SMS that there would be sessions on Thursday and Friday but on Wednesday night, were notified there would be no Friday session anymore.
Only two representatives finished interpellations on Tuesday – Minority leader Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan City and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya. On Wednesday, only Negros Oriental Rep. Pryde Henry Teves was able to finish interpellation.
Lobregat, who had been wanting to interpellate Rodriguez as the Ad Hoc Committee chair, was not able to finish his interpellation on Wednesday night and Thursday night.
Surprisingly, Buhay party-list and former Manila mayor Rep. Lito Atienza, who had consistently questioned the lack of quorum or stood by the rostrum in an attempt to question the quorum, did not on Thursday night but spoke to express his dissatisfaction over Oamainal’s responses to Lobregat.
“The sponsor is unable to answer clearly for the record on how we would appreciate the provisions of the proposed law,” he said, proposing that Lobregat be given another chance at interpellation before Rodriguez himself and for Oaminal to “relinquish sponsorship role tonight so that intelligent answers can be provided to us who are listening.”
“We’re not getting anything. Hindi po naman tama yan,” he said, adding Lobregat’s questions are “very, very critical” in the members’ decision but “are not answered in the manner that they should be answered. We’ve been beating around the bush with the answers given.”
Lobregat then said he would reserve his questions for Rodriguez on Monday.
After Atienza spoke, Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Seth Frederick Jalosjos and Palawan Rep. Frederick Abueg who inquired about the opt-in provision. They faced Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong, another Ad Hoc Committee vice chair who took over from Oaminal. Loong explained that HB 5811 is not the final version as representatives have the right to introduce amendments.
Cat and mouse
The session ended at 8:06 p.m. and will resume on Monday, June 8.
The interpellations from Tuesday to Thursday were marked by a seemingly “cat and mouse” game between the Presiding Chair and Atienza who would often rise to question the quorum. As soon as Atienza would approach the rostrum or starts saying “Mr. Speaker,” the Presiding Chair would then immediately suspend the session or order a roll call.
According to the House records, 193 were present during the roll call on Monday, 197 on Tuesday and 191 on Wednesday.
Thurday’s session started at 4 p.m. with only 16 representatives counted by MindaNews inside the session hall. Two minutes later, when Atienza rose apparently to question the quorum, the Presiding Chair, Deputy Speaker Balindong, suspended the session. It resumed only at 5:46 p.m. At its maximum, 70 representatives were present, based on MindaNews’ count.
The House has 290 members; the quorum is 146.
The period of interpellations is followed by the period of amendments and after that, the voting.
Rodriguez had earlier said the deliberations at the plenary would be on June 1 to 3 and 8 to 10. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)