DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 July) – The House of Representatives will resume the interpellation period for House Bill 5811, the substitute bill to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Tuesday, August 4, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, told MindaNews Tuesday.
Before Congress adjourned sine die late evening of June 10, only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up had completed their interpellation of the sponsors of HB 5811 or what the Committee refers to as the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).
At the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Committee on Local Government, has yet to submit his substitute bill to SB 2408, the draft BBL crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
Marcos last month vowed to submit his substitute bill before the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27, claiming the draft BBL in its present form and substance would “lead us to perdition.”
He told reporters at the sidelines of President’s SONA at the House of Representatives on July 27, that he would submit the substitute bill “probably next week.”
Later in the interview, Marcos said, “We’re trying it to get it done by next week, baka (maybe) the week after. Soon.”
Marcos maintained that the problems the draft BBL are facing now “did not come from Congress.”
“Not Congress’ fault”
“The problems of the BBL, whatever they may be, the delays that the BBL suffered … that was not Congress that caused those delays. So whatever you might say, delaying or that it was not properly attended to, we certainly do not feel alluded to because we have not stopped working at Congress for close to a year now,” Marcos said, according to the transcript of the interview posted on his website.
The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the 15-member body tasked to draft the BBL and composed of eight representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and seven from the Philippine government (GPH), submitted it to Congress in ceremonial rites held at Malacanang on September 10, 2014. The draft BBL became HB 4994 in the House and SB 2408 in the Senate.
Asked if he thinks the BBL can still be passed within the Aquino administration – it will end its term on June 30, 2016 — Marcos replied, “kayang mapasa, pero kung kelan ma implement, mahirap kasi may plebisito pa, may eleksyon pa, may mga Supreme Court challenges pa. Hindi natin masasabi kung gaano katagal yang mga ‘yan” (it can be passed but when it will be implemented, it’s difficult because there is still a plebiscite, an election, and Supreme Court challenges. We cannot say how long that will take).
He hinted on the changes that his substitute bill would introduce: “Yes, we tried to fix all the unconstitutional problems, we tried to fix administrative problems, we are presently grappling with the economic provisions, and the checks and balances on the large amounts of funding that National Government will provide, and who will be accountable for that, and the transparency that is necessary for it to be known that I can only describe is vast amount of money being given to Bangsamoro will be taken to the right place.”
Supreme Court petitions
While Congress is deliberating on the BBL, petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court “to declare as unconstitutional and void” the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and the MILF on October 15, 2012 and March 27, 2014.
The GPH and MILF agreed under the FAB that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, that would replace what is now the 25-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). President Benigno Simeon Aquino III had earlier dubbed the ARMM a “failed experiment.”
The Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), which filed the petition before the Supreme Court and which also sought the issuance of a TRO (temporary restraining order) and/or writ of preliminary injunction, is being represented in the petition by its President, Lakas Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad, Arcbhishops Ramon Arguelles of Lipa and Romulo dela Cruz of Zamboanga, Davao City’s Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, and Norberto Gonzales, who held several positions in the Arroyo administration, including Defense Secretary and National Security Adviser.
The Philconsa filed its petition on June 19, the same day former Lakas Rep. Jacinto Paras of Negros Occidental also filed a similar petition.
Both Marcos and Rodriguez said deliberations on the BBL would continue despite the SC petitions, unless the High Court issues a TRO.
The House of Representatives suspended interpellations on HB 5811 at 9:20 p.m. on June 10, before adjourning sine die.
By then, only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up to interpellate had completed their interpellation: 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; Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan on June 9 and Bayan Muna party list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano on June 10.
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat started interpellating on June 3, continued on June 4, 8, 9 and 10. By then, Lobregat had clocked a total of 10 hours and 32 minutes of interpellation in five days. On June 10, he interpellated for four hours and 47 minutes.
Lobregat, who had over a hundred proposed amendments during the Committee hearings, but whose motions were repeatedly defeated by majority vote, found his platform – the plenary – to say his piece.
Lobregat told MindaNews on July 12 that he was “nasa kalahati na” (halfway) “but I think I will let the others interpellate first” when the interpellation period resumes in August.
BBL: Bigay Bawi Law
The 98-member Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL approved the substitute bill on May 20, by a vote of 50 in favor, 17 against and one abstention.
The Committee version, however, has been criticized as offering an autonomous region that is “less than the ARMM” that it seeks to replace.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate began and ended his interpellation on June 10 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.”
Former House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin of Basilan had warned Congress against passing a “recipe for disaster.”
“If Congress will give another failed experiment, do not expect the Bangsamoro to produce miracles. The same failed experiment will also be the result of the kind of law that Congress will enact for the Bangamoro,” Salapuddin said at the May 29 Experts’ Forum of the Cotabato City-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, a co-convenor of the Cotabato City-based Bangsamoro Study Group said the amendments introduced by HB 5811 “change the framework of the agreement of the parties on changing the status quo and of redefining the relation between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro to a point that the Bangsamoro has been reduced into the category of an LGU (local government unit).”
Return to nego table
In the same forum, Dean Antonio La Vina of the Ateneo School of Government said, “with apologies to my colleagues in OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process), who’d really want this closed, I actually think a BBL that is owned by the next President is much better than a BBL owned by this President.”
La Vina, who served as a member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the MILF in the last days of the Arroyo administration, explained that it is necessary for the next President to own the process, to “champion this” because transitions that do not have the support of the President, will not work.
“Under the circumstances now, it’s gonna work with President Aquino totally committed but President Aquino will no longer be there” next year, he added.
President Aquino steps down from his six-year term on June 30, 2016.
“Very, very rationally…. we’re probably better off taking time and really getting this right than have to push a law that ‘s not only imperfect but worse than what we have here,” he said.
La Viña proposed that the government and MILF peace panels return to the negotiating table to agree on a new timeline and not peg the establishment of the Bangsamoro government to the May 2016 polls since “no real transition can happen.”
He proposed at least one year transition from the ratification of the law.
La Viña said passing on to the next administration the passage of a BBL may also be considered instead of rushing under the Aquino administration the passage of law that may create a “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” with “lesser autonomy and powers than the ARMM.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)