Only 39 session days left for BBL before Congress goes on recess

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /05 August) — Can Congress still pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that is “mutually acceptable” to the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that signed the peace agreements, given that there are only 39 session days left before it goes on recess on October 10?

The period of interpellation for House Bill 5811, the substitute bill approved by the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, was scheduled to resume on August 4 but Tuesday’s session was adjourned shortly before 6 p.m. due to lack of quorum.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez told MindaNews Tuesday morning that the interpellation, which was suspended when Congress adjourned sine die on June 10 “will (resume) this afternoon and every session day until finished.”

Most of the seats of the House members are empty as interpellation for House Bill 5811 continued on June 4, 2015.  Session was adjourned before 6 p.m. on August 4, supposedly the resumption of the period of interpellation on HB 5811, due to lack of quorum. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano
Most of the seats of the House members are empty as interpellation for House Bill 5811 continued on June 4, 2015. Session was adjourned before 6 p.m. on August 4, supposedly the resumption of the period of interpellation on HB 5811, due to lack of quorum. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

At the maximum of four session days per week – Mondays to Thursday – MindaNews counted only 39 session days left, starting August 5, before the recess. But other priority measures such as the 2016 budget and the seemingly perennial problem of lack of quorum will likely reduce further the number of days left to complete the interpellation, period of amendments, and other steps in the legislative process.

When it suspended interpellation on June 10, only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up, had finished their interpellation since June 2.

In his State of the Nation Address on July 27, President Aquino mentioned BBL on the 88th minute of his 130-minute speech, referring to it as an important measure (“pangunahin” was translated into English by the Official Gazette as “the most important of these”), but he did not impress upon Congress the urgency of the measure. Instead, he challenged those who oppose it to propose a better alternative.

As of August 4, HB 5811, which has been criticized by various sectors as producing an autonomous entity that is less than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), has not been certified urgent by President Aquino.

Congress will go on recess from October 10 to November 2.

Within this period of recess is the filing of certificates of candidacy on October 12 to 16 for all those who are running for elective posts — local, regional (ARMM) and national — in the nationwide synchronized elections scheduled on May 9, 2016.

Congress leaders had earlier vowed to pass the BBL by September.

Two days before the SONA, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told reporters in Camp Darapanan that he expects the President to “reiterate his commitment to support the passage of an undiluted BBL and we hope through this SONA, he could enlighten more those who are still opposing the BBL.”

Two days after the SONA, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body composed of eight representatives from the MILF and seven from government and tasked to craft the draft BBL as agreed upon by both parties and created by an Executive Order of the President, passed a resolution to support the passage of the BBL “in its original form,” or what was House Bill 4994 and Senate Bill 2408, in effect rejecting HB 5811.

The BTC submitted to Congress the draft BBL (HB 4994 and SB 2408) on September 10, 2014 in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang. The draft BBL took several versions until the framers, as well as Malacanang, came up with what President Aquino had earlier referred to as a “mutually acceptable” draft.

Senate interpellation

At the Senate, the Committee on Local Government’s report on the BBL will be submitted on August 10 and the substitute bill sponsored on the floor on August 11 but interpellation will begin only on August 17, Senate President Franklin Drilon told reporters after their caucus on Monday morning.

He said the period of interpellation will start only on August 17 “to give the senators time to study carefully all the proposals,” Drilon said, according to the transcript of the interview posted on the Senate website.

But no deadline has been set for the termination of the interpellation, Drilon said.

“We will not set any deadline on the interpellation, so everybody will be given a chance to review the report that will be submitted,” he said. MindaNews counted 33 session days left between August 17 and October 9.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Committee on Local Government had said in a privilege speech in early June that SB 2408 in its present form and substance would “lead us to perdition.” He vowed to submit a substitute bill before the President’s SONA but as of August 4, the substitute bill had yet to be submitted.

BTC resolution

Copies of the two-page resolution of the BTC on House Bill No. 5811 or the “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” were attached to the letters sent separately to Senate President Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

The BTC said in its Resolution No. 005, Series of 2015 that HB 5811 “bears substantial modifications and/or replacement of the details of the BBL” and attached a three-page “Partial List of Substantial Issues on House Bill 5811” consisting of 28 “substantial amendments” made by the AHCBBL and the House Committees on Appropriations, and Ways and Means, which “are contrary to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).”

The GPH and MILF signed these agreements on October 15, 2012 and March 27, 2014, respectively, with both parties agreeing that the status quo in the relationship between the Bangsamoro and the GPH is unacceptable and that they would work on a new autonomous political entity, the Bangsamoro, that would replace ARMM and put in place a ministerial form of government.

The BTC said it “strongly expresses its support to the passage of the BBL in its original form (HB 4994), as the provisions of the same are consistent with the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the peace talks,” and that it “stands firm” that HB 4994 “is the most appropriate version based on the FAB and CAB and considering that it is the one that underwent the legitimate process of consultation with the people and engagement with the Office of the President.”

The BTC also “implores the better judgment of the leadership of both Houses of Congress to pass the BBL in its original form and to henceforth act according to the terms of the peace agreements.”

At the Supreme Court, petitions have been filed by the Philippine Constitution Association and a former Negros Oriental representative, to have the FAB and CAB declared  “unconstitutional and void.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)