DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 January) – The Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday announced they can no longer pass the law that would have paved the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, a day after Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong declared in a privilege speech that with a “grieving heart,” he was going to “close the book of hope for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
Congress has three more session days left – February 1, 2 and 3 – before it adjourns for the election campaign period.
“I am not optimistic that we will be able to pass the BBL in the Senate,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, and especially given the political environment that we’ve been operating in with the last few weeks, it is extremely difficult to get this through by Wednesday next week. As I’ve said, we will keep on pushing but I don’t think we can pass it,” Drilon said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. was quoted by Journal online and Inquirer.net as saying that there is “no question that it (BBL) won’t become a law even if we pass our version, the Senate has not been acting on it.”
The House is still on the period of amendments and some members were still lining up for their turno en contra Wednesday night. The Senate, which is still on the period of interpellation, has not deliberated on the proposed law since Congress resumed sessions on January 18. It will adjourn on February 5.
“I think it is dead,” Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, told MindaNews Thursday night.
He said he already told Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa who “still has some remaining hopes (the law will be passed) in February.”
“I don’t see it anymore,” Iqbal said.
Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the peace panels “will meet after February 5 to discuss.”
Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process told MindaNews Thursday that she had just arrived from Jeddah for the Tripartite Review meeting on the implementation of the GPH-Moro National Liberation Front’s (MNLF) 1996 Final Peace Agreement. “I can’t make definitive statement till I’ve had serious sit down with principals and allies,” she said.
On January 12, a week before Congress resumed sessions, President Aquino met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Iqbal in Malacanang for nearly two hours, the President assuring them the BBL can still be passed.
Murad told MindaNews on January 26 that in that meeting, “there has been no change in the President’s commitment” and his “persistent assurance na maipasa ang original BBL.” (see Q and A with Murad)
On January 14, the President met with congressional leaders to push for the passage of the law, even volunteering to personally call on representatives to attend the sessions to ensure a quorum.
At that time, Congress still had nine session days (Mondays to Wednesdays) between January 18 and February 5.
No to BLBAR
Murad said he reiterated to the President that they cannot accept the BLBAR (the substitute bills to the BBL — House Bill 5811 and Senate Bill 2894) in their present form as these versions envision a Bangsamoro “less autonomous than the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that they seek to replace.
The proposed BBL, which became HB 4994 and SB 2408, was drafted by the BTC, a commission composed of members from the GPH and MILF. The draft was vetted by and finalized with the Office of the President before its submission to Congress on September 10, 2014.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government last year declared the BBL dead when he substituted it with SB 2894, a version that he said enhanced the autonomy but which the MILF said reduced the Bangsamoro into a mere local government unit.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL and principal sponsor of HB 5811 said the “unconstitutional” provisions of BBL had been removed from the BLBAR.He had also repeatedly said they cannot restore the 28 provisions the BTC had asked in July, to be restored into the BLBAR.
He also said that aside from the non-restoration of these provisions, the opt-in provision that he had taken out from the Chairman’s report but which was restored into the BLBAR by the Chair and Vice-Chairs’ report, would be deleted.
Balindong in his privilege speech Wednesday night declared that the House of Representatives “has collectively failed the Bangsamoro people.”
“Today, with a heavy heart and a disturbing sense of foreboding, I close the book of hope for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic law. Fifty one public hearings, 200 hours of committee level debates and 8 months of consultations are all put to waste — thrown into the abyss of uncertainty and darkness. This is the lowest and saddest day of my legislative work,” he said.
Not passing the BBL, Balindong said, takes away “the hopes of millions of people in the Bangsamoro” for recognition of their distinct identity, protection of what remains of the Bangsamoro homeland, and the opportunity to exercise self-determination through a parliamentary form of government that will be run in accordance with the Moro culture, faith and way of life.”
“BBL will guarantee that as a minority, we stand in parity of esteem with our Filipino brothers and sisters” but by the sheer tyranny of the majority, “we have foreclosed all possible peaceful, legal and constitutional avenues for peace.”
“We did our best”
Drilon told ANC that they were “on the way to the approval of the BBL” when the Mamasapano tragedy of January 25, 2015 happened.
“In fairness to the legislature, we did our best but you can operate only in a political environment conducive to the passage of this bill. Unfortunately, after the Mamasapano incident, the environment became very toxic. I can say that I think the BBL is the 45th victim in Mamasapano,” Drilon said.
Sixty-six persons died in Mamasapano, not just the 44 police commandos from the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police.
The SAF mounted a dawn operation that Sunday in an area of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups, to arrest high-value target Zulkfili bin Hir aka Marwan, without coordinating with the military and the ceasefire mechanisms.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the Archbishop of Cotabato, last year said the biggest casualty in the Mamasapano tragedy is not only the lives lost, but “the future.”
“The future is represented by the Bangsamoro Basic Law. If it falls by the wayside, the future is unthinkable. Where else can we go without its promise of a just and lasting peace? Where else do we go after many, many years of discussion?” he asked. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)