Draft BBL in Congress; awaits authors for filing

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 August) — The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) finally reached Congress last week, a month after it was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte, but it has yet to be filed as a bill in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

MindaNews asked Senate President Aquilino Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.  if they would be the principal authors. Alvarez did not send a reply but Pimentel told MindaNews he was “willing to be author” but “have to sked discussion with my legislative staff.”

Asked if the bill would be filed next week after the holiday on Monday, Pimentel replied: “not even sure if next week. Discuss pa namin (we will still discuss).”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte does the peace sign with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (second row) and (first row L to R) Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF 1st Vice Chair Ghazali Jaafar, also Bangsamoro Transition Commission chair, government’s Peace Implementing Panel chair Irene Santiago and Commissioner Omar Crisostomo Sema. On the second row are members of the BTC, among them MILF Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohager Iqbal (behind Dureza). King Rodriguez /PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

There are only 22 session days (Mondays to Wednesdays, excluding holidays) or 38 days (including Thursdays and Fridays) between August 22 and October 13, as Congress takes a break from October 14 to November 12.

The draft BBL was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) on July 17 in rites held in Malacanangn and witnessed by Pimentel and Alvarez.

The transmittal letter from the Office of the President to Congress took a month  but no certificate of urgency accompanied the transmittal.

Instead, Undersecretary Ryan Estevez of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) under the Office of the President said in his August 14 letter to Pimentel that they “trust in the collective wisdom of Congress should they deem proper to refine the draft further in the course of the regular legislative mill in order to reflect the genuine aspirations of the Filipino people.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza sent MindaNews on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 17), a copy of the transmittal letter stamped received by Pimentel’s office at 7 p.m. on August 14.

“Per Deputy Executive Secretary Menard Guevarra, when all pending bills are consolidated into one bill, then certificate of urgency will be issued,” Dureza told MindaNews.

Bangsamoro aspirations

Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao said the President’s certification can be issued “anytime even after the bill has been filed.”

Sema told MindaNews late Thursday afternoon (August 17) that the draft BBL had just been received by the Secretary General of the House and “was immediately transmitted to the Speaker’s Office.”

“Congress is the policy-making body of the Republic of the Philippines. Its duty is not only to honor the commitment of the Government to the Bangsamoro but also to express the will of the Filipino people in the form of the law. As a leader of the Bangsamoro, I will see to it that our voice is heard, our sentiments are expressed, and our aspirations realized. Inshaallah,” Sema added.

Last Friday, Sema said the draft BBL was still in Alvarez’ office and that “we will know next week” who will be its authors.

BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar declined to comment on the non-filing as yet of the draft BBl into House and Senate bills.  “No comment muna ako,” he told MindaNews Thursday afternoon.

The 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), signed by the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014 provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 27-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, “in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and their aspiration to chart their political future through a democratic process that will secure their identity and posterity and allow for meaningful self-governance.”

“Bangsamoro country”

“Within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country,” Duterte declared on July 17, after receiving a copy of the draft BBL.

Duterte committed to “support and husband” the proposed BBL in Congress to ensure its passage.

But nowhere in his speech did Duterte mention the CAB.  He reiterated “there will be no objections (to) the provisions of all that is consistent with the Constitution and the aspiration of the Moro people.”

“I am for this.  Within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country,” Duterte said.

Congress under the Aquino administration adjourned in 2016 without passing a Bangsamoro law.

The two houses of Congress filed substitute bills after their respective committee hearings, both titled Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR), which the MILF and even the government peace panel then agreed did not comply with the CAB and instead envisioned a Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM it sought to replace.

The draft BBL was crafted by a 21-member Commission, 11 nominated by the MILF and 10 by the government. Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) in the proposed Bangsamoro core territory are represented in the Commission along with three representatives from the Moro National Liberation Front under Yusoph Jikiri and Muslimin Sema.

BLBAR to BABAR

But even before the draft BBL reached Congress, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo filed House Bill 6121 or the Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BABAR) on August 3.

The BABAR, however, appears to be a resurrection of former Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

MindaNews noted that HB 6121 lifted provisions verbatim for the most part from the Marcos version, and in fact contains the same number of articles — 17 — same titles of articles and the same number of sections — 215.

The draft BBL’s completion in mid-June and its submission to President Duterte on July 17, came amid the Marawi Crisis that entered Day 89 on Saturday.

Upon its submission last month, Guiamel Alim,  Executive Director of the Cotabato City-based Kadtuntaya Foundation and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro  Civil Society told MindaNews the passage of the BBL “should not be held hostage by the Marawi Crisis” as the previous draft BBL was by the Mamasapano Tragedy of January 2015, because “frustration and anger resulting from the failure to pass the BBL may run out of hand.”

“It can serve as an incubator of extremism,” Alim said, adding, “let BBL be the deterrence to terrorism.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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