DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 April) — The House Committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, are meeting this week — April 16 to 19 — to vote on proposed amendments to the working draft on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), in preparation for the filing of a substitute bill for deliberation by the plenary when sessions resume on May 15.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr., had assured President Rodrigo Duterte and the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during a meeting in Malacanang on April 4 that the BBL would be passed by May 2018 but with only eight session days from May 15 until the adjournment sine die on June 1, can both houses pass the law?
The joint committees’ working draft is a consolidation of the four Bangsamoro bills filed in the House of Representatives, including the proposed BBL drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the body tasked to craft the draft law in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that government and the MILF signed on March 27, 2014.
After voting on the amendments this week, the House committees are expected to file their substitute bill for deliberation by the plenary. The Senate had already filed its substitute bill, SB 1717, and was already on the period of interpellation when it adjourned on March 21 for a break until May 14.
Congress sessions are held Mondays to Wednesdays. Unless special sections are called for, there are only eight session days — May 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30 — before Congress adjourns sine die on June 1.
The period of interpellation usually takes time. In the previous Congress, during the interpellation in six session days between June 2 until its adjournement sine die on July 10, 2015, only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up to interpellate, had finished. The interpellation was suspended several times due to questions on lack of quorum. The rest had to wait for their turn after then President Benigno Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27.
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat clocked a total of 10 hours and 32 minutes of interpellation in five days.
Lobregat, then in the minority, is now with the ruling party, the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino – Laban, which he joined in November last year.
Interpellation at the Senate
According to House rules, the Joint Committees have to transmit a copy of their committee report to the Committees on Appropriation and Ways and Means particularly “for comments relative to the appropriation or tax or revenue aspects only.”
The Senate Committee was at the stage of interpellation when they went on recess in March. Senators who had lined up to interpellate in May: Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Panfilo Lacson, Ralph Recto, Pimentel.
Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao, Sherwin Gatchalian and Vicente Sotto had indicated they would continue their interpellation.
On April 5, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters in Malacanang that the President asked the House leaders to finalize their version of the BBL, consolidate all pending versions and he will “certify as urgent” the bill “para mapabilis ang passage ng BBL.”
By then, however, the bills in both houses had long been consolidated. The Senate
Committee on Local Government had filed its substitute bill. The House Committees’ working draft was the consolidation of the four bills filed which was used during the public hearings from mid-February to mid-March, executive sessions had been held until March 2, and the proposed amendments will be voted upon this week.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews on April 5 that the President “urged” Pimentel and Alvarez to “fast-track the passage of the BBL before July ahead of federalism” and that “they already have schedules and are confident they could complete the process by June.”
Ghazali Jaafar, MILF 1st Vice Chair and concurrent BTC chair, told MindaNews the President “requested” the leaders of Congress “to pass the BBL into law within May of 2018.”
“On our part we appealed to the President and the two houses to pass the BBL into law, not watered down,” Jaafar said, adding a “watered down BBL is not acceptable to our people.”
The May 2018 passage is “kaya daw sa Senate” (The Senate can do it), Jaafar said, recalling how Pimentel “assured the President and us that the BBL travel is smooth and that end of May it will be enacted into law. We believe him,” he said.
According to Jaafar, Alvarez gave the same assurance although the latter informed them “meron lang very minority congressmen na merong amendments” (there are minority congressmen who want to introduce amendments).
The Malacanang meeting came eight days after Duterte met with the MILF leadership at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on March 27.
Race against time
As agreed upon by the government and MILF under the CAB, the BBL will pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an entity that is autonomous in name only and earlier dismissed as a “failed experiment.”
Under the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap of the Duterte administration, the BBL was targeted to be passed yearend of 2017 to allow enough time for the plebiscite to ratify the law, and a transition period under the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that will be appointed by the President and will govern the area until the regular elections are held.
The CAB provides that the BBL, once enacted by Congress, shall be ratified in a plebiscite “not later than 120 days from the legislative enactment” and once the BBL is ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the BTA takes over until regular elections are held.
The filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2019 elections is in mid-October.
If no Bangsamoro law is ratified by then, elections in the ARMM will proceed as scheduled in May 2019. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)