MIND DA NEWS: BBL: Vital Questions

GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews/19 August)– By the end of this month or earlier, the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) draft, the proposed BBL bill, will be submitted to the Congress. Three reports as of yesterday morning were at variance as to when the draft will be presented to the President.

MindaNews reported (August 15, 2014: Final draft Bangsamoro Basic Law goes to PNoy next week; Congress before end of August) that the “final draft of the BBL will be submitted to President Aquino ‘before end of next week’ and to Congress ‘before end of the month” citing Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles as its source following the issuance by GPH and MILF of a joint statement last Friday afternoon that “they had ‘concluded discussions’ on the remaining unresolved issues of the BBL”.

INQUIRER.net (August 17, 2014: Bangsamoro basic law draft to be presented to Aquino on Monday), citing Communications Seceretary Herminio Coloma Jr. as its source, said “the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will finally be presented to President Benigno Aquino III on Monday (August 18)”. There is no mention of its submission to the Congress.

The Philippine Star (August 18, 2014: Final version of Bangsamoro Basic Law out this week) has a slightly different report. CitingMILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar as its source, the Star said “the final draft is expected to be completed by Aug. 20”. Jaafar revealed the MILF’s satisfaction “with the ongoing discussions with key government officials as they draw up the final version of the ‘Basic Bangsamoro Law’” and “the draft would be presented to President Aquino before submission to Congress by month’s end for further discussions”.

A late report by INQUIRER.net yesterday (6:25 PM: Bangsamoro Basic Law draft delayed anew) said the draft, according to Secretary Deles, “still needs to be polished and will be submitted to Aquino within the week” and they are targeting submission to Congress by the end of August”.

That version when eventually submitted will be constitutional and according to the standards of the President – the version acceptable to him with MILF agreeing. However, even if the President certifies the proposed bill to the Congress by the end of this month, its passage this year is unsure – by the end of the first quarter of 2015 is the assurance (philstar.com, August 13, 2014: Drilon to Palace: Submit Bangsamoro Law this month). The Congress will first pass the 2015 Appropriation Bill.

There are vital questions:

First:Will the BBL be passed by the House by the end of the year through best effort, or by the Senate by March 31, 2914 as assured by Senate President Franklin Drilon?

The BBL bill is up against time. Against the hyping is the reality of time – moving on beyond human control.

MindaNews (August 17, 2014: Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress: less than 50 session days left ‘til yearend) has counted the days. Minus the recesses or breaks, holidays and the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the Congress will only have 47 working days until December 31 – counting from August 26, the earliest date that BBL draft bill can be submitted to the Congress because of the holidays.

In the first quarter of 2015, the Congress will have only 36 working days — resuming sessions on January 19 and going on recess again on March 20. The 61 session days between January 19 and March 20 minus the Fridays and Saturdays and the Chinese New Year holiday on February 19 will diminish to 36 working days. The rest of the legislative calendar of the Second Congress: it adjourns March 21 to May 3, 2015, resumes session May 4 to June 11, then adjourns sine die.

How the House will race through 47 working days and the Senate through 83 to beat time and deliver the BBL package will be most interesting to watch. Will they hold public hearings on Fridays and Saturdays? Can they take up the BBL bill while deliberating on the 2015 General Appropriation Bill?

Corollary to the First Question is: Will the enacted BBL not be abducted to the Supreme Court? There is no guarantee against that. Should it happen so, the BBL will hang indeterminately while time moves on inexorably towards June 30, 2016.

Second: Will the Congress pass the certified bill without major revisions of the basic provisions and insertions?

In polishing off the BBL draft bill all traces of unconstitutionality, the Palace apparently wants the Congress to pass the BBL as certified. The chorus and refrain from the Congress is that the BBL must be constitutional. Do the Palace and the Congress have the same constitutional parameters?

The signs are enigmatic:

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (philstar.com, August 18, 2014: Bongbong: Senate body ready to tackle proposed Bangsamoro law), chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments, wants “to iron out kinks in the proposal including the issues on power sharing and power sharing arrangements between the national government and the proposed Bangsamoro government” as these “have not been resolved”. Also being questioned is the “joint cooperation between the central government and the Bangsamoro Government within the Zones of Joint Cooperation”.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III (Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 18, 2014: What worries Sen. Pimentel most on Bangsamoro autonomy?), chair of the Senate Justice Committee, raised the issue of how “the future region’s asymmetrical relationship with the national government complies with the Constitution” – of how to “grant the asymmetric relations which looks like federalism, without changing the Constitution’’.

More constitutional challenges should not be pooh-poohed.

The issues raised by Senators Marcos and Pimentel herald possible major revisions of the Palace certified BBL Bill. Will there be possible insertions?

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez(MindaNews (August 17, 2014: Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress: less than 50 session days left ‘til yearend), who will most probably chair the special House committee to handle the proposed BBL, while being certain of “enough time” to pass the law as committee hearings can be done “during weekends” or even “during recess” and daily in the capitals of the six regions of Mindanao in August and September, revealed a plan that could complicate the bill.

The plan is to invite Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), the group from which the MILF broke away in the late 1970s; Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the MILF; and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which brokered the peace process between the Philippine government and the MNLF and is an observer in the GPH-MILF peace process.

Will the public hearings and the invitations to Misuari, Kato and the OIC just be acts of formality and diplomacy or will the inputs be incorporated into the BBL? If the latter, more time to pass the law and dilution of the certified BBL Bill should be expected.

Third: Will the BBL drafted according to the agreements in the FAB and its Annexes then “renegotiated” [Let’s call spade a spade.] after the Office of the President had revised “70 percent” of the original draft create the Bangsamoro MILF had envisioned or that which President Aquino III wants?

We have not seen the original BBL draft, not the revised OP draft and not the renegotiated mutually acceptable draft that is still being “polished” and to be presented to the President this week after missing the August 18 timeline earlier announced. We will not speculate; we will wait for the final Bangsamoro Basic Law.

But suffice it to see that the FAB and its Annexes, consolidated into the CAB, have been well explained to the Moros, and enthusiastically accepted, during the year-long or more of intensive and extensive information campaigns. These have given them hope and happiness. These they are expecting to be fully embodied in the BBL as the foundation of the Bangsamoro.

How the Moros will accept a BBL contrary to their expectation should this happen, only the time will tell. How they will cross the bridge when they come to it bears watching.

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at patponcediaz@yahoo.com.]