COMMENT: BBL: To Wait for the 17th Congress?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, November 21, 2014 – Will the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (HB 4994, SB 2408) have to wait for the 17th Congress. This is a realistic and predictable – NOT an alarmist – question. But, of course, who will not be alarmed by the latest report by MindaNews Editor Carolyn O. Arguillas? (November 16, 2014: Rep. Rodriguez: Bangsamoro Basic Law passed by “end of February”)

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City is chair of the 75-member AHCBB (Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law).

AHCBB Timetable

Datelined, Davao City, the report – also published in a leading national paper two days later — said that Rodriguez, “in a text message”, revealed the revised timetable of the Committee and its remaining schedule of activities:

  1. The new target for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is “end of February (2015)”
  2. The Committee will “finish all 32 public hearings on the BBL in Mindanao, Visayas, Luzon” – considered “… the most comprehensive and inclusive consultations in the history of the House of Representatives”. These started at the House of Representatives on September 24 and will end there on December 16.

— In November, the hearings will be in Jolo, Sulu on November 19; Isabela City in Basilan, 20; Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay, 21; Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, 27; Tubod, Lanao del Norte and in Iligan City, 28, simultaneously; and Cagayan de Oro City, 29.

— In December, five more public hearings will be held in Davao City on December 11; in Kidapawan City and Midsayap in North Cotabato, 12; Butuan City, 13; and Manila, 15 and 16.

  1. As the Congress will adjourn for the Christmas break from December 20 to January 18, 2015, the Committee will then deliberate on the bill when the session resumes on January 19, 2015.
  2. 4. Plenary debates are expected to start on February 2 and the approval of HB 4994 by end of February, 2015.

By this revised AHCBB timetable, the passage of BBL by the House is delayed by two months originally targeted for December 17. It should be asked: What caused the delay? Will the revised timetable stick?

Underestimates and Delays

This reminds us of the delays that have plagued the BBL from the October 15, 2012 signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB):

First: By the FAB roadmap, it was estimated that (1) the Annexes would be signed in December 2012; (2) the Draft BBL submitted to the Congress by end June 2013; (3) the BBL passed by end December 2013; and (4) ratified by March 2014. These were just estimates since the roadmap did not set specific timeframes. The estimates went awry.

Second: By the revised FAB roadmap, Draft BBL was submitted to the Office of the President for review before it would be submitted to the Congress, certified as urgent, on May 5, 2014. It was not submitted until four months later on September 10, 2014; the OP legal team revised the Draft. It had to be revised — actually “renegotiated” — when the MILF objected to the revisions. The OP legal team had underestimated the MILF.

The AHCBB must have scheduled hearings from last September 24, including the non-session days, and expected to wrap up the consultations by October 31. Did it originally plan 32 hearings? Or, did it underestimate the complexities of the Bangsamoro Problem and had to expand the consultations after realizing the need?

Considering the intricacies of the Bangsamoro problem and the lawmaking process in the Congress, is the Committee not underestimating the time still needed to enact the BBL by expecting it to be passed in 20 plenary session days – February 2 to 28, minus eight Saturdays and Sundays? The Committee has ten working session days – January 19 to 31 minus one Sunday and two Saturdays to complete its report for the plenary.

Halfway to Plebiscite

Unless the Committee has underestimated the intricacies in enacting the BBL including issues that can bog down the plenary, HB 4994 will be passed as predicted by the end of February 2015. The approved HB 4994, however, is only halfway to the plebiscite; it will still be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence.

How will the Senate proceed? The approved HB 4994 is the Draft BBL after undergoing amendments and revisions in the AHCBB and the House plenary. The same Draft BBL is also SB 2408. Following the same procedure as in the House, the Senate Committee on Local Government will prepare a report for the plenary. For concurrence, HB 4994 will be included in the Committee deliberation.

The Senate Committee will start preparing its report upon receiving HB 4994 presumably on the first working day in March. As the Congress will adjourn on March 24 and resume session on May 4 until June 11, there will be 45 working session days – 60 minus 14 Saturdays and Sundays plus one holiday – during which SB 2408 will be passed and consolidated with HB 4994 in the Conference Committee and after that the BBL will be approved separately by the House and the Senate then signed by the President.

Best Case Scenario

In this best case scenario, the BBL signed by the President before the Second Regular Session of the 16th Congress adjourns sine die on June 12, 2015, the plebiscite can be held after September 15, 2015 if the minimum 90-day constitutional requirement after the signing of the law is preferred instead of the maximum 120 days. This will satisfy the imperative of holding the BBL plebiscite before October 2015 in order not to disturb the schedule of the Commission on Elections for the May 2016 presidential election.

However, can the Comelec be assured on time that the BBL will be signed by June 12 since it needs six months to prepare for the BBL plebiscite?

Certainly, by the above best case scenario, it is crazy to think that the BBL will have to wait for the 17th Congress.

Crucial Questions

While it sounds crazy, it is not really that unthinkable if we look back and see the road taken in peace talks with MILF, not only from Day One of the GPH-MILF phase of the negotiation under President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III but also further back into the GRP-MILF phase under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In capsule, had the MILF and their proposals not been “underestimated”, the signing of the FAB on October 15, 2012 could have been the launching of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

As already said, the probable targets in the FAB roadmap had been overshot by more than one year; the target of the AHCBB, already by two months. These are grounds not to rule out the possibility of more “overshoots” until the signing of the BBL.

Not to be ignored was the amendment of RA 6734. Several bills were filed in the House during the First Regular Session of 11th Congress in 1998 to supplant the Datumanong bill filed during the Second Regular Session of the 10th Congress which had been overtaken by the 1998 presidential election. RA 9054, the amendatory act implementing the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement was approved during dying days of the Third Regular Session of the 11th Congress on February 7, 2001.

Despite the differences of the circumstances surrounding the enactment of the BBL and the amendment of RA 6734, the common message is instructive: Anything can happen.

The desire of the President to have the BBL passed in December 2014 with his “urgent” certification and the assurance of the House Speaker and the Senate President to give the BBL top priority will not change the prevailing conditions and circumstances that can beleaguer the early passage of the BBL – already delayed.

(1) Draft BBL consists of 18 articles in 97 pages excluding the four-page Appendix. The Committee reports must be as voluminous. Factoring the consultation inputs into the original draft will take time and much effort.

(2) Both the House and Senate plenaries can be stalled by the debates and amendments. These may be curtailed at the risk of having a subpar BBL and engendering opposition.

(3) Not all will be satisfied at the plenaries. Other interested parties will not be satisfied with the BBL. They can take the BBL to the Supreme Court on constitutional and other grounds.

The precedents and the prevailing conditions and circumstances are not speculations and unthinkable. They are realities. What will happen if the BBL is not signed by June 11, 2015? This must be anticipated and prepared for.

“Will the BBL have to wait for the 17th Congress?” While a crazy notion, never an option, the question, is not knee-jerking.

The Imperative

The imperative is for the 16th Congress to enact the BBL in time for signing by June 11, 2015 and for the plebiscite after September 15, 2015. The transition period will be very short but the prospective adverse effect on the Bangsamoro has a remedy that we will discuss in the next COMMENT.

If the June 11, 2015 target is overshot, the imperative should focus and hit December 2015 squarely. This will have complications but can be managed. Beyond this, the BBL may have to wait for the 17th Congress.

The 16th Congress must win its race against time – hit its targets to avoid more delays. Time will not wait or turn back to allow the 16th Congress to accomplish the imperative. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at