Mind da News: BBL Timeline from the Senate

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, January 9, 2015 – Will the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) be signed by the end of March 2015 and submitted to a plebiscite by June according to the latest timeline of the House of Representatives as reported by the Manila Bulletin (December 27 and 28, 2014 and January 3, 2015) with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on BBL, as the sources? (See: Mind da News: Belmonte’s Assurance Puzzling, MindaNews, January 7, 2015)

Definitely, this is not possible according to the Senate timeline. “The Senate hopes to finish the hearings before Congress goes into break on March 19” which means it has “barely one and a half month in session days to tie the loose ends of the measure” – May 4 to June 11, 2015 (philstar.com, January 6, 2015: Senate vows to wrap up Bangsamoro law hearings) – actually, just 29 session days minus Saturdays and Sundays.

The Senate is not sure. It’s only hoping to finish the committee hearings — not to pass its version of the BBL or Senate Bill 2408.

SB 2408 is under the Senate Committee on Local Government chaired by Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. However, the hearings will be conducted by the appropriate committees. On January 26, the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Laws under Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago will start tackling constitutional issues – it appearing that these issues primarily concern the Senate. Marcos said more consultations on these issues will be conducted in Jolo and Zamboanga in the next few weeks.

The Santiago Committee will be the third committee to conduct public hearings. In October 2015, the Marcos Committee on Local Government and that of Sen. Teofisto Guingona III Committee on Peace and Reconciliation held consultations in the provinces and cities of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

How crucial are the constitutional issues in determining the Senate version of the BBL?

It “will have no constitutional infirmities”, philstar.com, cited Marcos. The Senate, Marcos said, has been studying constitutional issues brought out by the Philippine Constitutional Association, the Senate Tax Study and Research Office, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Commission on Audit, and the Commission on Election.

Being seriously questioned as probable violations of the Constitution are the proposed vast powers on fiscal autonomy and powers on taxation of the Bangsamoro.

Marcos concedes that the fiscal autonomy is among the contentious issues in the BBL in relation to the Constitution. His position is definitive. “Kung ano ang hindi talaga puwede, hindi natin gagawin. Kung ano hindi puwedeng gawin, hindi gagawin.” (What we are not allowed to do, we will not do.)

How will the constitutional constraints impact on the final Senate version of the BBL? He told philstar.com, “We will suggest what we think is legal, constitutional.”

While legality and constitutionality will prevail, they will try to preserve the original draft. “Siyempre, may konting limitation na ang framework agreement. Hindi naman namin ilalayo masyado. Kung ano puwedeng ayusin, aayusin namin. We can do it na naman na hindi masyadong mapalitan iyong original or at least in principle.” (The framework agreement has limitation. But, while addressing the constitutional issues, as much as possible we will not drastically revise the original draft, at least in principle.)

By his statements to philstar.com, Marcos is conciliatory although he equivocates. Is Santiago of the same mind and disposition?

She revealed her stand in her blog, miriam.com.ph/newsblog/tag/bangsamoro – on October 9, 2012, the transcript of the interview she gave on the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement; on April 2, 2014, the first part of her commencement address at the Gordon College in Olongapo City. Her position in brief: The BBL is unconstitutional and the only way to pass it is to amend the 1987 Constitution first.

A week after BBL draft had been submitted to the Congress, she remarked to reporters as published by GMA News on September17, 2014: “With respect to the Bangsamoro Law, if it comes to the Senate I would have to inspect with a very beady eye, meaning to say with a skeptical mind to the provision.”

In her commencement address, she explained why the BBL violates the Constitution and concluded: “On the whole, I could be removed as chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments. But while I am chair, it will be extremely difficult to convince me, as a student of constitutional law, that the Bangsamoro Agreement respects the Philippine Constitution. On the contrary: The Agreement violates the principle of constitutional supremacy.(Bold ours)

In her interview, when she was asked, “Will you file a petition with the Supreme Court regarding the Bangsamoro framework agreement?” She said she will not, since she will be involved the legislative process. “But I will take that position when this matter is brought to the Senate. … that our constitution must remain as it is. As much as possible we should not amend the constitution ….”

Expect Santiago to subject SB 2408 to the strictest constitutional scrutiny.

Can the Senate committees wrap up their reports by March 19, 2015 for the plenary sessions starting May 4? Can SB 2804 be passed by June 11 when the Congress adjourns sine die? Besides the contentious constitutional issues, Marcos revealed after his closed-door meeting with Senate President Franklin Drilon and Guingona III that there are many more issues to be threshed out.

The assurance of Speaker Belmonte and AHCBBL Chair Rodriguez that the BBL will be signed by President Benigno Simeon S. Aquino III by the end of February and submitted to the plebiscite in June is mere hype. Even if the House can transmit the approved HB 4994 to the Senate on March 2, the Senate will not be ready to concur it. Most probably, the House and Senate versions will be radically different even if they originated from the same Draft BBL judging from the Senate’s preoccupation of constitutional issues.

By the Senate timeline, the earliest the BBL can be signed by the President is after June 12. The earliest for it to be ratified is by the end of September, assuming that the BBL will not be questioned before the Supreme Court after its signing.

“What if the Senate overshoots its timeline because of the difficulty in threshing out contentious issues and the lengthy debates at the plenary? What if the BBL is questioned before the Supreme Court? There is no proverbial bridge to cross; it will be blocked by the May 2016 presidential election.
“There are only fingers to cross while imploring, “Allah, forbid!”

(Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected].)