MIND DA NEWS: All’s not well ahead

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/31 May) — No amount of media hype can hide or dissemble the fate of the Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL) in the Congress. In the Senate, SB 2408 faces mutilation; in the House of Representatives, the House majority leader is far from optimistic. Already watered down and diluted, HB 4994 is on a steep uphill climb – pulled and pushed down, NOT UP, by the administration allies.

In the Senate: First, let us clarify. In our COMMENT article (MindaNews, May 28 and 29), the LP-led Coalition in the Senate numbered eleven – LP 4, NP 5 and NPC 2 –.we wrongly presumed the Coalition in the Senate to be same as the LP-NP-NPC alliance in the House.

However, by past media reports there are three blocs in the Senate. The LP-led Coalition is a 16-member bloc – 11 already mentioned plus three Independent, one LDP and one PDP-Laban; the five UNA senators are the opposition bloc; and one PRP and two Lakas are the independent bloc.

It should be noted well, though, that the LP-led Coalition in the Senate is loose, rather than tight. Certainly, President Aquino III knows he cannot make them toe his BBL line. While most of those in the Coalition were his colleagues in the 14th Congress, he was a “nobody” among them. He had won his seat with his popular mother, former President Cory, campaigning hard for him. He won the presidency riding on the popularity of his Mother, who had just died.

He must be conscious of this limitation when he gave up his plan to talk with the senators concerning Draft BBL as he had done with the House LP-led Coalition (The Philippine Star, May 29, 2015: Noy leaving BBL passage to wisdom of senators). Instead, he would leave “it up to the wisdom of senators, including the 12 who raised concerns about constitutional infirmities of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), to find out if the administration-backed measure complies with the 1987 Constitution”. (Italic, bold ours)

“The 12” are members of the Santiago Committee that recommended the revision of HB 2408 to make it conform to the 1987 Constitution. Ten of the “12” are with the Coalition. The revision will surely mutilate the Draft BBL.

Expect more mutilations to be done. Sen. Ralph Recto (LP) is most critical of the “block” grant provision; Sen. Peter Alan Cayetano (NP) wants SB 2408 changed with another bill of his own; Sen. Francis Escudero (Ind) wants the bill completely overhauled. Of the 16 in the Coalition, only four have kept their peace with Draft BBL.

In the House: The LP-led Coalition is 202 out of 291 – not just 178 as we earlier stated since the 24-member National Unity Party (NUP) is part of the Coalition. With many party-lists having allied with the President, the Coalition should number more than 202 (69.45%). Normally, HB 4994 should breeze through the House plenary starting June 1.

Yet, in the latest media report (Phistar.com, May 28, 2015: Party-list groups defer voting on BBL) the bill is expected to have a “rough sailing”. Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales “admitted that it would be a tough uphill battle to get it approved in plenary session”, a repetition of his past statements — in the philstar.com (May 20), “really a tough task in the plenary”; in Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 19), a case of “wishful thinking”.

Gonzales explained: “Many of our colleagues are against it. It would take a Herculean job for the leadership to have it passed. Malacañang will have to help, since this is an administration measure. Bill 4994 (containing the proposed BBL) may have hurdled the ad hoc committee, but it will be a different ballgame in the plenary.”

He said “major political groups in the House are either against or split on the proposed BBL”.

Case 1: The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the second biggest political party in the House after the LP, has taken a stand to vote against the BBL with only one or two members having been allowed to vote for the measure.

Case 2: The LP is not solid for the BBL. He cited several of its members from Mindanao, especially those from provinces likely to be affected by the bill’s “opt-in provision” as against it” — referring to the 27 representatives of the 14 provinces and their included cities in the area of autonomy defined in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, minus Davao del Sur and Palawan. However, in reality there is a significant number of anti-Draft BBL LPs outside of Mindanao.

Case 3: Many of the 30 [24?] members of the National Unity Party (NUP) are against the proposed BBL. NUP leader Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite admitted the split, “We have not yet taken a party stand on it.”

Case 4: The 40-member Visayas bloc led by Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez (LP) is divided on the measure. This must be a mix of representatives from different parties including those not in the LP-led Coalition.

Case 5: The 40 party-list representatives comprising the “Party-List Coalition”, while avowing “we belong to the majority coalition”, is still undecided. One member, Rep. Rodel Batocabe (Ako Bicol) said they are studying thoroughly the BBL to “come up with an objective, balanced and fair decision”. (Phistar.com, May 28, 2015: Party-list groups defer voting on BBL)

The Paradox: The LP-led Coalition in the Congress that can easily pass the meaningful BBL to establish Bangsamoro is instead making the BBL meaningless and the passing enigmatic.

What is expected to happen in the House starting tomorrow, June 1 until June 11?

To ensure enough votes to pass HB 4994, more compromises will be made. But still there is no assurance the BBL can be delivered in the House by June 11. If one is delivered, it will most probably be deformed and handicapped.

What is expected in the Senate?

It looks most improbable that the Marcos Committee can present its report to the Senate plenary before the Congress adjourns sine die on June 11. Senate President Franklin Drilon (LP) confirms that in today’s news (The Philippine Star , May 31, 2015: Be open to talks on BBL, Palace asks senators):“I will be forthright with you, I am not very optimistic that the law can be in place by June 11.” (Bold italics ours)

He is not sure “if Senator Bongbong will submit a committee report on the ninth of June. I do not know and I am not optimistic”. Beyond that there is no clue about what SB 2408 will turn out except that it will be mutilated.

What may ultimately happen?

ONE: The Congress passes a deformed, handicapped, and mutilated BBL in August. Will President Aquino III sign it? Will it be acceptable to the MILF?

TWO: If the President signs it, it will be eligible for plebiscite in November. But the Commission on Elections – while assuring preparations of the BBL plebiscite will not interfere with its preparation for the May presidential elections – says it needs six months, the minimum, to prepare for the BBL plebiscite. That will fall in February, 2016. Will the Bangsamoro electorate accept it?

THREE: If the BBL is signed any time from September to December, the plebiscite, going by “TWO” above, can be held in March, April or May, as the case may be.

FOUR: In either Scenario “TWO” or “THREE”, the Bangsamoro officials will not be included in the May 9, 2016 elections since the filing of candidacy falls in October 2015. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority can be appointed but can hardly function or not at all. Unless the Congress can foresee this and provide for remedies in the BBL, how can Bangsamoro be established?

FIVE: If the BBL is questioned in the Supreme Court – as many predict it will be – forget Bangsamoro before June 30, 2016 and start storming the heavens with prayer to keep the peace.

Final Word: To the President, the leaders and members of the Congress: Be not like the proverbial ostrich burying its head in the sand with a placard by its “behind” (in Tagalog, “puwet”; in Bisaya, “buli”) saying, “All’s Well!”

[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.]