COMMENT: ‘Bong-Bong’ Bangs Away (4)

III. What He Wants

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, July 6, 2015 – For eight and a half months, the Senate had failed to come out with a committee report on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Senate Bill No. 2408. The Senate President and the House Speaker received the same copies of the proposal, the Draft BBL, from the President in Malacañang on September 10, 2014.

Both heads of the two Houses of the Congress told media the proposal would be enacted by mid-March 2015. When the Congress adjourned sine die last June 9, the House bill (HB 5811 amending HB 4994) was on second reading, the period of amendments to be continued in the last week of July when the Congress resumes its regular sessions. At the Senate, the hearings on the Senate bill had just ended.

The senators said they needed more time to study the proposal. They vowed they would not be rushed or pressured to “railroad” it – obviously referring to the Palace, implying that the President had pressured the majority coalition in the House of Representatives.

How long will it take the Senate to pass its own version of the BBL?

Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government which steers the passage of the bill in the Senate, gave the implicit answer: At about the same time that the House will pass its own version.

He ended his privileged speech last June 3: “Mr. President, I CANNOT SUPPORT THE BBL IN ITS PRESENT FORM. May inihahanda akong kapalit nito na makakabubuti sa lahat (I am preparing a substitute for this that will be for the good of all).

That way he declared that he had rejected the original draft of SB No. 2408 and that he would write a substitute bill. He would submit this as the Committee Report on Second Reading to be debated, amended and put to a vote at the Senate plenary at the resumption of the regular sessions. At that time, the House will take a final plenary vote on HB 5811.

Support of Senators

This is questionable – the committee chairman announcing his rejection of the bill even before the committee had finished the hearings. Should the approval or rejection not be the committee’s decision after deliberating on the committee report? Can the chairman, on his own discretion, just decide to write a substitute bill? This smacks of arrogance!

The Senate President, the Minority Leader and other vocal senators speaking to the media right after Marcos had delivered his speech supported Marcos’ pronouncements. GMA News (June 4, 2015: Senators support Marcos’ decision to come up with substitute BBL bill), in particular, reported:

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Acting Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III led the senators in supporting the decision of Marcos to junk the Malacañang-crafted Bangsamoro Basic Law proposal and instead submit a substitute bill. This is Marcos’ prerogative as chairman of the local government committee tackling the BBL – virtually saying: Marcos is the Committee.

Drilon: The stand of the Senate has always been to scrutinize and amend the Draft BBL submitted by the Palace. All senators agree on making sure that the BBL is within the four corners of the Constitution. Of the “many common grounds” they have, he bared only three: one, it should pass the constitutional test; two, it should result in peace in Mindanao; and, three, national interest should be served.

Drilon: The statement of Marcos has always been the position of the senators from the very start; it should not cause concern.

Drilon: The crafting of the substitute bill is already a result of the previous hearings conducted by the committees; it will not delay the passage of BBL. In a later media report, he stated that the Senate will pass the bill within a month – implying, in July.

Sotto: In the Senate, committee chairmen have the freedom to decide on bills referred to them. What a revelation he made! In the Senate today, the chairman is the committee. On Marcos and his decision, “That is his prerogative as chairman of the mother committee. That is the way the Senate is run. The committees call the shots.”

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara: “Even the Palace has come to terms with that reality that Congress cannot reasonably be expected to be a rubber stamp. We value the expertise and the work done preparatory to the BBL but both houses of Congress have the proper mandate to tackle the bill. We hope to come up with an improved version.”

He is implying the Palace has accepted the Marcos’ and the Senate’s distorted logic and use of its mandate that to improve Draft BBL junk it and write an entirely new bill in its pace. That’s improving the house by demolishing it and building a new one.

Senator Sergio Osmena III: Marcos made a good move. Of the substitute bill, “Let’s see what the new version will look like.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito completely agreed with Marcos that the BBL, in its present form, has so many loopholes, defects, and violations of the Constitution which can have long-term irreversible repercussions if the bill is rushed.

These positions, the senators repeated in subsequent interviews and statements in major media networks.

What Does He Want?

What is this substitute bill that Marcos wants to replace Draft BBL?

He clinched his speech addressing the Senate President: “I cannot support the BBL in its present form.” One reason for this he stated earlier in that speech: That “the BBL in its present form and substance” will not lead to “peace” but to “perdition”.

What he wants to do is clear: Change the “form and substance of the BBL” presently provided in the draft.

But by various media reports from June 4 through the following two weeks, this is not exactly what he wants to do. Marcos has been incoherent, inconsistent and presumptuous. Let us look into his statements reported in various media through the lens of what he stated in his privileged speech.

“Quite the Contrary”

At his press conference in Davao City last June 14, he said: “I want to disabuse people from the idea that we are throwing the BBL away. Quite the contrary, we are basing everything on the draft BBL.” He explained that he could not predict what “they” (must be his committee) would agree to include from the Draft but said “I am sure large parts of the original BBL (SB 2408) will still be in the substitute bill.” (MindaNews, June 14, 2015: Marcos says “large parts” of original BBL will be in the substitute bill)

This elicits three questions:

First: If he cannot support Draft BBL because in “its present form and substance” it will lead to “perdition”, why is he assuring that “large parts” of it will “be in the substitute bill”? Will the substitute bill not lead to perdition?

Second: Is he writing the substitute bill during this June and July break? But how can he? His committee will still “go down the draft line by line” to decide what to include. Is his committee in session?

Third: He has admitted his committee had not thoroughly studied Draft BBL. How did he come to the conclusion it would lead to perdition?

In Journal on Line (June 12, 2015: Substitute bill won’t junk BBL — Marcos), he said the same – describing as “misplaced” Malacañang’s and MILF’s concerns. He clarified that “a substitute bill does not mean he would totally disregard the draft BBL and write an entirely new proposal, without considering the provisions in the original version.” He would only be doing “numerous changes”, not re-writing “the entire proposal”. And he twitted there is nothing to complain about since there is “no substitute bill to speak of”.

Evasive, Ambiguous

During the same Davao City press conference as reported by MindaNews, he evaded, he was ambiguous, he rationalized. He espoused the same visions and goals set in the Draft as if they were his own.

He was asked: Will his substitute bill address the historical injustices to the Bangsamoro people? Will it be faithful to the Constitution and the peace agreements?

He was evasive: “That’s a big question. There are many, many, many things. I think the … subject of autonomy is no longer an issue. That will remain.” What did he mean? The same question hanged over his statement that he would “focus on … constitutionality, power-sharing, economic provisions and administration”, the same focus of Draft BBL.

Presumptuous Rationalization

Asked what Bangsamoro autonomy he envisions if he “cannot support” that in Draft BBL, he said: “I would say that what we have to do is to do better in terms of the inclusiveness of the process; that we have to talk to everyone who is involved — to other armed groups, not just one so that we will be able to say that if they come on board…. They will be part of the peace process. Only then can we say that we have made some

He ignored what the Government and MILF peace panels had done “in terms of inclusiveness”, then said they had not talked “to everyone” — meaning, the armed groups other than the MILF. He is proposing “to better”. Can he do better?

In his view, from “the principle that the government recognizes the differences between our Muslim Filipinos and other Filipinos, that they have a different culture, they have a different history, they have a different religion, different law … is derived the idea of autonomy”. He pontificated that “as long as we stay true to that …I think that will be an important step to bringing peace;” and that concept of autonomy must be lived for “nothing will happen” to “very good ideas but if we don’t do anything …”

That exactly is at the core of Draft BBL which he cannot accept in its present form and substance. But he is adopting a large part of the Draft. Will he change the “form” and the “substance”? That does not make sense. He assesses a house as rotting. He will have it demolished only to rebuild it with the same rotten materials.

In the Journal on Line (June 12, 2015: Substitute bill won’t junk BBL Marcos), he said having the MILF as the government’s partner is important; he would address its concerns “although it might not be in the way the MILF wants it”. The partnership is imposed, not mutual. Where, too, is the sense?

Amending RA 9054

On the amending of RA 9054, the present ARMM Organic Act, he said he has suggested it together with “other senators and observers”. This would depend on the senators. Just by amending it, RA 9054 will “not create another autonomous region” against what the 1987 Constitution allows “which is what we will be doing if we pass BBL in its present version”. Other media reports carried the same statement.

However, as reported in The Manila Bulletin and both on June 10, 2015, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House AHCBBL (Ad Hoc Committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law), cautioned Marcos against amending RA 9054 as a substitute of (SB 2408), the BBL bill. That will create difficulty in reconciling the Senate and House versions in the Bi-Cameral Conference Committee. HB 5811, the revised version of HB 4994, the original Draft BBL, “is vastly different from the ARMM law”.

Being in the category of a local bill, HB 5811 on being approved will be transmitted by the House to the Senate for concurrence. Whether Marcos’ substitute bill will be an entirely new bill, composed of a large part of Draft BBL, or an amended RA 9054, there are indications the House and Senate BBL bills will be vastly different from each other. This does not augur well for Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.


Only two points are certain: (1) Mr. Marcos cannot accept the BBL bill in its present form and substance. (2) He will write a new bill during the two-month congressional break. The actualities – what Mr. Marcos has done about the substitute bill and what the bill will look like – are in the dark.

Is his committee in session now? If not, he could not have started writing. He said the committee, after going down the Draft line by line will decide what in it to include or exclude. It is also the committee that will decide whether RA 9057 will just be amended as the substitute bill and, by inference, to decide what in the Draft will be used to amend.

Can the bill be ready for the plenary by the end of this month? Just wait and see,

What will the bill look like? Take it from Senator Osmeña: “Let’s see what the new version will look like.”

And, take it, too, from the President. His statement, quoted in The Standard, (June 13, 2015: PNoy open to Marcos’ substitute BBL draft):

“I don’t comment on things that I’ve never seen. He (Marcos) has not shown me anything with regards to this bill. Whatever my comment is on that will be taken to mean bias against him. So I think I should keep my silence for now.

“If he does come up with a better bill, good. And if it’s really a better one, why not support it? But perhaps, he can set the process by showing it so it can be discussed, and then hasten the process of crafting the best bill possible.”

The President said this during a press briefing in Iloilo City last June 10. He urged Marcos to present his alternative bill as soon as possible.

This has been interpreted – correctly or wrongly — as a reversal of a June 4 statement by presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda rejecting “the notion of a substitute bill” and vouching that the BBL, “crafted with due deliberation, can withstand any legal challenge”.

There are many more statements from “Bong-Bong” as he “bangs away” by which to infer what the substitute bill will be like and what it will likely engender. But let’s take it from Senator Osmeña and the President. Let’s wait and see. Three weeks will not be a long time to wait.