Minda da News: All Words, No Actions

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, August 18, 2015 – Without leadership in action, the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill –even with its substitute name “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region Basic Law” – will not be passed by the present Congress until sine die in June 2016. That is how it looks now; unless the Congress leaders can mount a surprise, a sort of a miracle, with their last-minute decisive action that is what it will be

The President has long been saying he is resolute in having the BBL (not BARBL) passed in time for the establishment of the Bangsamoro before he steps down on June 30, 2016. Why did he not stop the Congress from substituting BBL with BARBL, the BM with BAR? Without leadership in action, he will have no BM nor BAR to inaugurate by June 30, 2016.

The Senate President, the House Speaker and the Chair of the House Ad Hoc Committee on BBL were elated by the President’s mention in his last July 27 State of the Nation Address of the BBL as among the “most important” of the legislations he wanted to be passed. By that endorsement, a sort of urgent certification they had long awaited, they foresaw the easy and speedy sailing of the BBL through the Congress – at the latest, by mid-September.

AHCBBL Chair Rufus Rodriguez airily told media, “We will hit the ground running” – meaning, once the House resumed the plenary debates on HB 5811. If ever they had hit the ground, they were not even crawling. Without quorums on August 4 and the five other session days after that, there were no interpellations. In the latest media reports, Rodriguez was pleading — House Speaker was hoping – for a quorum today, August 17, and in all session days until the Congress on recess on October 10 until November 2.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. could only express his frustrations. He said he would appeal to the leaders of the different blocs in the House. Such is the leadership in the House – the Speaker cannot have a quorum. Such are the House representatives – they are not interested in plenary sessions. The Liberal Party led House coalition has the number to pass the BBL. Yet, there has been no quorum! What leadership crisis from the President down to the House leaders!

The same leadership crisis is plaguing the Senate. All words, no action! That’s what Senate President Franklin Drilon’s leadership is. The fate of SB 2498, the Senate version of Draft BBL, is entirely in the hands of Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments. There is no time set to finish the debates and the amendments. Marcos said the bill may be passed by the 17th Congress under the administration of the next President.

Time that had hounded the peace process under President Aquino III since a year after he resumed the negotiation is now threatening to scuttle the BBL. To use a metaphor, the BBL will be stillborn; or, if born live, it will be deformed, most probably be unwanted. The latest reports are disheartening.

MindaNews’ Editor-in-Chief Carolyn O. Arguillas reported, August 16, 2015: Only 18 session days left for BBL before Congress starts plenary debates on budget:

Item: The Congress begins plenary debates on the 2016 budget on September 28. That leaves the Congress, holding only three session days per week, only 18 session days from August 17 to September 23 to make ready the BBL for the President to sign. Within that period, the interpellations, the amendments and the voting on HB 5811 and SB 2894 must be finished including the consolidation of bills at the bicameral conference and the separate approval by the House and the Senate of the consolidated Act.

Rodriguez’s last straw: “The real deadline is on or before September 28.” Does his last straw bind Marcos and the Senate?

Item: October 12 to 16 is the filing of certificates of candidacy by those who are running for elective posts in the synchronized elections of May 9, 2016. If no BBL is passed before Congress goes on recess on October 10, elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will proceed as scheduled in 2016.

If a BBL Act is signed by October 10, what will happen? The Act cannot be submitted to a plebiscite before 90 days after the signing. Will there be a plebiscite within the national election period? Can the plebiscite be synchronized with the May election months after the 120-day constitutional limit from the signing? There is no assurance of ratification. But what if it is ratified? What a quandary!

Item: At the Senate, the period of interpellation on SB 2894 is scheduled to begin on August 17. “In a measure as contentious as this one, you can expect many of the other senators to propose amendments that we can introduce to further refine the provisions of the bill,” Marcos said in a press release posted on the Senate website. Seventeen senators signed his committee report, but many expressed their intention to interpellate him and introduce their own amendments to SB 2894.

Marcos expects the debates to take about six weeks – to the end of September — unless Drilon can speed up the proceedings considering other priority measures up for deliberation, including the proposed 2016 budget. Obviously, Marcos foresees difficulty in reconciling SB 2498 and HB 5811 at the bicameral conference that he is not sure if it can be enacted before the term of the current administration ends.

Philippine Daily Inquirer’s DJ Yap reported, August 17, 2015: Quorum lack on BBL bill bothers Belmonte:

Item: Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Sunday admitted his concern for low attendance at the plenary sessions that has been hampering the passage of HB 5811. Yet, he is optimistic the House will be able to pass the draft BBL before the end of September after which Congress leaders will give priority the 2016 national budget.

Item: Last Saturday, Rodriguez acknowledged their difficulty in both the House and the Senate. “There are a lot of balancing acts to be done to ensure that the [proposed BBL] remains true both to the genuine aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination and the 1987 Philippine Constitution.”

He noted the significant differences of t“The HB 5811 and SB 2894. The Senate’s removed the preamble from its versions and deleted the P17-billion Special Development Fund for speeding up infrastructure development in the Bangsamoro during its first five years.

He also cited “early reviews of the Senate version” showing SB 2498 seemed to have a “weakened Bangsamoro parliamentary system of government.” However, he is sure this and other differences could be ironed out on the conference committee.

Marcos alluded to these in the MindaNews report above.

The Philippine Star’s Paolo Romero with Cristina Mendez reported, August 17, 2015: House won’t restore BBL:

Item: AHCBBL Chair Rodriguez and other leaders of the House, together with the vice chairmen of the ad hoc committee and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, met last week with BTC Chair and Chief MILF Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. They rejected the request of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to restore in HB 5811 at least 28 provisions that have been deleted from HB 4994, the original Draft BBL.

They explained to Iqbal and his group “over and over again during our meeting” the importance and necessity of deleting or amending the provisions — to make the bill constitutionally compliant. If these provisions are restored, they believe, the BBL may not be able to pass the Supreme Court’s constitutional scrutiny.

Item: Rodriguez warned that restoring the deleted or amended provisions could erode support for the BBL in the chamber as many lawmakers, who had been strongly opposing the measure, have agreed to back the bill because of the changes. The BBL is the subject of a trade-off,

Item: He said they impressed upon Iqbal and the other BTC members that they wanted to pass a BBL acceptable not only to the House and the Senate but also to the SC. [Most important is: Will it be acceptable to the Moros? – ppd]

He said, “I hope that the MILF will see that what we have done is for the best interest of the Bangsamoro and also for Congress.” [Rodriguez and his ilk do not see the paradox: Is it for the best interest of the Moros when their many interests have been watered down, diluted and deleted? – ppd]

Rappler.com reported, August 16, 2015: Marcos appeals for trust after criticism of new Bangsamoro bill

Item: Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appealed for flexibility and trust in the parliamentary process in crafting the Bangsamoro bill, after chief negotiators from both government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) voiced concerns of him watering down the original draft. “I hope they wouldn’t be too rigid as to stick only with the original [draft bill]. They will not accept anything but the original. If that is the case, we cannot do anything” a take it or leave response.

Item: I’m sorry to hear Chairman Iqbal to be so inflexible, and they are only looking at the original [draft bill])… What if it was unconstitutional?

Iqbal reportedly lamented the absence of the preamble in Marcos’ substitute bill, calling the bill without a “soul” over a radio interview. [Is the preamble of SB 2408 (original Draft BBL) in violation of the 1987 Constitution, or any other Constitution, starting with Malolos? An examination of SB 2498 would show that majority of the deletions and amendments has nothing to do with constitutionality. – ppd]

Item: MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal had warned against a diluted Bangsamoro bill and challenged legislators to honor the comprehensive agreement the government and the MILF signed last year. [He and MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim originally posted this warning in Luwaran.com, their official website. They will reject a diluted BBL. I know very well the MILF; they mean their warning — ppd]

Item: In an ABS-CBNnews.com report, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer also said Marcos’ bill grants less power to the Bangsamoro chief minister than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor. This would “amount to a diminution of the autonomous powers when the intent is to allow for more meaningful autonomy,” she was quoted as saying. [Where is the unconstitutionality? – ppd]

To Recapitulate: In words, the leaders and members of the Congress are for justice for the Moros, for peace in Mindanao. But in their actions seen in the BBL, they are unjust to the Moros, they really don’t care for peace in Mindanao. To emphasize truth, my ustadz columnist in The Mindanao Cross in the 1980s used to say, “I hope I am wrong.” Allow me to say the same.

(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.)