MIND DA NEWS: Tomorrow Never Ends

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 24 Sept) – Tomorrow never ends. So it seems do deadlines. The Congress has set December 16 as the new deadline for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (The Philippine Star, September 24, 2015: House, Senate set Dec. 16 BBL deadline). But the bill “continues to face opposition in and out of Congress due to its numerous questionable provisions”. Will this be the last of the many deadlines?

The Congress has just suspended the long-ongoing plenary sessions on the BBL to give way to the deliberations of the 2016 budget. Until the budget is passed on November 30 as scheduled no other matter will be taken up in the Congress.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the 75-member Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, said: “On Nov. 3, we’ll hit the ground running because the budget will be on its way to the Senate, and we can resume deliberations on the BBL and finish it, including the period of amendments until Nov. 30.”

He said the same when President Aquino mentioned the BBL as an urgent legislation in his State of the Nation Address last July 27. Apparently, they broke their legs on hitting the ground when they resumed the interpellations last August 4; they hardly crawled. Will this not happen again after November 30?

What was the score when the Congress suspended deliberations on the BBL?

  • The House set the December 16 deadline following the meeting of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and the President in Malacañang last week. As reported, the President “pleaded to have the BBL passed before he steps down from office”.
  • According to Rodriguez the House still has 13 interpellators listed while the Senate has four. The Senate may pass its BBL bill ahead of the House.
  • BBL deliberations in the House have been sluggish due to a lack of quorum and support for the bill, although its proponents remain confident that it can be revived once the controversial provisions are clarified.

This statement from Rodriguez and other House leaders repeated a countless time has become monotonous. Will this change dramatically?

But the expectations premised on apparently dubious assumptions or presumptions are less than reassuring:
Rodriguez said that following the new timeline the BBL might be passed and ratified by Congress on or about December 16 and signed into law by Aquino before the end of the year. His use of “might” referring to the passage means “grim possibility”.

And, rightly so. In his “hitting the ground running” statement above, he intimated that the House would pass the budget by November 30 and transmit it to the Senate for concurrence. There are only eight session days from December 1 to 16 for the Senate to concur the House budget bill, for the two chambers to reconcile their versions at the Bicameral Conference and for the two Houses to separately pass the Bicam-approved budget bill. The House cannot have the eight session days entirely for HB 5811.

To pass HB 5811, the interpellations have to be finished – with 13 interpellators on deck. Final voting will be done only after the period of amendments that follows the period of interpellations. Can this be done within whatever is available of the eight session days – considering also the continued “lack of quorum and support for the bill”?

Even if the House passes HB 5811 by December 16, a Wednesday, the Congress adjourns for the Christmas break on the Friday following, the 18th. The Congress resumes session on January 19, 2016. That will be the time the House can transmit HB 5811 to the Senate for concurrence.

Granting that the Senate has already passed SB 2894, there will be only eight session days until adjournment on February 5 for the Senate to concur HV 5811, for the two Houses to reconcile their versions in the Bicam and separately pass the Bicam-approved BBL. Can this be done in eight session days?

What happens if the Senate still has to pass SB 2894? Don’t ignore the “IF” as a remote likelihood. It may be the inevitable just waiting for the December 16 to come to proclaim that no BBL will happen.

After adjournment on February 6, 2016, the Congress meets in what may be seen as a farewell and ministerial session on May 23 – not for legislation but for the canvassing of the returns of the presidential election, to proclaim the new president and vice president, to adjourn sine die on June 11, 2016.

The Star further reports that Rodriguez, without considering that the BBL once passed may be questioned at the Supreme Court, foresees the signing of the BBL by the end of December, the holding of the plebiscite by March 2016, the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority before the ratification of the BBL and the postponement of the election of the Bangsamoro Parliament to May 2019. Interesting! But forget them. They make sense only after December 16 if the BBL is passed.

Tomorrow never ends. So does the extension of deadlines. Will it be a surprise if, comes December 16, the deadline to pass the BBL will be extended to another time.

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