TO THE POINT: Halal BBL Assured, Yet Hangs

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 20 April) – Last Monday, April 16, the House joint panel, meeting to deliberate on the proposed amendments to the consolidated version of four proposals on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (House Bill Nos. 92, 6121, 6263 and 6475), shelved the consolidated version and adopted in toto HB 6475 – the BBL Draft 2017 of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, also known as the Duterte-backed BBL.

The same BTC BBL Draft 2017 has already been adopted with some revisions by the Senate Committee on Local Government as SB No. 1717 and considered “generally acceptable” by the MILF Chairman Al Haj Ibrahim Murad. With the adoption by the House joint panel of HB 6475, the BBL acceptable to the Moros (halal BBL) which is to be passed by the 17th Congress is assured, yet the assurance hangs.

Two crucial questions are in the way: First, will SB 1717 and SB 6475 not be watered down or mangled in the plenary? Second, can the Senate and the House win the race against time – they have eight session days remaining if they will meet Monday to Wednesday; fourteen, if they hold sessions until Friday. The Congress resumes its last session May 14 to June 1 then adjourns sine die on June 2. [“Sine die” means “without definite date of resumption”; referring to the Congress, “no more sessions”.]

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According to MindaNews (April 16, 2018), Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st vice chair and concurrent BTC chair, was elated by the development in the House but Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF Peace Implementing Panel, cautioned, “We are relieved and happy, but the way ahead is still very challenging. The fight is not yet won.”

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim considered the “success of the BBL version in the House Committee level is undoubtedly a step forward” but qualified “We are aware that the job is not done yet. We need to work further and be ready for the challenges ahead. We know there will still be many challenges ahead” (MindaNews, April 18, 2018); “…optimistic that both chambers of congress will still abide by the President’s directive earlier this month to expedite the passage of the BBL …” (Inquirer Mindanao, April 19, 2018).

SB No. 1717 is in the plenary for interpellation on May 15 to 21; for amendment on the 22nd and approval on the 23rd. If the Senate will meet Monday to Wednesday only, the interpellation will be for three days. The remaining three days, May 28 to 30, will be for the Bi-Cameral Conference and separate approval of the final measure by the Senate and the House. If they decide to extend their meetings to Friday, the period for interpellation will be for five days; the same for that for the Bi-Cam and final approval, until June 1.

Either way, the time-line is constricted.

Before the Senate went into Lenten recess last March 24, Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao, Sherwin Gathcalian and Vicente Sotto had had interpellation on SB No. 1717 which was sponsored at the plenary on February 28; they said they will continue their interpellation on May 15. Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Panfilo Lacson, Ralph Recto, Pimentel are lined up for more interpellation (MindaNews, April 6, 2018).

On May 22, when amended, will SB 1717 still be CAB-compliant?

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The House will have the same time-line as that of the Senate and it will be in a tighter strait. It is hard to believe that, as Speaker Alvarez has said, only a few House members from the opposition will have amendments contrary to media reports and BBL history.

Voting separately on the Sema omnibus motion, the three committees composing the House Joint Panel voted 2-1 to adopt HB No. 6475 – the Committee on Muslim Affairs, voting 5-3; Special Committee on Peace, Unity and Reconciliation, 6-4 to adopt HB 6475 while the Committee on Local Government, 9-1 to reject. (House Press and Public Affairs Bureau and The Philippine Star, April 17, 2018; MindaNews, April 18, 2018)

Had the Joint Panel voted jointly, the voting would have been 16 for and 12 against on the premise of single committee membership for each member. Otherwise, the ratio can change. MindaNews reported Rep. Celso Lobregat (PDP-Laban, Zamboanga City) as member of Local Government and Peace committees who to reject.

The voting implies there is no assurance that only a few will want to make amendments and the measure will have solid support from the super majority.

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Had the House Joint Panel not changed tract, what should have been submitted to the plenary on May 15 is a bill by another number entitled “An Act Providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and Abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao” (The Manila Bulletin, April 16, 2018) containing 362 amendments to the BBL. We presume the 362 to be “provisions” culled “as amendments” from the four House bills consolidated into what could have been a new proposed bill stated above.

The Joint Panel consolidated HB Nos. 92, 6121, 6263 and 6475 from December 6, 2017 to March 23, 2018 – more than two months, discounting the one month adjournment from December 16, 2017 to January 14, 2018. Lobregat lamented the time, efforts and money for meetings and consultations wasted as the Joint Panel disregarded the consolidated version then opted to submit to the plenary HB No. 6475 without amendments (GMA News, April 17 and MindaNews, April 18, 2018).

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As reported by GMA News and MindaNews, Lobregat is foreseeing that submitting HB No. 6475 to the plenary without amendments will make it more difficult to pass the BBL than submitting the amended consolidated version. He said he – and more perhaps – would still propose amendments at the plenary stating that “there are many objections coming from different sectors including government agencies”.

We would believe Lobregat had he said that the Joint Panel should have deliberated on HB No. 6475 only starting last December 6. To presume that the sponsors of HB Nos. 92, 6121, 6263 and 6475 could be adequately interpellated and the 362 amendments voted upon to finalize the consolidated version from May 15 to 23 is wishing for the moon.

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The 17th Congress has a much shorter timeline than the 16th Congress had to hurdle the same problems standing in the way of the BBL.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, sponsored HB No. 5811, the substitution of the original HB No. 4994 or BTC BBL Draft 2014, on June 1, 2015 (House Press and Public Affairs Bureau, June 1, 2015). That was during the Second Regular Session of the 16th Congress.

By January 21, 2016, three session days after the Third Regular Session of the 16th Congress had resumed following the Christmas break, HB No. 5811 was still under interpellation (GMA News, January 21, 2016). The 16th Congress had its last session day on February 3; it adjourned for the May 2016 elections, without passing HB No. 5811.

On May 15, HB 6475 will be sponsored at the House plenary. Before deliberations could start, the bill has first to be submitted to the House Appropriations Committee. And there are only eight session days left before adjournment sine die.

If the 16th Congress failed to pass HB 5811 in nine calendar months, passing HB No 6475 in eight session days calls for a miracle.

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No miracle will happen. However, a Republic Act entitled Bangsamoro Basic Law can come out of the 17th Congress riding on President Duterte’s strong determination and iron political will.

How will he make this happen?

First, certify BBL as urgent legislative matter.

Second, talk to cum order the members of the Senate and the House to pass SB 1717 and HB 6475 within the 17th Congress – by June 1 without further amendments if the eight-session-day timeline would not allow.

Senator Zubiri withdrew his own bill and adopted the Duterte-backed BTC BBL Draft as SB 1717 after a phone call from the President. HB 6475 was adopted “as is” after the President had sent a letter to speaker Alvarez.

Third, if necessary call a special session to last until the BBL Republic Act is passed. The 17th Congress is until July 22. It is just in adjournment from June 2. There’s ample time for a special session.

President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III failed to do these to save BBL.

Fourth, if the BBL Republic Act is challenged in the Supreme Court, let it be. The government will defend it.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not defend the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.  

Halal BBL Republic Act is assured; yet, it hangs. Will President Duterte pluck it down to be delivered to the Moros?

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patricio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City and later the Mindanao Kris. He is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his ‘commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator, and Peace Advocate.’ You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])