Dec. 17 is target date for passing Bangsamoro Basic Law  

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 Sept) – Calendared for first reading Monday, September 14, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, now known as House Bill 4994, is targeted for passing by December 17 this year so the plebiscite be held “February or March” next year, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who will chair the Special Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro, said.

Rodriguez told MindaNews in a telephone interview Sunday that the 75-member special committee will hold its first organizational meeting on September 16 and its first public hearing on September 24.

He said the Committee secretariat had met on September 11, a day after Malacanang submitted the “urgent” measure to Congress, to discuss the proposed rules and calendar of hearings.

September 11 was also the day the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) or House Bill 4994 sponsored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and 16 others, was stamped received by the House of Representatives.

Rodriguez said the first organizational meeting of the Special Committee to approve the rules and the schedule of hearings will be on Tuesday, September 16.

First hearing

He said hearings of the special committee will be held from 9:30 a.m. to p.m.

He explained that under the House Rules, committees are not supposed to hold hearings when there is a plenary budget hearing, but his committee has been allowed to do so.

For the first hearing on Sept. 24, the Special Committee will call on the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP); the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels; and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the body tasked to draft the BBL, “to brief us on the Basic Law,” he said.

According to the legislative calendar, Congress will go on recess on September 27, will resume sessions on October 20, take a break again on November 1, resume sessions on November 17, go on break on December 20 and resume sessions on January 19, 2015.

“We hope to finish by December 17 so we can have the plebiscite in February or March,” Rodriguez said.

The government and MILF peace panels had earlier agreed that the plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Basic law should be held “within 120 days from the effectivity of this Basic Law.”

He said they will already put in the Bangsamoro Basic Law the P700 million budget for the Commission on Elections.

Day-long hearings, regional weekend hearings

Rodriguez said the day-long hearings will be held Tuesdays to Thursdays in the House of Representatives while Fridays and Saturdays will be spent on public hearings in Mindanao.

The dates have yet to be finalized but Rodriguez said the Committee will hold simultaneous hearings within the region during weekends: in Zamboanga City, Basilan and Sulu; in the cities of Marawi (in Lanao del Sur), in Tubod town in Lanao del Norte, and the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro; in Cotabato City, Maguindanao and North Cotabato; and in the cities of Davao and General Santos.

He said hearings will be conducted in the cities of Zamboanga, Davao, General Santos, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro even if they are not part of the proposed Bangsamoro territory “because we want to hear also the Christian side, the Christian stakeholders, businessmen, leaders in adjacent cites.”

“We want the entire Mindanao to be discussing the Bangsamoro,” he said.

Misuari and Kato

Rodriguez reiterated that the Special Committee will allow Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato, a former commander of the MILF who set up the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in March 2010, to air their views on the proposed BBL.

“We want to hear their side,” said Rodriguez.

Misuari and Kato are facing several criminal charges and are considered fugitives.

But Rodriguez said special arrangements are being undertaken to get them to participate in the hearings and he had spoken to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on the matter.

He said the Special Committee will request the Department of Justice to ask the prosecutors handling the cases of Misuari and Kato to lift the effects of their warrants of arrest for three days, inclusive of travel time, so they can attend the hearings.

He said they will also request the Department of Defense to issue safe conduct passes to Misuari and Kato for the same purpose.

“What if they can’t or won’t attend?” MindaNews asked. Rodriguez replied they can send their representatives.

Neither seen nor heard from

Kato has not been seen or heard from since November 2011 when he suffered a stroke. The usually media-savvy Misuari, who was charged for various criminal offenses for last year’s siege in Zamboanga City, had not been seen or heard from, too, not even during the 20-day standoff between MNLF guerrillas loyal to him and the military in downtown Zamboanga City in September last year.

Misuari was last seen in Zamboanga City during a press conference in his residence there on July 25, 2013 where he warned they may opt to declare an independent republic if Malacañang pushes through with its plan to put a closure on the Tripartite Review on the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. The government had claimed that all the issues attending the Tripartite Review process had been resolved and that it was “the right time to complete the review process.”

Kato told MindaNews in April 2011 that he was not against peace talks but was against a never-ending peace negotiation.

“Hindi kami nangangailangan ng negotiation. Kami kailangan namin ang resulta. Kahit na hindi kami magnegotiate, pero kung makita namin na yun ang hinahangad natin, okay automatic, we will agree. Sang-ayon na kami’ (We do not need negotiations. We need results. Even if we don’t negotiate, but if we see that what we aspire for is addressed, okay, automatic, we will agree).

He said he would not stand in the way of the peace negotiations because “I am not against the peace negotiation pero against ako sa walang hangganan na negotiations.”

Where are the Mindanawon authors?

House Bill 4994 , “An Act providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and abolishing the ARMM…” was stamped “received” by the House of Representatives Bills and Index Division at 11:20 a.m. on September 11.

The copy of HB 4994 posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) showed Speaker Belmonte and 16 others as sponsors.

Curiously, only two of them 17 authors are Mindanawons: Lanao del Sur’s Pangalian Balindong and Davao del Norte’s Antonio Lagdameo, Jr.

Asked why there were only two Mindanawon co-authors, Rodriguez said September 11 was a Thursday and most of the representatives had gone home to the provinces.

Rodriguez said he expects that on its first reading on September 15, HB 4994 will have more co-authors.

At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon told reporters after the submission of the draft BBL to Congress last September 10 that the bill was going to be referred to the Committee on Local Government headed by Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. and the Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation headed by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, a Mindanawon.

Drilon said there is a “wide bipartisan support” for the “urgent” bill.

He said what they will “closely look at is that is should fall within the four corners of the Constitution. The President has assured us that there is no need for constitutional amendments.”

Marcos’ Committee on Local Governments has called on the parties that drafted the BBL to brief them on the proposed law on September 23. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)