House Committee to take up Bangsamoro Basic Law on April 6 to 16  

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 March) – The House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL) will meet on April 6 to 16 to finish deliberations on the BBL, so that plenary debates can begin when Congress resumes sessions on May 4 to June 11, Committee Chair Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez told MindaNews that he has not dropped the three conditions they set before deliberating on the BBL. Last week he said he was afraid the BBL would lose if put to a vote now, hence the three conditions: for the MILF to surrender its men involved in the January 25 clashes that killed 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF); for the MILF to surrender Abdul Basit Usman, a Filipino who is allegedly an expert in bomb-making with links to the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, with a one million US dollar bounty, who reportedly survived the SAF operations; and for the MILF to turn over the firearms taken from the slain SAF personnel.

Rodriguez said scheduling the hearings on April 6 to 16 does not mean the three conditions he had imposed had been met.

“We hope there will be progress on my three requests before April 6,” Rodriguez told MindaNews in a text message Tuesday afternoon. What he repeatedly referred to as “conditions” a week ago he now refers to as “requests.”

A total of 67 persons – 44 from SAF, 18 from the MILF and five civilians – were killed on January 25 in the SAF operations that were not coordinated with the provincial and regional police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the ceasefire mechanisms of the government (GPH) and MILF.

The other casualty in the Mamasapano Tragedy, however, was the peace process between government and the MILF which last year signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) after 17 years of negotiations.

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) drafted by the GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission and submitted to Congress on September 14, 2014 in ceremonies held in Malacanang, were subject of deliberations in the two houses of Congress until Mamasapano happened.

Leaders of the two houses of Congress recently announced that the BBL will be passed by June 11 this year.

Congress goes on recess on March 20, will resume sessions from May 4 to June 11 and return for President Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address on July 27.

Earlier, Reyes said the 75-member AHCBBL will resume deliberations on the proposed law that would set up the Bangsamoro political entity only after the Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry (BOI) has submitted its findings and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has responded to its three conditions.

The BOI was supposed to release its findings on Monday, March 9, but asked for a three-day extension.

The Senate Committee on Local Governments chaired by Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., was supposed to have held a public hearings in Jolo, Sulu on February 4 and Zamboanga City on February 5 but a day after Mamasapano, Marcos immediately cancelled the public hearings.

Marcos said he will resume the hearings on BBL after the submission of findings by the BOI, the MILF Special Investigative Commission and the Senate Committee on Public Order and Safety.

Rodriguez also said last week that the MILF can surrender its men involved in Mamasapano after the Department of Justice (DOJ) completes its report and names the MILF members there. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has given the probe team up to April 2.

Before the tragedy in Mamasapano happened, the Committee had targeted February 9 and 10 to finalize its draft law and February 11 as the date for the “approval of the clean draft.” Plenary debates were also scheduled for February 16 to 18 and 23 to 24 and the House was expected to pass the BBL before it goes on break on March 20.

On the surrender of MILF fighters, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews that “the ceasefire agreement we signed with government in 1997 provides that violations of the ceasefire agreement should be punished by the party where the violator belongs,” that before the conditions were issued, “on our volition, we returned the 16 firearms.”

Iqbal had repeatedly said they would cooperate through the mechanisms of the AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group with the government) to help find Basit Usman. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)