QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/03 June) – Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez admitted Tuesday night that the issue on quorum is affecting their June 11 target to approve House Bill 5811, the substitute bill to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
This, as the President Aquino has yet to certify the bill as urgent. “Wala pa” (none yet), Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and principal sponsor of substitute Bill HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region), told MindaNews Tuesday night.
“Problema natin, palaging kine-question ang quorum,” (Our problem is, the quorum is always under question), Rodriguez said. But he remains confident they would pass the law on or before June 11, the last session day before Congress adjourns sine die. The next session is on July 27, with the President delivering his last State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The quorum is 146 out of 290 members of the House. Questions of quorum take precedence over other motions as under House Rules, they cannot transact business without a quorum.
“Maganda na sana, naumpisahan na ng isa ” (It was fine, we’ve already started) until the question on quorum was again raised.
Rodriguez said 33 representatives had signed up to interpellate but Tuesday’s session had only two — Minority Leader, Rep. Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan City and Rep. Rolando Abaya, first district of Camarines Sur interpellating (see other story) until Buhay party-list Rep. and former Manila mayor Lito Atienza rose to question the quorum at 7:17 p.m. But before he could put forward his motion, the presiding chair suspended the session.
The session resumed at 7:44 p.m. with the reading of several bills on third reading and the alleged approval by “nominal voting” with only less than 70 members present but each time the vote count was handed over to then presiding chair, Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad, she would announce “with 197 voting in the affirmative and none in the negative,” the measure is approved.
The session on BBL resumed at 8:25 p.m. with Andaya finishing his interpellation at 8:40 p.m. Atienza rose to speak but the presiding chair suspended the session, returned to the session hall at 8:58 p.m. with Atienza waiting by the rostrum. But before Atienza could speak, Abad quickly announced the suspension of the session until 4 p.m. Wednesday.
On Monday, 193 were reported “present” during the roll call that started at 4:53 p.m. On Tuesday, 197 were reported “present” during the roll call that started at 4:55 p.m.
On those two days, the quorum bell had to be sounded to muster a quorum in the session hall. And on both days, the sessions ended because Atienza on Monday rose to question the quorum with less than 50 members present and threatened to question it again on Tuesday. Monday’s session ended at 7:22 p.m. while Tuesday’s session ended at 8:58 p.m.
At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon had repeatedly said since Saturday that their new timetable is now October.
Asked if they would go for the same timetable, Rodriguez said “No.”
“This should be finished . this should already be finished,, by June 11. Kasi we’re ready naman to defend it.”
Late Tuesday night, representatives were sent text messages from the office of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, that “the House will hold sessions on Thursday and Friday this week” starting at 4 p.m.
Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro which the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on October 15, 2012, the draft BBL submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition commission “shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.”
The draft BBL was submitted to Congress in ceremonial rites in Malacanang on September 10, 2014, where Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles and BTC chair Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF peace panel chair, handed over a copy each to Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.
In his 10-minute speech after the handover, President Aquino assured that the draft BBL was crafted to be “makatwiran, makatarungan, at katanggap-tanggap sa lahat, Moro man, Lumad, o Kristiyano” (fair, just, and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumads, or Christians).
He urged Congress to examine the draft bill, which he certified as “urgent” and asked that it be passed “sa lalong madaling panahon” (as soon as possible).
But no written certification was sent to Congress, prompting MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to seek an audience with the President on January 13 this year.
At that time, leaders of the Senate and the House were targeting March 20, the last session day before their summer break, within which to pass the BBL.
Congress was not able to meet its target as it became busy with hearings on the January 25, 2015 tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
No certification of urgency
But lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo of the Bangsamoro Study Group, said President Aquino may not certify the bill as urgent because “the Ad Hoc- approved basic law is diluted and not acceptable to the MILF.”
He said the President will be facing a dilemma if he certifies urgent the substitute bill. “He will just be expediting the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is diluted,” said Sinarimbo, who served as Executive Secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) from December 2009 to December 2011 and also served as a member of the technical working group of the MILF peace panel.
He said the FAB envisioned a certificate of urgency for the draft BBL that was submitted to Congress in September last year.
He added that if the President certifies as urgent the Ad Hoc Committee’s substitute bill, “you will not have the chance to reintroduce deleted provisions or reframe some of the provisions not acceptable to the party that negotiated the peace agreement with government.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)