Only 18 session days left for BBL before Congress starts plenary debates on budget

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 August) – As it is holding only three session days per week, Congress has only 18 session days left from August 17 for the interpellation, period of amendments, voting and bicameral conference on the substitute bills on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) — HB 5811 in the House of Representatives and SB 2894 in the Senate – before the plenary debates on the budget begins on September 28.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL told the Metro Manila-based radio station DZBB Sunday morning that he hopes his colleagues would be present on August 17 “until we finish this bill for the second and third reading in the middle of September” because according to the calendar of the Committee on Rules, the 2016 budget will be debated in the plenary by September 28.

“There will be no more debates (on) BBL, so therefore the real deadline (for the passage of the BBL) is on or before Sept. 28. Dapat tapos na sa (this should be finished in the) House,” Rodriguez said.

MindaNews counted only 18 session days from Mondays to Wednesdays between August 17 and September 23, a Wednesday.

Congress goes on recess from October 10 to November 2.

Within the recess is the filing of certificates of candidacy on October 12 to 16, by those who are running for elective posts in the synchronized elections of May 9, 2016.

If no BBL is passed before Congress goes on recess, elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the regional body that would be abolished once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority takes over after the ratification of the BBL, will proceed as scheduled in 2016.

At the Senate, the period of interpellation is scheduled to begin on August 17.

Both substitute bills — in the House and the Senate – are being criticized for paving the way for a Bangsamoro that will be “less than the ARMM that it seeks to replace.”

At the House of Representatives, the period of interpellation for HB 5811 started on June 2 and was suspended on June 10 when Congress adjourned sine die. By then only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up, had finished their interpellation.

Interpellation was supposed to resume on August 4 but there was no quorum on August 4, 5, 10 and 11.

Quorum problems

On August 12, only two representatives managed to complete their interpellation: Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap and Coop-Natco party list Rep. Crescente Paez. Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon started his interpellation and will continue when sessions resume, if a quorum is mustered.

Rodriguez admitted in the DZBB interview that quorum is a problem and urged the Speaker and the Majority leader “to appeal to all the congressmen to at least come to have a quorum and stay until the deliberations are finished.”

He said the he believes that through the Speaker’s leadership, “marami ang mag-attend at saka through his appeal ay mag stay after the roll call and be able to finish.”

He told DZBB Sunday morning that only 17 representatives are left out of the remaining 30 who had signed up to interpellate.

“There’s only 17 left. That is not a big number anymore. Some of them also, I have heard, in view of our amendment that we have proposed in the substitute bill and the declaration by our leadership that the opt-in provision will be removed…I think some of those who are listed there will not anymore interpellate.”

Rodriguez told MindaNews Sunday evening that there are “only 16 representatives left to interpellate,” as some of those who signed had backed out. He said the 16 includes Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat and Biazon, who have yet to complete their interpellations.

But Rodriguez maintained in the DZBB interview that that if there is a quorum only during the roll call but the representatives do not remain in the plenary hall, “mahihirapan” (it will be difficult).

“At the rate we are going, mahihirapan talaga”(it will really be difficult), adding that “it is of primary importance now that there should be a quorum and the quorum stays probably until 10pm. Or from 5 to 8 p.m. we have three hours. Then we will be able to finish at least three to four (interpellations). At the rate we are going, hirap talaga tayo dyan” (it’s really very difficult), Rodriguez said.

He appealed to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and to his colleagues to “be present.”

“After all, if they are against it, in the voting they can vote against it,” he said.

He said the Speaker can talk to each party which is part of the coalition in the house, and appeal to the party leaders “so that they will be able to have the members attend and have the quorum stay on and we can have more interpellators.”

Rodriguez also appealed to those who are against HB 5811 to allow a debate on the measure because the bill’s sponsors are ready to answer questions. “To delay it to prevent voting will not be good for our Congress and the people in Mindanao,” he said

“Really frustrated”

He admitted he is “really frustrated that many of our members do not see that our first duty is to come especially during plenary. They may not be present in the committee hearings, it is their prerogative. But in the plenary, especially now that we are discussing one of the important measures that will bring peace to Mindanao… I really appeal that they should be able to be there.”

Rodriguez admitted there are “hard core” representatives who do not want the BBL deliberations to move, who want its passage delayed or not be voted upon. “But the majority of the members of Congress, I think, are in favor of this,” he said.

But Rodriguez acknowledged that it is now “almost the start of the political season” with the filing of certificates of candidacy for all elective positions scheduled on October 12 to 16.

“Right now, the congressmen are back in their districts, organizing already for their parties and their slates for the 2016 elections. But that should not mean that they will not be able to come (to the sessions). After all, they can also do that (election preparations) from Thursday up to Sunday. Our session is only Monday to Wednesday.”

At the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government delivered his sponsorship speech on SB 2894 on Wednesday. Marcos said the substitute bill addresses the constitutional flaws of BBL, protects the country’s interest and sovereignty, and promotes the interest and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

Marcos said he expects a lively debate on SB 2894.

“In a measure as contentious as this one, you can expect many of the other senators to propose amendments that we can introduce to further refine the provisions of the bill,” Marcos was quoted as saying in a press release posted on the Senate website.

Senate Committee report

Seventeen senators signed his committee report, but many expressed their intention to interpellate and introduce their own amendments to the measure.

Aside from Marcos, the 16 others who signed and their comments are: Senators Teofisto Guingona, chair of the Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation (“will amend”); Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. (“will interpellate/amend”); Antonio Trillanes (will interpellate/amend”); Pia Cayetano (“with reservations; will interpellate/amend”); Paolo Benigno Aquino IV (“will amend”); Loren Legarda (“with reservations. amendments, will interpellate”); Sonny Angara (“may amend/interepellate”); Cynthia Villar (“I agreed to allow this bill to go to Plenary. This is not a yes to the BBL”); Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay (“with reservations, will amend and interpellate”); Grace Poe (“will amend and interpellate”); Gregorio B. Honasan II (“w/ reservations”): Joseph Victor G. Ejercito (“with reservations; will amend and integrate”); Ralph Recto (“will amend”); Vicente Sotto III (“with reservations and amendments! agreeing to the Title! BAR Law”); Alan Peter Cayetano (“I vote No. Yes to strengthening the Autonmous Region that will result in a Just, inclusive, lasting Peace. To BBL in present form, No! This version has addressed many [majority of objected provisions/issues. But many more have to be addressed/amended”). Senator Manuel Lapid signed with no notation.

Marcos expects the debates to take about six weeks but Senate President Franklin Drilon, he said, “will have to assess how the deliberations are proceeding so he can decide if we need to speed things up–if we need to have morning sessions, things like that.”

He noted that there are other priority measures up for deliberation, including the proposed 2016 budget.

Marcos also said it is hard to predict how the bicameral conference committee proceedings would go after the Senate and the House of Representatives approve their own versions of the measure, hence he is not sure if it can be enacted before the term of the current administration ends.

The Aquino administration bows out of office on June 30, 2016, supposedly the inauguration of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM, according to the government and MILF’s peace roadmap.

The draft BBl was submitted to Congress by the GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang on September 10, 2014. It because HB 4994 in the House and SB 2408 in the Senate.

According to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed by the government nad MILF peace panels on October 15, 2012, the draft BBL submitted by the BTC “shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.”

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has yet to certify the bill as “urgent.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)