Dec. 16 deadline might pass with no BBL passed but Deles says “we’re not giving up”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 Nov) – The December 16 deadline set by the leadership of the House of Representatives and Senate to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will likely pass with no BBL passed as session days are getting fewer and Congress’ attention is now focused on passing the 2016 national budget and the SSL or the Salary Standardization Law.

Beyond December 16, Congress goes on break and will return next year for only eight session days from January 19 to February 5, and go on break again for the elections, from February 6 to May 22. The Aquino administration bows out of office on June 30, 2016.

Most of the seats of the House members are empty as interpellation for House Bill 5811 continued on June 4, 2015. Session was adjourned before 6 p.m. on August 4, supposedly the resumption of the period of interpellation on HB 5811, due to lack of quorum. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano At the House of Representatives, the period of interpellation on the Bangsamoro Basic Law has not resumed as there was no quorum on November 3, 4, 9 and 10 and the representatives tackled the Salary Standardization Law on November 11.   MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

Since sessions resumed on November 3, only one session was devoted to the BBL, with Senator Juan Ponce Enrile interpellating on November 4 and manifesting he would continue in the next sessions while in the House, the period of interpellation, suspended on September 23, has not resumed due to lack of quorum on November 3, 4, 9 and 10, The session on the 11th was spent on SSL.

There will be no session next week due to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. Legislators will return on November 23 with the Senate focusing on the 2016 budget and the House resuming deliberations on the SSL.

“No Plan B”

Asked to comment on the developments in Congress and what options or next steps the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would take given the possibility that the BBL may not be passed by December 16, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, told MindaNews in a text message: “No Plan B. We’re not giving up. On the peace table are miracles waiting to happen.”

But Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the BBL, is not as optimistic. He told MindaNews, “Optimism has been shelved many months ago; only the ember of hope does not die until the last minute. Let the time pass and continue to engage especially the friends of the peace process, both domestic and international.

The passage of the BBL would have paved the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 25-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Its passage would also have allowed for the normalization process to move on as ratification of the BBL would mean decommissioning of 30% of MILF forces and weapons and, among others on the part of government, identification of the priorities for redeployment of the military as well as the “start of deactivation of civilian armed auxiliaries.”

“Not acceptable”

The bills under interpellation – HB 5811 and SB 2894 , both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” – are the substitute bills to the draft BBL that the BTC, the 15-member GPH-MILF body tasked to draft the BBL, submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014, after vetting by the Office of the President.

The MILF has said the substitute bills have changed the autonomy framework and the future Bangsamoro will be less autonomous than the ARMM that it seeks to replace.

Thousands joined in the march towards the House of Representative from the Saint Peter Parish Church to call for the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Batasan Hills, Quezon City, May 11, 2015. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascariñas Thousands join the march towards the House of Representative from the Saint Peter Parish Church in Quezon City to  urge representatives to pass the  Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on May 11, 2015. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascariñas

Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, MILF peace panel member, said “it will give a big push to passage of an acceptable version of the BBL if the President can talk to the members of both houses.”

In both houses, the period of interpellation is not over. After interpellation, the bills will go though a period of amendments as well as a bicameral conference.

An “acceptable version” is expected to comply with both the 1987 Constitution and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, said: “I am not entertaining anymore any BBL (acceptable or otherwise). It is now proper to talk about a post-no BBL scenario.”

Several Moro leaders say it is time for the parties to look at all possibilities, including that strong possibility that there won’t be any BBL under the Aquino administration.

This is important, they said, “so that there can be contingency plans and a mutually agreed alternative or new roadmap and also a transition plan towards the incoming administration.”

Under the GPH-MILF roadmap to peace, the Bangsamoro law should have been passed much earlier and ratified in a plebiscite, to allow for at least a year of transition in preparation for the election, supposedly on May 9, 2016 of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro, the political entity that is supposed to be inaugurated on June 30, 2016

Priority measures

On November 11, the Senate adjourned at 4:51 p.m. with no discussion on the BBL. When it resumes sessions on November 23, it will entertain no other matter but the 2016 budget until it is approved and passed on to the bicameral conference.

Beginning November 23, the House has only a maximum of 11 session days to December 16 but the SSL is likely the priority. In the Senate, there are a maximum of eight days from December 1, assuming that the budget shall have been approved by then, with SSL as priority.

Senate President Franklin Drilon on November 10 told Senate reporters that the SSL is “something we owe to our government workers to have it passed before the year is over.”

He said P50.7 billion has been allocated in the 2016 national budget for the salary increases but this cannot be implemented unless the SSL is passed. He said the bill would be “certified as urgent (by the President) once we have it on the floor.

The BBL is supposed to be a priority measure as well.

As agreed upon under the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in October 2012, the draft BBL that the BTC would submit to Congress is supposed to be certified urgent by the President. The draft BBL was submitted on September 10, 2014 but no certification of urgency has been issued since.

No quorum

Sister Arnold Maria Noel of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and Balay Rehabilitation Center, who has been monitoring the BBL proceedings at the House of Representatives since June said sessions adjourned before 6 p.m. on November 3 and 4 for lack of quorum.

The House has 291 members with 146 members constituting a quorum.

On November 9, she said, “session started at 4 p.m. with only nine legislators. It was suspended at 4:02 p.m., resumed at 5:35 p.m., adjourned at 5:42 p.m. No quorum. BBL was not touched. At the time of adjournment, there were around 40 legislators.”

On November 10, “the session started at 4 p.m., suspended at 4:02 p.m. resumed at 5:09 p.m. followed by a privilege hour till 5:50 p.m. and adjourned at 5:51 p.m.”

Marcos: “we don’t know”

At the Kapihan sa Senado on November 5, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, could not say if the Bangsamoro law would be passed soon.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. says his committee will continue working on the substitute bill to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law but says "BBL is dead" if the Supreme Court voids hte peace agreements. MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government.  MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

“It’s very, very difficult to try and anticipate or try and guess, really it would only be a guess, how long it would take and if it will finish before (the end of) this administration.”

“It’s very hard to say. We don’t know. For example, the budget usually natatapos iyan (is finished) in two weeks. But this is the election budget so kailangan talagang pag-aralan ng mabuti at saka kailangan tingnan ng mabuti (there is a need to examine this thoroughly). So, baka tumagal (it might take) more than two weeks. I do not know how long Senator Enrile’s interpellation will take. I do not know how long Senator Miriam’s will take. I do not know how long the last part of Senator Sotto’s interpellation is going to take and if there are any other Senators that would want to interpellate after that. Tapos iyung period of amendments. Again, if there are major amendments being proposed, kailangan pagdebatihan iyan (these should be debated upon). Again, I do not know how long it will take,” Marcos said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)