Marcos: Senate “might still manage” to pass Bangsamoro law by Dec. 16

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 November) – Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is confident the Senate “might still manage” to pass the Bangsamoro law by December 16 this year but it will not be the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) or something close to it but the Senate’s substitute bill, SB 2984 or the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

“The draft na binigay sa amin na tinatawag na BBL ay walang pag-asa nang pumasa sa House of Representatives o sa Senado” (There is no hope for the draft that was submitted to us and referred to as BBL, to pass), Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government told reporters at the conference room of the Sarangani provincial capitol in Alabel town, Friday.

He said the draft was not disregarded but they made their versions which both Houses refer to as BLBAR.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, discusses his platform of government before barangay officials and students at the provincial gym in Alabel, Sarangani on Friday, November 27, 2015. MIndaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, discusses his platform of government before barangay officials and students at the provincial gym in Alabel, Sarangani on Friday, November 27, 2015. MIndaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

The Senate and House leadership last month targeted December 16 as the deadline for passing the Bangsamoro law. Since Congress resumed sessions on November 3, the House has yet to resume its interpellations on HB 5811, its substitute bill to the BBL which it also refers to as BLBAR. In the Senate, only one senator has interpellated since November 3, with a manifestation to continue in the next round.

Getting the major provisions of the original draft BBL back into the substitute bills may be done in the period of amendments that will follow the period of interpellations or in the bicameral conference but a bicameral conference can only be done if both houses pass their respective bills.

But there are only eight session days left from December 1 to December 16

Lawyer Antonio Lavina, Dean of the Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government, and a member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the last months of the Arroyo administration, said, “I am skeptical that a good BBL can be passed” by then.

He acknowledged that “the Marcos bill can breeze through with a few cosmetic changes but do we really want that?”

“No time to lose”

In an open letter to Congress dated November 26, government (GPH) peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and the GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the BBL, urged members of both houses, particularly Senate President Franklin Drilon, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Marcos and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, “to see through the legislative process leading to the passage of the law.”

“We ask you, our legislators, to open your hearts and to give our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters this one good chance to enjoy the right to peace, and partake of meaningful reforms and development,” the peace panel chairs said.

“Time is short, but there is still time,” they said.

In response to the peace panel chairs, Marcos said, “we are doing it as quickly as we can. In the Senate. I think, I really believe that we will be able to pass the version. I cannot speak for my colleagues in the House.”

On the major provisions taken out of the original draft that the GPH and MILF peace panels hope Congress would put back into their versions, Marcos said, “I am sure they will make their suggestions known to us but that discussion will be between legislators. I think we’ve given sufficient opportunity to the government panel, to the MILF panel to say their piece over the many, many hearings that we’ve conducted in the House and we’ve conducted in the Senate. So now it’s time, kung sinasabi nila yung version ninyo kulang ito dagdagan natin yan or tanggalin ito siempre pakikinggan namin (if they’re saying your version lacks this or we should add this or remove this, of course we will listen to them) but we still have to stay close to the version that we will have passed both in the Senate and in the House.”

A mere LGU?

In August, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said that while the substitute bills in both houses of Congress envision a future Bangsamoro that is “less than the ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim) that it seeks to replace, the Senate version, “clearly violated the peace agreement” because it will reduce the future Bangsamoro into the level of a province.

“We see that there are so many violations of the peace agreement. It clearly violated the peace agreement… more than the House version because one thing is, basically, it is not an autonomy at all. It is a local government unit similar to the province so there is no autonomy,” he said.

Marcos, however, denied the Senate version is reducing the future Bangsamoro into a mere LGU.

“Oh no, My God, No! My God! Basahin nyong mabuti (Read it carefully),” Marcos said on Friday, an hour before proceeding to the provincial gym where he spoke about his platform of government.

Marcos and four other senators – Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Greogrio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes – are running for Vice President.

“There are many powers that are granted to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region that are not given to the local governments. There are many, many, many, many functions and powers that are given to the Bangsamoro government that the local governments do not have.”

“It’s still technically a local government but it is completely different from all other local governments. Kaya nagagamit yung salita na asymmetric. Di sila pareho sa ibang local governments (That’s why the use of ‘asymmetric.’ They’re not the same as local governments),” Marcos said.

After the budget

Marcos said the Senate has approved the 2016 national budget so when sessions resume on Tuesday (Monday is a holiday), they will resume deliberations on BLBAR.

He said they expect fewer questions during the interpellation as “we are trying to consolidate the questions” to avoid repetition.

Since sessions resumed on November 3, only Senator Juan Ponce Enrile had managed to interpellate. Marcos said Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago had expressed intent to interpellate and Senator Vicente Sotto may still have questions as he gave up his time for Enrile.

“Pero palagay ko sandali na lang yun” (but I think it won’t take long), adding Enrile said he could condense his interpellation into

Asked if they can meet the December 16 deadline, Marcos replied: “I don’t know about December 16. … I think we might still manage.”

“I hope so. At least in the Senate (there is hope),” he said, adding he does not know the situation in the House. “Iba yung kanilang mga agenda” (They have a different agenda).

Congress goes on recess from December 19 to January 18. It resumes sessions between January 19 and February 5 for a total of eight session days.

“Baka pagbalik pwede pa naman eh, after the election,” he said. Congress resumes sessions from May 23 to June 10, for a total of nine session days.

Congress, however, will be busy by then with their role in canvassing the votes and proclaiming the newly-elected President and Vice President. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)