“We will make Bangsamoro Basic Law our priority” – Alvarez

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 March) —  The House of Representatives will give priority to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) once the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submits it to Congress, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said.

Alvarez told MindaNews late Sunday afternoon that as soon as the draft is submitted to them, “we are going to schedule (it) for successive committee hearings. We will make it our priority,” he said.

The Speaker, a Mindanawon representing the 1st district of Davao del Norte, is confident the bill will be passed immediately if Duterte certifies the bill as urgent. “Conservatively, sa House, give me a month or two” to pass it, he said.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government (GPH)  and the Moro Islamic Liberation Font (MILF) on March 27, 2014,  provides that the draft BBL submitted by the BTC “shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.”

Then President Benigno Aquino III did not certify the draft BBL as urgent. The draft was submitted to Congress on September 10, 2014. Congress adjourned in early February 2016 without passing the law.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. discusses the Bangsamoro Peace Pocess in an interview with MindaNews at the Park Inn Radisson in Davao City, late Sunday afternoon, 26 March 2017. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Alvarez explained there will still be committee hearings on the draft law but it will be “marathon,” for as long as it is not during the break and not during budget deliberations because “talagang naka-focus halos kami lahat diyan because .. we take care of our districts.”

Duterte recently said he would study the draft as soon as it is submitted to him and hopes it “would sail on still waters” in Congress.

The Speaker said he does not foresee major obstacles in passing the Bangsamoro law.

“If there are no objectionable provisions, I think there will be no problem and the fact that the President wants this bill as a model for federal states later on when we …  change (the) form of government from unitary to a federal system… it will become a model of all states — I think that would be easier to pass,” Alvarez added Several Moro leaders are pushing for the passage of the Bangsamoro law first before the shift to federalism.

“I have no problem with that,” Alvarez said, “as long as there is no conflict with the Constitution, we can do it. Otherwise if there are some objectionable provisions we have to address it in a constitutional assembly, yung ConAss.”

Before convening as a ConAss, however, Congress has to wait for the recommendations from the 25-member Consultative Committee (ConCom) that President Duterte is creating to “study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, including but not limited to, the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance, and economic policies.”

Duterte issued EO 10 creating the ConCom on December 7 but has yet to name members of the committee.

The 21 members of the BTC, the body tasked to draft the BBL, were named three months after the President signed the EO reconstituting it from a 15-member to 21-member Commission.

Alvarez said they are still waiting for the President to name the ConCom members. He said the last time they talked, the President was “waiting for the draft of the BBL before he will appoint the supposed commissioners.”

He said he does not know why the President wants to wait for the draft BBL first “because we can also do it separately” and :we do not have the luxury of time here.”

Alvarez explained that they should start at “the soonest possible time” because their original target was to submit the proposed  new Constitution for ratification during the mid-term elections in May 2019, to save on the expenses.

But Alvarez concedes they may not be able to meet the target by then.

“I don’t know if the President will appoint the commissioners and the commissioners will be fast enough to finish the draft and submit it to Congress so we can constitute ourselves into a Constituent Assembly,” he said.

The ConCom, according to the EO, has six months to finish its task.

“Kung six months yan, baka magipit ng konti, baka hindi umabot sa midterm elections but definitely before the President steps down from office in 2022, siguro baka hindi man umabot sa 2019 yan. Maybe we can do it 2020. Adjust lang tayo ng one year,” he said.

But Alvarez said he is confident there would be a Bangamoro law by 2018 or 2019.

He said the “super majority” can be relied upon to pass the BBL.

Asked if he expects the voting to be something like the death penalty vote, Alvarez replied: “Hmmm … with a huge majority? I can guarantee.”

A total of 217 representatives voted for the death penalty bill, 54 voted against and one abstained.

Alvarez said the Bangsamoro law will be among his legislative legacies.

“Definitely,” he said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)