BTC sets up committees to begin crafting draft BBL

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 05 April 2017) — The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC)  has set up six committees to begin crafting the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that they hope to finish, this time with an even earlier target date: May 15, not May 18.

The 21-member Commission in its April 3 to 5 session at the EM Manor hotel here approved its internal rules and adopted as its “working document,” the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted to Congress by the previous BTC in September 2014.

Ghazali Jaafar, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission prepares to resume session after a recess Wednesday, April 5, 2017. The BTC this week setup its six committees to begin crafting the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

On Wednesday, the Committees were assigned the articles and sections in the “working document” to study and work on.

The next plenary session is on April 17 to 19 but committee meetings will be held next week, on April 10 to 12.

The six committees and their respective chairs are: Political Autonomy (Commissioner Mohagher Iqbal), Fiscal Autonomy (Commissioner Raissa Jajurie),  Justice and Security (Commissioner Firdausi Abbas);  Basic Rights (Commissioner Hussin Amin), Transitory Provisions, Amendments, Revisions and Miscellaneous Matters (Commissioner Jose Lorena), and Constitutional Amendments (Commissioner and BTC Chair Ghazali Jaafar). Commissioner Mussolini Lidasan,  Executive Director of the Al Qalam Institute at the Ateneo de Davao University, is the floorleader.

Iqbal, also chair of the Peace Implementing Panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was chair of the previous 15-member BTC. Jaafar, 1st vice chair of the MILF is currently chair of the now 21-member BTC.

“We have achieved the most important role of the BTC chairman which is to unite the Commissioners and work as one in crafting a new BBL,” Jaafar told MindaNews.

The 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission in session Wednesday, 05 April 2017. The next plenary session is on April 17 to 19 but committee meetings will be held on April 10 to 12. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Jaafar heads the MILF-dominated body composed of 11 members nominated by the MILF and 10 members nominated by the government.

He said this week’s session accomplished the adoption of “the original and agreed BBL as working document,” the creation of the committees and the approval of its work plan.

“Agreed version”

The “working document” Jaafar was referring to is the draft BBL submitted to Congress by the previous BTC on September 10, 2014 or what became HB 4994 and SB 2408. This is also what the MILF refers to as the “agreed version.”

The previous BTC submitted a 97-page 18-article draft to Malacanang on April 22, 2014. Malacanang took two months to review the draft and turned over its reviewed draft with its proposed revisions to the MILF on June 21, as the MILF leaders were bound for Hiroshima, Japan to attend The Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminar.

In Hiroshima, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Iqbal raised “concerns” over the proposed revisions to then President Benigno Aquino III, in a meeting held shortly before Aquino delivered his keynote address at the seminar.

No details of the “concerns” were divulged but Iqbal in a speech in Istanbul, Turkey on June 26 said Malacanang’s proposed revisions had “heavily diluted” the BTC draft and if this were to be made the basis of the law, would render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that it seeks to replace.
The BTC based its draft BBL on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangamoro that the government and MILF signed on March 27, 2014. The BBL is supposed to pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the ARMM.

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 MASCARINAS

A series of meetings between the peace panels of the government and MILF followed until then Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa flew to Davao City where the panels spent 10 days to revisit the draft but were deadlocked over some major issues. Ochoa met with the two chairs separately to discuss “immediate ways forward.”  A series of meetings followed in Davao and in Manila with Ochoa until an “agreed version” was produced and submitted to the President and turned over to Congress in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang on September 10, 2014.

After committee hearings, the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL under then Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and the Senate’s Local Governments Committee under then Senator Ferdinand Marcos filed their substitute bills, HB 5811 and SB 2894 in June and August 2015, respectively, both titled Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

The BTC rejected the BLBAR versions, claiming these were “watered down” versions of the “agreed version” submitted to Congress and that they would render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM.

Still no budget

The BTC this week set a new target date of May 15 from May 18, for the submission of the draft to the President as Commissioner Hussin Amin said this was the date mentioned by Irene Santiago, chair of the government’s Peace Implementing Panel, in a televised interview.

The 21 Commissioners are presently shouldering their own travel expenses and the payment of their staff’s allowances pending the release of the BTC’s budget by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Commissioners Jose Lorena (L) and Hussin Amin (R) say all commissioners agreed to advance payment of their transportation expenses and their staff’s allowances pending the release of the BTC budget by the Department of Budget and Management, as “an expression of our sheer commitment to move forward.” As of April 5, there is no word yet from the DBM on the budget release. The BTC is scheduled to hold committee meetings next week and a plenary session the following week. MIndaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

BTC Executive Director Mike Pasigan told MindaNews that he was informed the Deputy Executive Secretary for Finance and Administration had endorsed the documents to the DBM on March 30.

“We are now waiting for DBM to assign funds,” he said on April 2.  As of April 5, Pasigan said there was no notice yet from the DBM.

The BTC was launched on February 24 in Davao City.

Commissioner Jose Lorena said all 21 members agreed to advance payment for the expenses incurred until the BTC budget is released.

“This is an expression of our sheer commitment to move forward,” Lorena told MindaNews.

Commissioner Firdausi Abbas donated the tarpaulin that served as backdrop of the session.

Commissioner Omar Sema said that while the May 15 deadline is too close, “we can meet every day including Saturdays and Sundays if necessary.”

Sema proposed that transcripts of the deliberations of the BBL in the House of Representatives and the Senate be made available to the Commissioners. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)