Delay in passage of BBL expected as draft Bangsamoro law has yet to reach Congress

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /15 August) — Delay in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is to be expected as the draft law, as of August 14, has yet to reach Congress exactly four Mondays after its submission to President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacanang.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. last month announced he was optimistic that they would be able to pass the BBL and the 2018 budget before yearend. In March, he told MindaNews that if the bill is certified as urgent by the President, “conservatively, sa House, give me a month or two” to pass the measure.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel did not give a time frame but he cited the BBL as one of the priority measures the Senate should pass.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte receives a draft of the new proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in a turnover ceremony at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on July 17, 2017. Joining the President are (from left) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Implementing Peace Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chair Ghazali Jaafar and Government of the Philippines Implementing Peace Panel Chair Irene Santiago. King Rodriguez / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

The 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014 provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 27-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The purpose of the law, according to the draft BBL, is to “establish a political entity, provide for its basic structure of government in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and their aspiration to chart their political future through a democratic process that will secure their identity and posterity and allow for meaningful self-governance.”

The CAB also provides that the ARMM is deemed abolished upon ratification of the BBL and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) appointed by the President will then take over. The BTA will govern the Bangsamoro through parliamentary means, until the first set of officials is elected.

Like the Aquino administration, it’s now a race against time again also for the Duterte administration because the ARMM’s next election is on May 13, 2019, synchronized with the national elections. If the BBL is not passed soon, the ARMM election in 2019 will proceed as scheduled.

The CAB provides for at least a year’s transition into the regular Bangsamoro government, which means the proposed 80-member BTA, whose members the President will appoint, should be in place by June 30, 2018. The Commission on Elections needs six months to prepare for the plebiscite that would ratify the BBL. This means the BBL has to be passed by December 2017 at the latest.

Delay in the passage of the BBL will not only delay the creation of the Bangsamoro autonomous government but will also delay the decommissioning of the MILF’s weapons and combatants.

According to Congress’ calendar, both houses will have sessions until October 13, will take a break from October 14 to November 12, will resume sessions from November 13 to December 15, and will take a break again from December 16, 2017 to January 14, 2018.

Plenary sessions are held Mondays to Wednesdays while committee meetings can go beyond Wednesday.  There are only 26 plenary session days in Congress and 42 days (inclusive of Thursdays and Fridays) between August 15 to October 13.

“Wala pa rin”

Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao told MindaNews Monday evening that the draft BBL had not been transmitted to the House. “Wala pa rin” (not yet here), she said.

In reply to MindaNews’ query on Saturday on where the draft law is, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said it was on its way to Congress. “The documents are already with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) and may be submitted (to the two houses of Congress)  by Monday.”

The draft BBL, however, has yet to reach the House of Representatives and the Senate as of August 14.

Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, told MindaNews on August 14 that there is “no new info” about the transmittal of the draft BBL to Congress.

On August 7, Dureza told MindaNews that “per PLLO (Adelino Sitoy),  copy sent na to Congress but cannot be enrolled unless may author. So please ask Congress members why no one has authored it yet.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte sits with (from left to right) Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Bai Sandra Sema, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chair Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim and Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chair Gadzali Jaafar during the launching of the expanded BTC at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City on February 24, 2017. SIMEON CELI JR./Presidential Photo

Asked on August 14 if Senate President Pimentel and Speaker Alvarez will sponsor the Bangsamoro bill, Dureza replied, “sa tinuod lang, sila na sa Congress mag-decide” (the truth is it is Congress that will decide).

MindaNews checked with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. on August 14 if they and their party would be the principal authors of the bill when it reaches Congress but both have yet to send their reply.

Second draft

The draft BBL is the second that will be submitted to Congress.

The first draft BBL was submitted by the then 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in Malacanang in the presence of  Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on September 10, 2014.

Aquino urged Congress to examine the draft bill and asked that it be passed “sa lalong madaling panahon” (as soon as possible).

The next day, September 11, the draft  BBL was stamped received at the House of Representatives as House Bill 4994, sponsored by Speaker Belmonte and 16 other representatives.

At the Senate, the draft BBL was stamped received as Senate Bill 2408 on September 15, sponsored by Senate President Drilon and 12 other senators.

The congressional committees that tackled HB 4994 and SB 2408 filed substitute bills after its committee hearings ended in mid-2015, both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BLBAR) that the MILF and even the GPH panel criticized for rendering the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM that it sought to replace.

The 16th Congress under the Aquino administration adjourned without passing the Bangsamoro law.

From Marcos’ BLBAR to Arroyo’s BABAR

Even as the entire Congress is aware that a draft BBL had been submitted to President Duterte and he is pushing for its passage,  former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (January 20, 2001 to June 30,2016) filed House Bill 6121 or the Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BABAR) at 2:10 p.m. on August 3.

The BABAR appears to be a resurrection of former Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s proposed BLBAR. MindaNews noted that HB 6121 lifted provisions verbatim for the most part from the Marcos version, and in fact contains the same number of articles — 17 — same titles of articles and the same number of sections — 215.

Marcos chaired the Senate Committee on Local Governments which filed the BLBAR as substitute bill to the draft BBL filed by the then 15-member BTC.

It was under Arroyo’s administration when the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was initialed but its formal signing on August 5, 2008 was aborted due to a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court a day earlier.

Arroyo, elected Vice President in 1998, assumed the post of President on January 20, 2001 after the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada who declared an “all out war” against the MILF in 2000 that led to the MILF’s disbandment of its peace panel on August 21, 2000.

Arroyo began her Presidency in January 2001 by declaring an “all-out peace” but waged war against the MILF in February 2003, in the midst of peace talks.

Four weeks in transit

The draft BBL was submitted by the BTC, the 21-member body composed of 11 representatives from the MILF and 10 from the government, on July 17 in rites held in Malacanang and witnessed by Senate President Pimentel and Speaker Alvarez.

Duterte, the first Mindanawon President and the first with Moro blood (his grandmother was a Maranao), had repeatedly vowed as a Presidential candidate and later as the President, to address the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro.

Pimentel and Alvarez are also Mindanawons. It is the first time in history that the chief executive and the heads of the two legislative bodies are all Mindanawons.

After receiving a copy of the draft BBL from BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar, Duterte declared that “within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country.”

He vowed  to “support and husband” the proposed BBL in Congress to ensure the passage of the law that would create the Bangsamoro.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte does the peace sign as he poses for a photo with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law and submitted it to him on July 17, 2017 at the Rizal Hall in in Malacañan Palace. The BTC is composed of 11 representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and 10 from the government. Rolando Mailo / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Duterte reiterated “there will be no objections (to) the provisions of all that is consistent with the Constitution and the aspiration of the Moro people.”

He said the draft BBL, jointly written by Muslims, Christians, and Lumads “shall give rise to a genuine autonomous region as well as bring forth healing and reconciliation to the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people.”

In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, a full week after the submission of the draft BBL, Duterte, who was expected to call on Congress to immediately pass the BBL, made no such call.

The President, however, is expected to certify the Bangsamoro bill as urgent, in accordance with the peace agreement.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)