Draft BBL as “urgent bill”: only nine session days left before recess

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 Sept) — The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will finally be certified by the President as an “urgent” bill following the meeting of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) which the President convened on September 20, and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told MindaNews they are still eyeing passage of the law by yearend.

Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL at the House of Representatives vote on  amendments to the provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in MAY 2015. A substitute bill was filed  in June but Congress adjourned in 2016 without passing a Bangsamoro law. MindaNews file photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

But whether or not the bill will be passed by yearend is uncertain, given that there are only nine session days left (Mondays to Wednesdays) between September 25 and October 14 when Congress takes a break for a month, and another 15 session days when it resumes session on November 13 to December 15.

With only a total of 24 session days left — nine and 15 — until yearend and with 28 other priority bills  to pass, and three other Bangsamoro bills to consolidate with the draft BBL, will Congress be able to meet the yearend deadline to pass it?

Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014,  the draft BBL crafted by the joint GPH-MILF Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is supposed to be certified as urgent by the President.

It’s a race against time, as it was under the Aquino administration, because the BBL is supposed to transform the peace agreement signed by the executive department into an enabling law that would pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the ‘Bangsamoro,’ to replace the 27-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The ARMM’s next election is on May 13, 2019.  Unless the Bangsamoro is passed, the ARMM elections will proceed as scheduled.

December 2017 was targeted as the passage for the BBL because the Commission on Elections needs six months to prepare for a plebiscite to ratify the law, or by June 2018, and at least a year transition period, unless Congress decides to extend it until May 2022.

Priority bills

On August 29,  the LEDAC released a list of 28 priority bills for Congress to pass, the BBL not among them.

Abella told a Malacanang press briefing then that the BBL was not on the list of priority bills “but I’m sure it is priority. I’m sure it is of high concern.”

The draft BBL was apparently an afterthought, “to be added” to the list to make it 29 as Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III told MindaNews on August 30 that “BBL (is) to be added per motion by Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) chief Adelino Sitoy.”

The draft BBL was, indeed included in the agenda of the LEDAC “for discussion” on September 20, under Item D.

“In the course of the discussion, the President agreed to certify as urgent the proposed measures on the BBL and TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act),” Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte calls for a meeting with the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) at the Malacañan Palace on September 20, 2017. Among the subjects discussed include the anti-corruption drive of the government, amendments to the Government Procurement Reform Act as well as the Bangsamoro Basic Law. ROBINSON NIÑAL JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Dureza’s description of what happened at the LEDAC on the topic of BBL was “short and brief. No discussions even,” he told MindaNews.

“After I asked that the BBL be certified as urgent, President Duterte said yes,” Dureza said, adding Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. “said they will support.”

The draft  BBL has been orphaned for over a month since the two houses of Congress received their copies in mid August. When it will be finally filed as a bill will depend on the leaders of both chambers.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said they “will file next week the bill for the BBL submitted by the BTC. The President informed us that he will leave to the wisdom of the Congress the final version of the BBL,” Fariñas said.

Asked if they would file the bill next week and if it they were still targeting the passage by yearend, Pimentel told MindaNews in a text message on Sept. 21: “meeting on Monday with staff to decide next moves.”

Asked on August 18 if he would be the principal sponsor the BBL bill, Pimentel told MindaNews he was “willing to be author” but “have to sked discussion with my legislative staff.”

Asked if the bill would be filed the following week, Pimentel said, “not even sure if next week. Discuss pa namin (we will still discuss).”

Alvarez sent no reply to the same questions MindaNews asked Pimentel.


Duterte convened a meeting on September 14 in Malacanang with the 20-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission that crafted the draft BBL, Pimentel and Alvarez, Dureza and members of the government’s peace implementing panel, 10 days after he met with the BTC and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim also in Malacanang.

BTC chair Ghazali Jaafar after their September 4 meeting with the President told MindaNews the President would convene a meeting with them and the Congressional leaders”for further discussion of BBL.”

But no discussion on the BBL was done.

President Duterte meets with leaders of Congress, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and members of the government’s peace implementing panel (R) and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (L) on September 14, 2017 in Malacanang. The meeting ended with the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law still in limbo. Karl Norman Alonzo / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

A member of the BTC who requested not to be named said they left Malacanang with a heavy heart as they were told there are “plans that are at the ‘confidential phase’ and that they will inform us of the ‘plan’ at the right time. In short, the draft BBL has no sponsor yet.”

One member was reported to have stood up to stress the urgency of passing the BBL as an instrument of peace and that the President is “privileged by history to end the conflict by passing the BBL.”

But the source said the administration’s track is “constitutional amendment then legislation.”

The Duterte administration is pushing for a shift from Presidential, unitary system to a federal form of government. The shift requires amending the 1987 Constitution.

Dureza told reporters in Malacanang after the Sept. 14 meeting that the  President will present a “gameplan” to ensure the passage of the law.

“In short, just some kind of roadmap that the President would like to present to the MILF and the BTC on how to see to it that he complies and he is true to his commitment that he will husband the BBL to its logical conclusion,” CNN Philippines quoted Dureza as saying.

Dureza said the Office of the President was still working on the “gameplan” with the Congress leaders.

Counting the days

According to the legislative process posted on the website of the House of Representatives, once the bill is filed with the Bills and Index Service, it is numbered and copies are reproduced. Three days after its filing, the bill is included in the Order of Business for First Reading where the Secretary General reads the title and number of the bill and the Speaker refers the bill to the appropriate committee or committees.

Pimentel had earlier told MindaNews that the draft BBL would be refered to the Senate Committee on Local Governments. The Committee is headed by Senator Edgardo Angara.

It is not clear which committee the draft BBL would be referred to in the House of Representatives.

According tot he process, the committee evaluates the bill to determine if there is a need for public hearings or merely a committee discussion.

The committee hearings on the BBL under the Aquino administration took seven months. Congress adjourned without passing the law.

Based on the result of the public hearings or the committee discussions, the Committee “may introduce amendments, consolidate bills on the same subject matter, or propose a substitute bill” then submits its report to the Plenary Affairs Bureau for registration and numbering, for inclusion in the Order for Business and referred to the Committee on Rules which then schedules the bill for second reading.

The draft BBL will be consolidated with three other bills on the Bangsamoro: HB 0092 or Bangsamoro Basic Law filed by Maguindanao Representative and Deput Speaker for Mindanao Bai Sandra Sema on June 30, 2016, which is a re-filing of HB 4994 under the Arroyo administration; HB 6121 or Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BABAR) by former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on August 3 and HB 6263 or Bangsamoro Basic Law by Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo on August 24.

On Second Reading, the Secretary General reads the number, title and text of the bill which is followed by a period of sponsorship and debate; period of amendments and voting.

“The amendments, if any, are engrossed and printed copies of the bill are reproduced for Third Reading,” it said, adding that copies are to be distributed to all the members of Congress three days before the final reading.

If a bill is certified urgent, the three-day rule can be dispensed with when the bill is approved on second reading, for immediate third reading.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)