DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 April) — The three committees handling the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in the House of Representatives on Monday approved the omnibus motion of the Deputy Speaker for Mindanao to “retain as is” House Bill 6475, the bill drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and sponsored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and some 90 other representatives.
The approval effectively disregarded the working draft which was a consolidation of all four Bangsamoro bills filed before the House, including the BTC draft, opting instead to “retain as is” the standalone BTC version.
The BTC version will then move to the plenary for deliberations when sessions resume on May 15, Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, the Deputy Speaker for Mindanao told MindaNews in a telephone interview.
The Joint Committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity scheduled four days — April 16 to 19 — to vote on 362 proposed amendments to the working draft.
The Committees’ schedule was cut short Monday after they approved Sema’s omnibus motion.
“Wala na” (no more), Sema said of the supposed schedule for three more days.
“The long struggle, the sacrifices, the prejudice, the hurting words uttered against our people took a favorable turn in today’s Joint Committee Hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Sema announced on her Facebook page.
Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali, chair of the Committee on Peace, Reconicliation and Unity, described what happened Monday as “a leap of faith.”
“The decades-long Bangsamoro struggle took a leap of faith today,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“My congratulations to all peace-loving leaders who are working with us so that just and dignified peace will prevail in our homeplace,” Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st vice chair and concurrent BTC chair, told MindaNews.
8 sessions days
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF Peace Implementing Panel sounded a bit more cautious. “We are relieved and happy, but the way ahead is still very challenging. The fight is not yet won,” he told MindaNews.
Iqbal was chair of the BTC during the Aquino administration’s attempt to pass the BBL. Congress adjourned in 2016 without passing the law.
The approval of Sema’s motion hastened the deliberations at the committee level but the bigger hurdle, however, is in the plenary.
Sessions are held Mondays to Wednesdays. Unless special sessions are called for, there are only eight session days — May 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30 — before Congress adjourns sine die on June 1.
According to House rules, the Joint Committees have to transmit a copy of their report to the Committees on Appropriation and Ways and Means particularly “for comments relative to the appropriation or tax or revenue aspects only
The Senate had already filed its substitute bill, SB 1717, and was already on the period of interpellation when it adjourned on March 21 for a break until May 14.
Senators who had lined up to interpellate in May are Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Panfilo Lacson, Ralph Recto, Pimentel.
Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao, Sherwin Gathcalian and Vicente Sotto had indicated in March that they would continue their interpellation.
Will eight days be enough for both houses to pass the BBL as they assured the President and the MILF?
In Malacanang on April 4, President Duterte met with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Alvarez, and the MILF leadership led by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim where he urged Congress leaders to “fast-track” the passage of the BBL.
Murad told MindaNews on April 5 that the President “urged” Pimentel and Alvarez to “fast-track the passage of the BBL before July ahead of federalism” and that “they already have schedules and are confident they could complete the process by June.”
Also on April 5, Jaafar told MindaNews the President “requested” the leaders of Congress “to pass the BBL into law within May of 2018.”
“On our part we appealed to the President and the two houses to pass the BBL into law, not watered down,” Jaafar said, adding a “watered down BBL is not acceptable to our people.”
The May 2018 passage is “kaya daw sa Senate” (The Senate can do it), Jaafar said, recalling how Pimentel “assured the President and us that the BBL travel is smooth and that end of May it will be enacted into law. We believe him,” he said.
Alvarez gave the same assurance although the latter informed them “meron lang very minority congressmen na merong amendments” (there are minority congressmen who want to introduce amendments), Jaafar said.
The Malacanang meeting came eight days after Duterte met with the MILF leadership at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on March 27.
Race against time
As agreed upon by the government and MILF under the CAB, the BBL will pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an entity that is autonomous in name only and earlier dismissed as a “failed experiment.”
Under the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap of the Duterte administration, the BBL was targeted to be passed yearend of 2017 to allow enough time for the plebiscite to ratify the law, and a transition period under the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that will be appointed by the President and will govern the area until the regular elections are held.
The CAB provides that the BBL, once enacted by Congress, shall be ratified in a plebiscite “not later than 120 days from the legislative enactment” and once the BBL is ratified, the ARMM is deemed abolished and the BTA takes over until regular elections are held.
The filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2019 elections is in mid-October. Elections in the ARMM will proceed as scheduled in May 2019 if no Bangsamoro law is ratified before the filing of COCs. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)