Senate OKs Bangsamoro transition extension; next President to appoint BTA members serving until 2025

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 August) –  With one ‘no’ vote and two abstentions, the Senate late Wednesday afternoon passed on second reading Senate Bill 2214 extending the transition period of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) until June 30, 2025 by resetting the date of the first election of the 80-member Bangsamoro Parliament from May 2022 to May 2025.

As amended, the bill will now allow the next President to appoint the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) when the terms of the incumbent BTA members expire on June 30, 2022.  The next President will assume his post at noon of June 30, 2022.

“With one dissent and two abstention, Senate Bill 2214 is approved on 2nd reading,” Senate President Vicente Sotto said as he banged the gavel at 5:43 p.m.

Senate President Vicente Sotto bangs the gavel at 5:43 p.m. on Wednesday,25 August 2021, after announcing that with one dissent and two abstentions, Senate Bill 2214 is passed don second reading (Screenshot from livestreamed Senate session)

Wednesday’s approval came 37 days before October 1, the first day of the week-long filing of certificates of candidacy.  The House has yet to deliberate on the substitute bill crafted by the three committees that acted on the proposed bills.

But Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, principal author of RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM, said President Rodrigo Duterte will certify their bill as urgent. “The certificate of urgency is forthcoming,” he said, adding this was relayed to him in a telephone conversation with Senator Christopher Lawrence Go and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on Tuesday.

A certificate of urgency means SB 2214 can be passed on third reading immediately after its approval on second reading, without having to wait for three days. Bills certified as urgent do not follow the three-day rule between the second and third reading.

Sotto said he spoke with House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco about three or four weeks ago and was told the measure was still with the committee but would be reported to the plenary soon. “Now what I gathered was that they are looking at the Senate version which we insisted is to merely postpone and no frills on the other side,” Sotto said, adding the House version is, “very complex,” Zubiri interjected.

Dissent and Abstention

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who said on Tuesday that the people of the Bangsamoro region should be consulted through a plebiscite if they approve of the proposed postponement of the May 2022 polls to 2025, voted against the bill while Senator Imee Marcos, immediately after Lacson registered his ‘no’ vote, declared she would abstain. Senator Ralph Recto also abstained.

Marcos on Tuesday said she would agree to an extension of the Bangsmoro transition period but only for one year.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon proposed and the senators agreed, to delete the “controversial line” on appointing new BTA members “upon effectivity of the law” as that would, in effect, cut short the three-year term of the BTA members which is to expire on June 30, 2022.

He proposed that “upon the expiration of the terms of the incumber members of the BTA, the President shall appoint the 80 members of the BTA who shall serve up to June 30, 2025 or until their successors shall have been elected.”

The bill’s principal sponsor, Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the Committee on Local Government, accepted Drilon’s amendment, subject to styling.

Sotto said BTA members “will remain” until June 30, 2022 and “the new President may be able to appoint” the 80-member BTA, subject to the provisions of RA 11054. Under the Bangsamoro law, the enabling act of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) — the peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — the 80-member BTA shall be MILF-led. After the ratification of the Bangsamoro law in early 2019, President Duterte appointed 80 members of the BTA, 41 of them nominated by the MILF and 39 nominated by the government.

The law provides that the BTA should include representatives from the non-Moro indigenous communities, youth, women, settler communities, and traditional leaders, among others.

Zubiri emphasized that representation in the BTA should be “respected by the next President.”

“If it’s in the BARMM law, the next president will follow that,” Sotto said.

“Is it our understanding that the present members of BTA will hold office until June 30, 2022?” Drilon asked. Sotto replied, “yes” while Tolentino said “yes, unless for cause there are reasons for their removal, subject to due process.”

Deleted

The Senate had agreed in May to “simplify” the bill by taking out the controversial Section 2 which listed down the seat allocation, including those to be nominated by governors of the Bangsamoro provinces (one province that was not even part of BARMM was included) — opting instead to return to the formula prescribed by RA 11054 whose basis was the peace agreement.

On Wednesday, the Senate deleted the proposed section on the creation of a  Joint Congressional Oversight Committee “to aid the BTA in the performance of its functions and priorities.”

RA 11054 provides for a Philippine Congress – Bangsamoro Parliament Forum “for purposes of cooperation and coordination of legislative initiatives.”

Senator Francis Tolentino, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government. Screenshot from live-streamed Senate session on 25 August 2021

Tolentino admitted to having “some misgivings” about taking out the oversight provision but “we have deleted this provision.”

Gordon, author of one of two Senate bills seeking the extension of the Bangsamoro transition period, expressed a “misgiving” that the “new President will now be able to appoint” members of the BTA for the three-year period 2022 to 2025.

“Cannot this spark hostility or divisiveness,” Gordon asked, adding his “countrymen in Mindanao might think here again is Manila intervening.”

Tolentino allayed Gordon’s fears. He pointed to the Bangsamoro law for guidelines and the listing of sectors that should be represented in the Parliament.

“Pursue, consummate, accomplish the CAB”

“One of the rationales here is really to pursue, consummate, accomplish the CAB which would result in the normalization in pursuit of peace and from our engagements with the MILF, they are in need of time to accomplish all the watershed requirements that would sustain the peace … we here would now be affording the peace process to continue and proceed as started,” Tolentino explained.

“In layman’s terms, this President or even the next President, nakakahon” (is boxed in) by the provisions of the Bangsamoro law on the appointments.

“Am done,” Tolentino said at 4:55 p.m., signalling the end of the period of amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri. Screenshot from live-streamed Senate session on 25 August 2021

Zubiri said “we simplified (the bill) as much as we can … limit it to number, date of extension, and that’s all.”

“No matter who the president will be,” Zubiri stressed, that President will have to “honor the criteria set forth” by the Bangsamoro law.

Zubiri sought a suspension of the session before voting on second reading. The session resumed at 5:37 p.m. with Lacson casting a negative vote, followed by an abstention from Marcos and later from Recto who asked if SB 2214 is certified urgent by the President.

“No,” Sotto said, adding, “not at the moment.”

Zubiri replied that “all the Cabinet members are requesting this,” especially the Defense cluster – Defense, Interior and Local Government Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process  – and  Finance, “to maintain the peace in this area.”

He said a certificate of urgency was forthcoming as relayed by Go on Tuesday.

Zubiri said he had just spoken with Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez,  who reiterated the Defense cluster’s support for the bill. He said President Duterte took a neutral stance.

Galvez in November last year told a House Committee hearing that the President wanted an extension of the Bangsamoro transition period. Days later, bills were filed to extend the transition.

“Most logical decision”

Bangsamoro Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent chair of the MILF Peace Implementing Panel, told MindaNews that the passage of the bill on second reading is “highly appreciated.”

“That is the most logical decision. The Senate should be commended for that,” Iqbal said.

For Member of Parliament (MP) Zia alonto Adiong, the bill’s passage “is a good sign that the Senate sees this issue based on the practicalities of extending he transition period to fulfill the requirements of RA 110t54 which is essentially to organize regional bureaucracy while we pursue the completion of the normalization process.”

MP Omar Sema,  Deputy Speaker at the interim Bangsamoro Parliament, who was with five Members of Parliament and the BARMM Cabinet Secretary at the Senate on Wednesday, welcomed the passage of the bill. “At least there is some progress in the call for extension of the transition period,” he told MindaNews.

 

But Sema said he is worried over the provision on the next President appointing BTA members from 2022 to 2025. He said it is “totally not in accord with reason for extension which is completion of normalization and ensuring complete implementation of all signed agreements.”

“That provision puts more stress on the political aspect of the CAB. The power to appoint and to remove for cause should not be clipped or compelled from the power holder. Meaning, both the current President and the next President must be able to wield that power but this need not be stated in the law as the power to appoint and remove is fully secured in the hands of the executive, guaranteed in the 1987 Constitution,” he said.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, Secretary-General of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, thanked the Senate for passing the bill on second reading “but the momentum needed in the House of Representatives will obviously require the issuance of certificate of urgency.”

“As a son of Mindanao, we know that you know what is best for Mindanao. Let peace in the Bangsamoro and the entire Mindanao be your best and lasting legacy. Please do not fail us. Certify the extension bill as urgent now.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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