Drilon vows Senate support for Bangsamoro peace process; Belmonte silent

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 July) – Newly-elected Senate President Franklin Drilon reiterated the Senate’s support for the peace process in Mindanao and committed to “amend the Organic Act, to institute the necessary reforms called for,” as soon as the comprehensive peace agreement is signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Drilon, who got 17 votes against Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s six, made his commitment during his 12-minute inaugural speech at the opening of the 16th Congress Monday morning, as he mentioned Mindanao twice in his 32-paragraph message.

But reelected House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who received 245 votes out of 279 members present, said nothing about Mindanao or the peace process.

“We support the peace process in Mindanao. Once the peace agreement is signed with the MILF, we will amend the Organic Act, to institute the necessary reforms called for in the Agreement,” Drilon said in his speech.

Drilon is referring to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that the 15-member Transition Commission is drafting and whose draft, as soon as it is submitted to Congress, will be certified as urgent by the President.

The government and MILF had agreed in the April 2012 Decision Points and later carried over into the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012, that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the now 23-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Under the FAB, the parties agreed that upon the promulgation and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the ARMM is deemed abolished and all devolved authorities will be vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

The ARMM was created by RA 6734, the Organic Act of Muslim Mindanao passed in 1989. This was amended by RA 9054, which lapsed into law in 2001, to incorporate provisions of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Drilon said the Senate “must address the major impediments to economic development, such as the high cost of energy.” He cited the “constant power interruptions, especially in Mindanao” and said these affect the chances of attracting much-needed investments.

“We all know that economic development is a potent antidote to the poverty-induced bloody conflicts in the South,” he said

He cited at least 10 priority measures for their legislative agenda, the tenth on the Bangsamoro peace process.

“We will recommend to our colleagues in the Senate as our legislative agenda the following important measures meant to create an environment that will further strengthen our economic fundamentals and boost employment. These include the following: The Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives; The Rationalization of the Mining Fiscal Regime; Amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law; The Tax Incentives Monitoring and Transparency Act; and The Removal of Investment Restrictions in Specific Laws cited in the Foreign Investment Negative List,” Drilon said.

The other priority measures he cited are amendments to the Charter of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas; enacting the National Land Use Act; amending the Ombudsman Act and amending the Sandiganbayan Law “to ensure the speedy resolution of 2,600 cases currently pending with the anti-graft court,” and committed to support the peace process.

At the House of Representatives, Belmonte said their task in the next three years – also the last three years of the Aquino administration – “must be to resist the costly temptation of resting on our laurels, to inspire greater belief in our collective capacity for greater accomplishment within our country and outside, and to marshal government resources towards making possible a more vibrant and resilient economy and people.”

He said they would work in close collaboration with the Senate and the Executive, to “craft a legislative agenda that will generate greater economic activity in our country.”

“Reducing the impediments to the ease of doing business even as we rationalize our incentives framework, and creating a more even and stable regulatory framework that will rid the private sector of its fears from funding our economic expansion, especially in such critical areas as power and energy, are essential if we are to sustain our growth and employ the jobless,” he said.

“The 16th Congress coincides with the second half of President PNoy’s six-year term. These three years are sometimes more difficult to manage because whiffs of the next election hang in the air. This time might not be too different. Nevertheless, I call upon all of you, my colleagues, to unite behind this administration’s and our reform agenda in the interest of our people so that the 16th Congress along with President Aquino’s term of office, ends, not with a strike out, but with a homerun,” Belmonte said.

Belmonte described the 16th Congress as a “visionary Congress that will anticipate our needs and steer our economy to a path of sustained, but especially, equitable and inclusive growth” but was silent on the peace process throughout his 23-paragraph speech.