No BBL interpellation again; session adjourned due to lack of quorum again

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /06 August) – The interpellation period for the substitute bill to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) did not resume for the second day on Wednesday for the same reason it did not on Tuesday: lack of quorum.

The period of interpellation for the substitute bill, House Bill 5811 or the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, was scheduled to resume on August 4 but Tuesday’s session was adjourned shortly before 6 p.m. due to lack of quorum. Wednesday’s session was again adjourned at around the same time due to lack of quorum.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez told MindaNews Tuesday morning that the interpellation, which was suspended when Congress adjourned sine die on June 10 “will (resume) this afternoon and every session day until finished.”

“No quorum again yesterday. We resume on Monday,” Rodriguez told MindaNews Thursday morning.

Wednesday’s adjournment leaves only 37 session days – at the maximum of four session days per week — from Monday, August 10 until Congress goes on recess from October 10 to November 2.

The passage of the BBL will pave the way for the creation of the new autonomous political entity called “Bangsamoro” that government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had agreed in their October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by June 30, 2016.

Congress leaders had earlier vowed to pass the BBL by September because the filing of certificates of candidacy for all those who are running for elective posts — local, regional (ARMM) and national — in the nationwide synchronized elections scheduled on May 9, 2016 is scheduled on October 12 to 16.

When it suspended interpellation on June 10, only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up, had finished their interpellation since it started on June 2.

But other priority measures such as the 2016 budget and the seemingly perennial problem of lack of quorum will likely reduce further the number of days left to complete the interpellation, period of amendments, and other steps involved in the legislative process.

As of August 5, HB 5811, which has been criticized by various sectors as producing an autonomous entity that is “less than the ARMM” that the Bangsamoro seeks to replace, has not been certified urgent by President Aquino.

“Original form”

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the joint GPH-MILF body created by Executive Order to draft the BBL, passed a resolution on July 29 to support the passage of the BBL “in its original form,” or what was House Bill 4994 and Senate Bill 2408, in effect rejecting HB 5811.

The BTC, composed of eight representatives from the MILF and seven from government, submitted the “mutually agreed” draft BBL to Congress in ceremonial rites in Malacanang on September 10, 2014.

The BTC said the provisions of HB 4994 / SB 2408 are “consistent with the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the peace talks.” It also said this draft BBL “is the most appropriate version based on the FAB and CAB and considering that it is the one that underwent the legitimate process of consultation with the people and engagement with the Office of the President.”

The draft BBL took several versions until the framers, as well as Malacanang, came up with what President Aquino had earlier referred to as a “mutually acceptable” draft or what became HB 4994 and SB 2408.

On July 25 or two days before President Aquino delivered his sixth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA), MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told reporters in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, that he expected the President to “reiterate his commitment to support the passage of an undiluted BBL and we hope through this SONA, he could enlighten more those who are still opposing the BBL.”

In his SONA, President Aquino mentioned BBL on the 88th minute of his 130-minute speech, referring to it as an important measure (“pangunahin” was translated into English by the Official Gazette as “the most important of these”), but did not impress upon Congress the urgency of the measure. Instead, he challenged those who oppose it to propose a better alternative.

At the Supreme Court, petitions have been filed by the Philippine Constitution Association and a former Negros Oriental representative, to have the FAB and CAB declared  “unconstitutional and void.”

Sneak preview of Marcos’ bill

At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon told reporters after their caucus on Monday morning that the Committee on Local Government’s report on the BBL will be submitted on August 10 and the substitute bill sponsored on the floor on August 11 but interpellation will begin only on August 17 “to give the senators time to study carefully all the proposals.”

But no deadline has been set for the termination of the interpellation, Drilon said, according to the transcript of the interview posted on the Senate website

CLENCHED FIST. Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez defends House Bill 5811, or the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, in a debate that lasted for more than four hours with Zamboanga Representative Celso Lobregat on Tuesday (10 June 2015). MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano
CLENCHED FIST. Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez defends House Bill 5811, or the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, in a debate that lasted for more than four hours with Zamboanga Representative Celso Lobregat on Tuesday (10 June 2015). MindaNews file photo by Toto Lozano

“We will not set any deadline on the interpellation, so everybody will be given a chance to review the report that will be submitted,” he said. MindaNews counted 33 session days from August 17 until Congress goes on recess in October.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Committee on Local Government had said in a privilege speech in early June that SB 2408 in its present form and substance would “lead us to perdition.”

According to a press release posted on the Senate website on August 5, Marcos gave the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) on August 4 a sneak preview of the substitute bill his committee will file on August 10,

Under the FAB, the TPMT, led by former European Union Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, with members from two international and two local NGOs nominated by the GPH and MILF peace panels, is tasked to monitor the implementation of the GPH-MILF peace agreements.

“I promised that I would have the committee report on Monday. I will sponsor the substitute bill within a day or two and I will provide the senators copies of the substitute bill for them to study. Then we will come back, maybe the next week, and the interpellation process will begin,” Marcos was quoted by the Senate press release, as saying.

Marcos said that in crafting the substitute BBL, he tried to adhere to the spirit of FAB and the CAB.

“The underlying principle of our decision has always been, if we can give it to them, give it to them. If it’s illegal, we can’t give it to them no matter how much we may want to. If it’s unconstitutional, we can’t do that either. If it’s impossible to administer, then there’s no reason to do it because there’ll be chaos,” Marcos said.

Marcos also told the TPMT that his substitute bill will not be “less than ARMM.”

“If ever, we can enhance, but we cannot diminish from ARMM. So the provisions in terms of power sharing, in terms of shares in national wealth, in terms of local shares, none of them are lower and some are higher than ARMM,” he was quoted as saying.

The press release also said Marcos “invited the TPMT to the room where he and his legislative staff were meeting to finalize the substitute bill and showed them that his proposed amendments were actually based on the draft BBL.”

Marcos also told the TPMT that his bill would include provisions on weapons decommissioning. But the committee chair said he cannot predict how long the floor debates on the BBL could last since he expects most senators to raise questions on the provisions of the substitute bill. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)