House, Senate to pass Bangsamoro law before March 23

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 17 February) — The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will be passed by the House of Representatives on third and final reading “before March 23,” Tawi-tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali, chair of the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity said at the end of the public hearing here Thursday.

Senator Miguel Zubiri, chair of the Senate sub-committee on the BBL had earlier said they would pass the BBL before Congress goes on recess on March 24.

MindaNews asked Sahali after the hearing at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao compound here if they can beat their deadline considering that their last public hearings are scheduled on March 15 and 16 in Tubod, Lanao del Norte and Iligan-Marawi, and the only session days remaining before March 23 are March 20, 21, 22 or three days for committee deliberations and plenary sessions.

Tawi-tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali, chair of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity told the audience at the public hearing on the Bangsamoro basic Law in Cotabato City on February 15, 2018 that they will pass the law before March 23. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Sahali said she is confident they can meet their target date. “With finality. Yan ang instruction sa amin” (that’s the instruction to us), adding “gusto ng Pangulo yun eh. Si Speaker (Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.)  hindi niya kaya. But Pangulo gusto niya so sunod ang matanda” (That’s what the President wants. Speaker is not up to it. But the President wants it so follow the elder).

Sahali said “actually now tapos na kami.. exhausted na lahat .. exhausted na ang mga tanong ” (actually we’re done, everything has been exhausted .. the questions have been exhausted) and that “bumababa na lang kami para kung ano pang kailangan” (we’re just here to see what else is needed).

“Actually may mga input na kami pero we concretize the inputs kasi andito kami sa area. Actually, alam na naming lahat yan” (Actually, we already have the inputs but we concretize the inputs because we’re in the area. Actually we already know these,” she added.

Under the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap approved by President Duterte in July 2016, the target date for passage of the BBL was yearend 2017. The BBL is the legal expression of the political agreement — the Comprehensive Agreemento on the Bangsamoro (CAB) — signed by the government and Moro Islamci Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014, that would pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“Kaya, kaya”

MindaNews asked Lanao del Sur Rep. Mauyag Papandayan, Jr. who chairs the Committee on Muslim Affairs, the same question and he gave an answer similar to Sahali’s.

“Kaya, kaya” (it can be done) but added, in jest, “kayabangan” (just bragging).

Lanao del Sur Rep. Mauyag Papandayan, Jr., chair of the Hosue Committee on Muslim Affairs at the end of the public hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Cotabato City on February 15, 2018 saus he is confident they will pass the law before Congress adjourns on March 24. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Papandayan said that even if there are still public hearings until March 16 — the last in his area — he is confident they can meet their target date of passing the Bangsamoro law.  “Walang problema. Formality na lang yun” (No problem. The hearings are just for formality).

He explained that they will be done with the hearings by March 16 so “meron pa kaming one week” (we still have one week).

He said deliberations are done Monday until Wednesday, and public hearings from Thursday to Saturday. “Pagdating ng March 16, tapos na. Intact yan. Committee report agad (By March 16, that’s done. There’ll be a Committee Report immediately).

Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, concurrent Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, was more cautious. She told MindaNews, “kaya kung Committee report” (that can be done it it’s just a Committee report,” but quickly added, “pero kung ratsadain, kaya” (but if it will really be pushed, the law can be passed).

Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said Speaker Alvarez will meet with committee members on Monday.

Eight bills on the proposed Bangsamoro have been filed in Congress — four in the House and four in the Senate. The BTC draft is one of four versions in the House and one of four versions in the Senate.

The House Committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity had earlier scheduled February 8 to March 9 for public hearings but moved the schedule by one week — Feb 15 to March 16 — to give way to the Senate Committee hearing on the BBL. The Senate Committee is done with the public hearings and is now completing its committee report in preparation for the plenary sessions on the BBL.

The House started its series of public hearings on the BBL in Cotabato only this week — on February 15, Midsayap in North Cotabato on Feb. 16  and Davao City on Feb. 17.  Committee members will be in Sulu on Feb. 22 and Basilan on Feb. 23; Tawi-tawi on March 1 and Zamboanga on March 2; Buluan, Maguindanao on March 8 and Koronadal City in South Cotabato on March 9; and Tubod, Lanao del Norte on March 15 and Marawi / Iligan on March 16.

Three minutes

In Cotabato City, those who wanted to present their position papers were given three minutes each with House Committee on Local Government chair Pedro Acharon asking them to “just read the dispositive portion” of their position papers and submit to the secretariat copies of their papers.

Thirteen persons representing various sectors – ARMM officials and employees, Moro civil society, BTC,  MNLF faction under Jikiri and Sema, Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) — spoke during the hearing, most of them delivering their position papers in English.

Romeo Sema of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction under Yusoph Jikiri and Muslimin Sema urged the House members to withdraw the three other bills filed, saying the BTC-drafted BBL “is the only law acceptable to the Bangsmaoro.”

He said there is apprehension that “we may lose the opportunity to correct historical injustice against the Moro people.” He urged the audience to stand up to show who wants the BTC-drafted version. Majority stood up.

The non-Moro Indigenous Peoples (Lumads) in the ARMM were represented by four speakers — one of whom, Timuay Antonio Gunsi — expressed support for the “passage without amendments” of the BTC-drafted BBL.

At least four representatives of the Indigenous Peoples (Lumads) residing in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao presented their stand on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law at the public hearing in Cotabato City on February 15, 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

The three other Lumads — Timuay Alim Bandara representing Timuay Santos Unsad of the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples’ Legislative Assembly, Jennevieve Cornelio of Timuay Justice and Governance and Edgardo Calantungan of the Teduray, Lambangian Youth and Students Association  —  all spoke in Filipino, asserted their distinct identity and sought guarantees that their rights as IPs under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be respected.

Bobby Benito, who read the position paper of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS), said the BBL is not only an instrument to address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro and to correct the historical injustices that happened in the past but “holds the key to our nation’s past and it also opens us another door towards a just, peaceful, inclusive and united country that is shared and collectively built by the strength and diversity of its people, from Luzon to Mindanao.”

The CBCS appealed to Congress to “give the BTC-drafted BBL a chance, a chance that can change the political landscape not only of the Bangsamoro but the entire country as well,” adding that ‘in the final analysis, we strongly believe that the Bangsamoro within the Philippine state is not a problem but an opportunity for peace.”


The activity was dubbed “public hearing and consultation” but the audience was not given a presentation of what the joint committees’ proposed consolidated bill on the four versions filed in the House.

There was also no question and answer portion unlike in the last public hearing here on the BBL, in October 2014 where the audience asked the representatives and in turn the representatives asked the audience.  In 2014, the hearing was day-long. In 2018, it took only two hours and 30 minutes.

The “public hearing and consultation” on the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Cotabato City on February 15, 2018 started at 2 p.m. and ended two and a half hours later. MinaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

The 13 who spoke last Thursday were just three more than the 10 representatives who spoke after:  Acharon, Sahali, Papandayan, Sema, Villarin, Wilter Palma of Zamboanga Sibugay who chaired the sub-committee on BBL, Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato, Ansaruddin Adiong of Lanao del Sur,  Raymond Democrito Mendoza of TUCP party-list and former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, under whose administration the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front initialled the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain but its formal signing was aborted following a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court.

Conference Committee

According to the legislative process of the Philippine Congress, the Bangsamoro law that will be passed by the House and Senate will be turned over to a Conference Committee composed of members from each House of Congress to “settle, reconcile or thresh out differences or disagreements on any provision of the bill.”

The ten-member delegation from the House of Representatives were met with these messages during the public hearing in Cotabato City on 15 February 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

The conferees are not limited to reconciling the differences in the bill but may introduce new provisions germane to the subject matter or may report out an entirely new bill on the subject. The Committee then prepares a report to be signed by all the conferees and the Chairman and submits this for consideration/approval of both Houses. “No amendment is allowed” at this stage.

Copies of the bill, signed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and certified by both the Secretary of the Senate and the Secretary General of the House, are then transmitted to the President for signing.

Congress goes on recess on March 24 and will resume sessions on May 14 until it adjourns sine die on June 2.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)