CRITICS of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) denounced Monday what they described as the railroading of the draft law through the House of Representatives, where the 75-man ad hoc panel backed down on its vow to strike down eight unconstitutional provisions after meeting with President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday.
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, the most vocal critic of the BBL, slammed the decision by the panel chairman, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, to put the “working draft” that he prepared to a vote without incorporating many of the amendments proposed by other panel members.
The panel began voting Monday on Rodriguez’s draft, which removed only two of the eight provisions that lawmakers identified as unconstitutional, and leaving six of them intact.
Reports said that the meetings between the President and lawmakers were held in Malacañang Friday and Sunday, and included leaders of parties belong to the pro-administration bloc, deputy speakers, Rodriguez, as well as vice chairmen of the ad hoc panel.
Another meeting was held Sunday night, with lawmakers finalizing the second draft to incorporate additional changes.
A spokesman for the President said Monday he was not aware of the meetings.
“I was not in any meeting and what I know about the meetings is only what I have read from published reports,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a text message to The Standard.
“Consultative meetings are held to clarify issues in legislative matters so that both branches may work to achieve common objectives, in this case, the furtherance of the peace process in Mindanao,” Coloma added.
In the House, Lobregat complained that the panel as a whole had not authorized the chairman or the vice chairman to act as members of the technical working group that was supposed to consolidate all the proposed amendments to the bill.
“So why are you now changing the rules (in the middle of the game)?” Lobregat demanded.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said only Rodriguez and his vice chairmen were allowed to propose amendments to the Palace-supported bill, and that the technical working group was not convened to consolidate all the proposed amendments as agreed.
“That’s beside the point,” Rodriguez replied.
Voting on the Rodriguez draft then began after Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, vice chairman of the ad hoc panel, made a motion to vote it. Thirty-seven members voted in favor of the motion; 16 voted against it.
The Rodriguez draft restored six of the eight provisions that lawmakers over 48 previous hearings deemed unconstitutional, and aligned it more closely to the Palace-backed version of the measure.
The BBL seeks to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao to replace and expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and is the product of peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The draft law came under fire after the Jan. 25 massacre of 44 police commandos by Muslim rebels, including fighters from the MILF.
Removed from the Palace-proposed bill was a provision that required the national government to coordinate military movement in the region with the Bangsamoro government. Another provision removed was one giving the Bangsamoro government the primary power to discipline its own officials.
The bill’s provisions creating the Bangsamoro’s own special bodies such as a Commission on Human Rights, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Elections and Commission on Audit were reworded to make them regional offices of their existing constitutional bodies.
The Rodriguez draft retained the Palace proposal to grant the Bangsamoro chief minister operational control and supervision over the Bangsamoro police.
The “opt-in” provision that critics called “creeping territorial expansion” was kept in the draft, but reworded to limit the petition for inclusion in the Bangsamoro to the fifth and 10th year following the BBL’s passage.
Critics said the leaders of the panel decided to retain the contentious provisions after they met the President in Malacañang.
Rodriguez denied there was any connection.
“It was a dialogue for us to tell the President that these are our proposed amendments. It was an exchange of ideas. We impressed on him that certainly, there has to be changes to the bill to get the support of the members of the ad hoc committee.”
President Aquino III had earlier reminded Congress not to dilute the bill too much since it could be rejected by the MILF.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday again questioned the Palace deadline for passing the BBL.
“Why is this being rushed? This is very important,” Marcos said in yesterday’s hearing on the BBL.
This was the same question everybody was asking all over the country, he said.
He called the President’s target date a “political deadline” that did not really exist anywhere else.
“We have waited for 43 years for peace. We can wait for months, surely,” Marcos said.
Marcos said the stakes were too high for Congress to pass a faulty BBL. This, he said, would result in bigger problems for Muslims in Mindanao and for the region.
He said that after hearing the positions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the consensus he gathered was that the MNLF leaders was to view the government’s peace agreement with the MILF in the context of its earlier agreements with the MNLF.
“This is not out of pride, but mostly from the concern that the fruits of such long and bitter war... were somehow ignored,” Marcos said.
MNLF leaders also made clear that they were left out of the peace process. They also said that agreements between the MNLF and the government were ignored, he added.
“The Framework Agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement and draft BBL were written as if the Tripoli Agreement and the Jakarta agreement did not exist. And that is why were are trying now to incorporate what gains have been made from the MNLF in representing the Bangsamoro people to the present day. This will require a great deal of examination in our discussions,” Marcos said. – With Sandy Araneta
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