THE Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will not be railroaded through the Senate as it was in the House, where the Palace version of the bill was passed by a vote of 50-17, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Wednesday.
“Our senators are very independent-minded,” Marcos told a radio interview when asked if the bill would go through the same process in the Senate.
After a marathon 13-hour session that began Tuesday, the House ad hoc panel finished line-by-line voting on the 109-page draft bill, which was almost identical to the Palace-submitted draft.
Critics complained that the majority railroaded the bill through after two meetings with President Benigno Aquino III in the Palace ahead of the vote.
Amendments that were previously discussed were abandoned in the so-called “chairman’s draft” prepared by the head of the panel, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
But Marcos said his meticulous and detailed scrutiny of the draft BBL was based on the suggestions of his fellow senators.
Still, he said, members of the administration party and their allies would likely support the Palace version of the bill.
“But we are in constant communication with each other and I think that if it is evident that some provisions need amendment,” Marcos said.
Marcos said he expected Senate amendments on BBL to focus on provisions on constitutional bodies, the “opt-in” provision and the provision on Bangsamoro police.
So far, Marcos said that except from some billboard and media campaigns directed at him personally he has not felt any direct pressure on him to rush the passage of the BBL in his committee.
“Nobody has told me what to do. There were only reminders not to stop so we could not be seen as delaying the process. That’s why we have hearings (on BBL) practically every week,” Marcos said.
And after two more hearings for sectors who felt left out in the process, one on May 25 for the sultanates and indigenous people, and another on June 3 for local government officials, Marcos said his panel would buckle down to the task of writing its report.
The senator has been saying that for BBL to work it should be all-inclusive and that it should have popular support.
However, the public attitude towards BBL was eroded after the Jan. 25 Mamasapano massacre of 44 police commandos by Muslim rebels, including the those from the government’s peace partner, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The latest Social Weather Station survey showed only 23 percent of the Filipino people support the passage of the BBL.
A Palace spokesman on Wednesday denied that there was any quid pro quo when the President discussed the BBL with congressional leaders over the weekend.
“Peace and prosperity in Mindanao. That’s the end goal of the BBL. I mean, if you are asking for any quid pro quo, there is none,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, addressing suspicion that administration lawmakers were rewarded for voting in favor of the Palace version of the BBL.
No money or slots in the Liberal Party senatorial slate for 2016 were offered in exchange for votes, Lacierda said.
Lacierda said Aquino was prompted to call a meeting with the congressmen because ime was getting short and Mamasapano had obviously delayed the administration’s timetable.
“And we need to catch up,” he said.
He said the government needed to make sure that those who would take a leadership role after the BBL was passed had the capacity to govern the area.
Lacierda also welcomed the statement of MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal who said the rebels were happy with 90 percent of the BBL.
“It’s a positive, it’s a good step for us,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda described the two weekend meetings of the President with lawmakers as “part of the deliberative process in Congress” but declined to give details on what was said during those meetings.
“I have no personal knowledge of what transpired,” he said.
Asked about criticism that the BBL was rammed through the ad hoc panel in the House, Lacierda said any concerns raised by those in disagreement were being heard.
“But the process is continuing. However you characterize it, there’s a democratic process that continues to run and let’s wait... at least in the final version of the BBL in the House,” Lacierda said.
Both Marcos and Senator Francis Escudero have criticized the Palace for setting a deadline for the passage of the BBL.
Lacierda acknowledged that the senators were like “independent republics,” but said he would consult with Senate President Franklin Drilon about the Palace deadline for the BBL.
“I think all of us are in agreement that there is a need to pursue this avenue for the peace and development of—and eventual prosperity of Muslim Mindanao,” he said.
In the House, the ad hoc panel scrutinizing the BBL voted 50-17-1 in favor of the Palace version of the bill.
Critics slammed what they called as tyranny of the majority when t Rodriguez adopted a substituted bill entitled “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, an administration ally but the most vocal critic of the bill, decried the decision of his allies in the majority to vote down several of his proposed amendments to the bill.
“This is a very sad day,” Lobregat, vice chairman of the House committee on peace, reconciliation and unity, said, even as he clarified that he supported the peace initiative being pursued by the Aquino government.
“I am for peace but not at the expense of the republic,” he said.
Lobregat said he made more than 150 “principled and logical amendments on the basis of law and Constitution.”
He also slammed Rodriguez for doing an about-face when he then said several times and even assured the Palace-created Peace Council that all the contentious provisions would be excised from the measure.
Rodriguez himself voted in favor of the Palace version of the measure.
“By approving the [proposed Bangsamoro law with the way Malacanang wants it], they (House majority) made it worse,” Lobregat said.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, one of the lawmakers who voted against the measure, lamented the decision of the Rodriguez panel to retain several contentious provisions in the BBL, such as the ‘opt-in’ provision which allows neighboring territories to propose their inclusion in the Bangsamoro “at any time” through a petition of at least 10 percent of the residents and approval of a majority of qualified voters in the city or province in a separate plebiscite.
“We expect a lot of parties opposing the BBL to bring this issue before the Supreme Court,” Bello said.
Following the ad hoc panel’s approval of the bill, the measure will be deliberated on by the joint committee on appropriations and ways and means to discuss the funding aspect of the proposed law. The joint committees are headed by Reps. Isidro Ungab of Davao City and Miro Quimbo of Marikina, both allies of the President.
House Majority Floor Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the plenary discussion and voting on the measure is set to begin on Wednesday next week.
Rodriguez, for his part, said he expects the measure to be passed on third and final reading in June or before Congress goes on a sine die break on June 14.
The Palace-backed Bangsamoro bill seeks to create a new Bangsamoro political entity.
Under the proposed measure, the autonomous Bangsamoro government will be parliamentary in form, to be headed by a chief minister. It also retained the contentious provisions on the creation of the Bangsamoro’s own special bodies such as Commission on Human Rights, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Elections and Commission on Audit. These were referred to, however as regional offices of the existing constitutional bodies.
The only provisions stricken from the original Palace draft was one that required the national government to coordinate military movement in the Bangsamoro region with the Bangsamoro government, and another on the power of the Bangsamoro government to discipline its own officials.
The approved version of the BBL also keeps operational control and supervision of the Bangsamoro police under the region’s chief minister.
The opposition in the House said lawmakers should not only vote their conscience but also represent their constituents, many of who do not support the BBL.
Minority Leader and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora said they would oppose the BBL all the way.
“The minority cannot support the version they (majority) are adopting,” Zamora told reporters at a news conference.
Zamora said he was hopeful that his colleagues, especially the Mindanaons, will vote not only based on their conscience but also on what their constituents feel and want about the BBL.
“That’s the good guide in politics: listen to your conscience and listen to what your constituents are saying,” Zamora said.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also slammed the railroading of the BBL through the ad hoc committee.
“The BBL will never provide a genuine autonomy for the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples,” he said.
Colmenares said the 50 hearings conducted by the 75-man ad hoc committee on the BBL since last year had been wasted when the Palace version of the measure prevailed after two meetings with the President.
“There were hearings but the majority wasn’t listening. All they wanted to do was vote yes to the Malacanang version of the BBL,” he said.
The Palace thanked the ad hoc committee for approving the BBL, saying it would make peace and prosperity in Mindanao a reality.
“We would like to thank the House committee for approving the draft BBL. It brings us closer to transforming Muslim Mindanao from a permanent potential into a reality where peace and prosperity abide,” Lacierda said.
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