PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III said Monday he is ready to meet with the senators regarding the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), but only if they invite him to do so.
“ Of course I do want to meet with them. But I don’t want to interfere with them since they:are anindependent body,” Aquino said in response to a question from reporters.”
Earlier, Aquino met with House leaders in the Palace ahead of a vote on the BBL last week, triggering accusations of executive interference.
Congressmen who had vowed to oppose several provisions ofthe BBL on questions of their constitutionality abruptly reversed their positions after two meetings with the President, and approved a version of the bill that hewed closely to the Palace-drafted document.
Aquino on Monday said he would wait to hear from Senate President Franklin Drilon if a similar meeting with the senators were needed.
“If they (senators) want to talk to me ko regarding this, and they would invite me to give an opinion during their talks, why not? I am ready for it,” said Aquino.
Aquino also said that the Senate committee report of Senator YIiriam Defensor Santiago, which questioned the constitutionality of the BBL, was “just an opinion.”
Aquino said the members of the constitutional commission who drafted the Constitution have come out in support of the BBL.
The President also said he was confident the law, which is the lynchpin in the government’s peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), would withstand the test of constitutionality .
Aquino said lawmakers should use congressional debates to calmly scrutinize the draft BBL, not to gain media mileage.
In a draft Senate committee report released to the media last week, Santiago said the draft BBL will raise constitutional problems if it is passed in its current form.
Santiago argued in the committee report that draft BBL will create a state within the Philippine state. She also claimed that the measure is intended to have the same effect as the Constitution.
The BBL has been passed at the committee level in the House of Representatives, but is still undergoing committee hearings in the Senate.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chaired the ad hoc committee on the BBL, said the House would conduct marathon deliberations in plenary starting Wednesday to meet the Palace’s June 11 deadline for its approval on third and final reading.
“We will hold marathon hearings from June 1 to 4 and from June 8 to 11 , that is Monday to Thursday and we are willing to start our deliberations at 10 a.m. and finish at midnight,” said
Rodriguez, who has been widely criticized for reneging on his promise to excise eight unconstitutional provisions from the Palace-drafted bill after the meetings with the President.
Rodriguez said Monday the President would have to certify the BBL as urgent to enable both chambers of Congress to speed its passage and to ratify it by July, before Aquino delivers his last State of the Nation Address.
He said his panel would ask the President to approve the substitute bill attached to it and ask that it be certified as urgent.
He said a BBL passed by Congress would be the best SONA gift that lawmakers could give to the President, whose term ends on June 30, 2016.
Last week, Rodriguez’s panel approved the amended Palace-version of the BBL, as contained in the substitute bill, and rejected most of the individual amendments that members pro posed.
The joint House committees on appropriation and on ways and means are scheduled to tackle the funding and taxation aspect of the measure Tuesday.
Rodriguez defended the substitute version of the bill that was approved, saying it addressed all the constitutional questions raised by Santiago.
He also appealed to his Senate counterpart, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. , to abide by the House timetable.
Marcos has repeatedly questioned the need to rush the BBL, saying it was more important to pass a good bill than to meet the Palace deadline.
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