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‘Silent protest’ may scuttle BBL in House

LAWMAKERS angered by the pressure being applied by the Palace, mounted a tenacious effort to block the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), ensuring that the bill President Benigno Aquino III so urgently wanted passed was dead in the water.

In the plenary session Thursday, 33 congressmen—20 of whom were from the majority—rose to question provisions of the BBL and also challenged the lack of a quorum, prompting House leaders to declare they would miss the Palace-imposed June 11 deadline for the bill's passage.

House insiders said the lawmakers were appalled that the Palace would use the threat of lawsuits against them and their relatives in local government units to speed up the passage of the bill, which is the lynchpin in the administration's peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said at least 20 of the 33 congressmen who stood up to question the BBL beloned to the majority.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II confirmed that most on the list were allies of the President.

The “collective, silent protest” became evident as lawmakers showed up to have their attendance checked to establish a quorum.

But while they were in the House premises, the number of lawmakers in the session hall would dwindle to fewer than 40, giving the opposition lawmakers led by Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza room to immediately question the quorum.

No amount of quorum bells pealing to summon the lawmakers back to the session hall worked, leading House leaders to cancel the sessions.

“We will find it hard to pass the BBL on June 11 due to lack of quorum,” said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who sponsored a substitute bill that was almost identical to the Palace-drafted BBL.

Among the first ones to interpellate Rodriguez were Zamora and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya.

Lawmakers who asked to remain anonymous said they found it insulting that the Palace would try to ram the BBL down their throats when it was filled with legal infirmities. The Palace insistence on a deadline, they added, would give people no other course but to believe that Congress had railroaded the measure.

Under the House rules, questions of quorum take precedence over other motions and the plenary cannot transact business without a quorum.

House Deputy Speaker Henedina Abad of Batanes was found to have used the last announcement of a quorum to approve several measures, even if the session hall had empty seats.

With only about 40 lawmakers present, Abad would announce the approval of several bills on second and third reading with the vote count declaration, “With 197 voting in the affirmative and none in the negative, the measure is approved.”

The promised marathon hearing that was supposed to last until midnight ended at 7:30 p.m. Atienza vowed to question the quorum again when the sessions resume on Monday.

Some lawmakers said they found it a low blow for the Palace to use their pending cases with the Ombudsman to force them to vote in favor of the BBL.

They also confirmed Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez’s assertion that the Commission on Audit had threatened some 180 lawmakers to have their projects issued notices of disallowances.

The notices would serve as the COA’s proof that the projects were under question and thus should not proceed.

“This is ridiculous. We haven’t even received yet an approval of our projects and here is COA telling us we have notices of disallowances,” said one lawmaker.

“I was told that if I don’t vote for the BBL, I might find my wife (elected local government official] fighting a case in the Ombudsman. What kind of government is this?” said another lawmaker, a close ally of the President from Mindanao.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said the timing of the notices of disallowances was suspect.

He said while it has been the long practice of COA to issue notices of disallowances, this time, the teachers, whose bonuses were being withheld as a result of the notices of allowances, have started complaining.

“These are LGUs nationwide,” Tinio said.

“With three session days remaining before Congress adjourns sine die, no amount of BBL payola would make possible the passage of the BBL at the rate the Palace is treating the lawmakers shabbily,” a lawmaker said.

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