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Congress concedes no time to pass BBL in ‘17

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BOTH houses of Congress said the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law could not be passed this 2017—with the House saying discussing it in the remaining weeks of the year was unlikely while the Senate said there should be a committee hearing first, which could take place next year.

In Malacañang, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque Jr. reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte’s commitment to ensure the passage of a more inclusive BBL.

He echoed the Chief Executive’s latest pronouncement during his visit in Maguindanao on Monday, where he stood by his promise to pass the BBL during his presidency.

“The President’s message is very clear.  It was a campaign promise and it is a commitment from him as President that he will do all that is necessary to rectify what he described as the historical injustice committed against the Muslim population of Mindanao,” Roque said. 

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In the Senate, allies of Duterte admitted Tuesday the holding of a special session to discuss the draft BBL was not likely to happen before Dec. 31.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the Senate committee on local government needed to conduct a hearing on the draft BBL first, adding the committee Chairman, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, should first hold a committee hearing.

Pimentel, also the president of the ruling party PDP-Laban, filed the draft BBL at the Senate last Nov. 6. Since then, the bill had been pending at the committee level.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the approval of the BBL, even with a special session, was “not possible” considering the projected long debates on the proposal.

“Not even a special session can fast track it to be passed into law this year. It contains 289 sections that hearings alone can take so much time,” he said.

Even if we work on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, Sotto conceded it would not be done this year. “First quarter next year is more possible,” he said.

“We need the Christmas break for our families. Even if we have sessions through Christmas and New Year’s day, it is not possible to pass it on third reading this year in the Senate,” he added.

The House of Representatives vowed to pass the Palace-backed BBL in time for the Malacañang imposed deadline, a House official said on Tuesday.

But House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said he believed there was no need for Congress to hold special sessions for the purpose as Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez already committed to pass the measure at the soonest possible time.

“If we will hold the special session, we cannot compress all the schedules.  So we will request the Speaker, we will request the President that special session is not anymore necessary. We will try to finish it before we adjourn on March 21, [2018]” Fariñas said.

Fariñas made the statement as Duterte, in his speech, during the first Bangsamoro Assembly in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao last week, said he would ask Congress “to [convene] a special session just to hear you talk about [the BBL].”

Representatives Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela, Gus Tambunting of Parañaque City and Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar rallied behind the President’s call for the swift passage of the BBL.

Another ally of Duterte, Senator Panfilo Lacson said a special session was not necessary unless the intention of Malacañang was to pass the measure by the end of the year. 

He said Congress could conduct committee hearings on BBL even without the President calling for a special session.

“Unless the intention is to pass the measure before year end, which is impossible considering the complex and contentious issues involved in its provisions, a special session may not be necessary,” Lacson said.

Senator Francis Escudero said calling for a special session clearly fell within the prerogative of the President, and “may call it anytime [that] Congress is in recess.”

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said no debate on the BBL could happen without a committee report.

“There is no committee report yet so no BBL debate can happen even in special session. Plus, local government committee, which will hear BBL, is chaired by Sen. Angara, who is ‘full time’ with TRAIN,” Drilon said, referring to the tax reform proposal, also an administration priority measure.

“And, if the House of Representatives will impeach [Chief Justice Maria Lourdes] Sereno, Senate will be an Impeachment Court in January…I do not know when we can debate on the BBL,” Drilon added.

The House justice committee, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali is deliberating on the impeachment complaint filed against Sereno. 

If the House of Representatives votes to impeach the Chief Justice, Senate would have to sit as an impeachment court next year to hold the trial.

Alvarez earlier filed House Bill 6475 which proposed the creation of a Bangsamoro political entity and abolishes the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao “in order to correct the historical injustices inflicted to Muslim people.”

“The purpose of this Basic Law is to establish a political entity, provide for its basic structure of government in recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and their aspiration to chart their political future through a democratic process that will secure their identity and posterity and allow for meaningful governance,” the bill states.

Alvarez said his bill aimed “to usher (in) a new era of peace and development” not only in Mindanao but throughout the Philippines.

“This bill prescribes the design for the continuation and improvement of vital reforms introduced by the current government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. This restructured entity will enhance existing systems and procedures, as well as establish a new set of institutional arrangements and modalities between the central government and the autonomous government with respect to the sharing of wealth and revenues, transitional aspects, and normalization,” Alvarez’s bill provides.

Alvarez earlier assured the stakeholders concerned that the Lower House would do its “part to help find peace in Mindanao.”

“Now more than ever, it is imperative that Filipino Muslims and Christians united amid a new threat coming from Islamist militants, espousing an extremist and violent ideology radically different from Islam’s tenets of peace and bortherhood,” Alvarez earlier said.

Alvarez’ HB 6475 was in response to Duterte’s call for “just and lasting peace for a unified nation.” 

Earlier, former president and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo filed the first BBL bill in the 17th Congress, through House Bill 6121 or the “Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”

in Malacanang, Roque said unlike the previous version of the bill, the new BBL would be more inclusive and would take into account proposals of different stakeholders, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Indigenous Peoples or Lumads in Mindanao.

IPs in the region earlier protested the previous version of the BBL, claiming it had classified them as “Bangsamoro” as well.  

In the new draft proposal, the proposed entity is expected to still recognize laws protecting non-Islamized tribes.   

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