Bangsamoro law faces ‘very rough sailing’ in House

THE Bangsamoro Basic Law faces a “very rough sailing” in the House because its members are demanding that the bill be subjected to a national plebiscite and the House leadership says the MILF will not have “operational control” over its own police force, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said Monday.

Rodriguez, chairman of the House special ad hoc committee on the BBL, confirmed that the Palace’s granting the MILF some P70 billion in “block grant” annually did not sit well with the lawmakers in Luzon and the Visayas.

“Even if Malacañang and the peace panel committed to the MILF that it will have operational control over its own police force, the House will not give it to them,” Rodriguez told the Manila Standard.

“We cannot allow those who slaughtered the Special Action Force 44 to be given ample police powers. We will drop that provision and it will not see the light in the plenary. There will be no debate on this one. It is unconstitutional. There is only one police force and that is the PNP.

“After the Mamasapano incident, the BBL is facing a very rough sailing in the House but it would help if the MILF would show some confidence- building measures to prove that they are indeed sincere in obtaining peace.”

Rodriguez made his statement even as MILF senior leader and Bangsamoro Transition Commission deputy chairman Robert Alonto allayed fears there would be war in Central Mindanao if the BBL was mangled in Congress.

Alonto and MILF peace panel member Abhoud Sayyed Lingga and Ana Basman, chief legal counsel of the government peace panel, were in Cagayan de Oro City on Saturday for a media forum on the BBL.

“The MILF does not have the intention to go back to war unless we have to defend ourselves, “ Alonto said.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday said the Senate panel deliberating on the BBL will not resume its hearing on it until the MILF submits its findings on the Mamasapano encounter that resulted in the death of the 44 police commandos.

Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local governments, urged MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal to submit the MILF’s report so the hearing on the BBL could resume.

“We will wait for your report so that we can soon return to the hearings on the BBL,” Marcos said.

Iqbal said the MILF was almost done except for some “issues that require validation on the ground.”

Senator Ralph Recto said the MILF should remember that Congress wanted to make amendments to the proposed BBL to improve it and not to mangle it.   

“If the law is vague, then conflicts will arise during its implementation,” Recto said.

The 39-strong Nationalist People’s Coalition, the party founded by President Benigno Aquino III’s uncle, business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco, cautioned the House against rushing the passage of the BBL.

Cojuangco’s daughter-in-law, Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, was the first to question the P70-billion block grant for the Bangsamoro.

Cojuangco said the Bangsamoro, which has a 3.7- million population, would be given an annual allocation of P70 billion while the rest of the country’s 96.3 million Filipinos would share with only P40 billion.

Rodriguez admitted a debate was expected in the plenary as to whether the BBL’s referendum would be held nationwide as demanded by the Independent Minority Bloc led by Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.

The bloc’s members—Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza and Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz—said a national plebiscite on the BBL was deemed appropriate since the whole country and all Filipinos would be affected by the power-sharing and wealth-sharing provisions embodied in the comprehensive peace agreement.

“It looks like we are giving everything to the MILF in the guise of peace. What do we tell other provinces if they, too, demand that they be accorded special treatment,” Atienza said.

“The plebiscite has to be nationwide because the revenue-sharing issues, security and foreign relations are at stake,” Dela Cruz said.

“While the peace panel claims the Bangsamoro could not impose its own foreign policies, the comprehensive agreement allows them to contract foreign loans and the Philippine government would guarantee those loans.”

Atienza and Dela Cruz also questioned the parliamentary form of government that the Bangsamoro would set up to be manned by 50 assemblymen and to be headed by a prime minister.

 “Establishing a parliamentary system of government as opposed to the existing presidential form of government can be done only through constitutional amendment. Therefore, a national plebiscite is a must,” Dela Cruz said.

Rodriguez, however, said there was no need for a national plebiscite as the Constitution provides that an autonomous region could have its own system of government and can vote for what is best for them.

Rodriguez said the Palace, the MILF and the peace panel should not expect to have a BBL passed “en toto.”

“We cannot do that. There are provisions that are unconstitutional and so the House would drop these provisions,” Rodriguez said.

He said the Bangsamoro could not have its own police force, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Elections and Ombudsman.

These quasi-judicial institutions remained under the control of the national government, he said.

 “We demand that President Aquino account for the billions of pesos allocated for the ARMM, which the President said was a failed experiment, thus the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. How can the ARMM be a failed experiment when it had been awash with cash due to allocations that the Palace asked Congress to approve,” Dela Cruz said.

For this reason, Dela Cruz reiterated his demand for Secretary Teresita Ging Deles of the Office of the Presidential Advicer for the Peace Process to account for the P8.5 billion that was allocated for the ARMM.

“We demand to know where the billions of taxpayers’ money went on top of the annual allocation given to the ARMM. How come the President called the ARMM a failed experiment despite the billions spent for the region. Is that why the BBL would grant the Bangsamoro P70 billion, they wanted more. Billions over the years failed to arrest poverty in the region. So where did the money go. Show us the money,” Dela Cruz said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Bobby Lagsa

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