Congress sees no Moro law this year

MILF unhappy about it, won’t say what’s next

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III will submit the final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to congressional leaders during a turnover ceremony at the Palace on Wednesday, but House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said Monday the prospects were dim that the bill would be passed as quickly as the Palace hoped.

“I think it will prosper but it will be hard to catch up this year,” Belmonte said citing time and budgetary constraints.

Belmonte also lamented Malacañang’s decision to leave out some P679.1 million in funding for the conduct of a plebiscite that would be needed to ratify the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Belmonte, who earlier created a special committee to speed up the passage of the bill, said the legislative calendar was such that Congress would be hard pressed to pass the law according to the Palace timetable.

Belmonte made his statement even as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said Monday it would consider it unfortunate if Congress failed to pass the BBL this year.

“The MILF would not be happy about it,” MILF vice chairman for Political Affairs Gadzali Jaafar said after he was asked what their next plan was if the BBL suffered a defeat.

“We don’t know what will happen in case Congress foregos the BBL,” Jaafar said, adding they were closely monitoring the events in Congress.

“We will cross the bridge when we get there,” he said when pressed to comment on what would happen if the BBL was not enacted.     

1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, a member of the House minority and former peace negotiator, said the government’s failure to allocate funds to make the BBL operational and implementable cast doubt on the administration’s sincerity.

“If Malacanang is serious in achieving a genuine peace accord with the MILF and other Muslim rebel groups, Malacanang should include in the budget an allocation to meet the demands that naturally comes with the agreement,” Bello said.

Bello said if the proposed BBL is enacted, there are so many organizational and logistical requirements that need government funding.

“It would be impossible to pass a law that would not be implementable at all because of the lack of government funding to give it life and meaning,” Bello said.

In a speech in Davao City Monday, the President talked up the prospects for peace in Mindanao.

“Our countrymen in Mindanao will see a new future on the horizon: the dawn of peace, stability, and ultimately prosperity. It is therefore only right that we commit further to the realization of this promise by finding ways to maximize the long-held prospects for growth for all stakeholders,” he said.

“Clearly we must boost Mindanao’s capacities, so that they themselves may catch up and contribute to our economic growth,” the President added.

All members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission signed the transmission letter of the final BBL draft on Sunday.

The BBL is among the priority measures of the House and it will be certified as urgent by the Palace to ensure that it is passed into law by the first quarter of 2015 at the latest.

Once the draft BBL is passed into law, a plebiscite will be held in the areas that will constitute the Bangsamoro territory.

Malacanang was expected to submit the draft BBL to Congress as early as July 28, but last-minute disagreements held up the draft.

The BBL, once passed, will create a new political entity to be called the Bangsamoro that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The President, who earlier described the ARMM as a failed experiment, said a plebiscite must be held in the areas that will comprise the BBL by the end of the year.

“Our target is not the first quarter of next year. What we target is to hold the plebiscite by the end of this year if possible. What we want is to give the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority at least one year and a half to run the system,” the President said.

But in an earlier interview, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda acceded that the BBL may no longer be passed into law by December amid the delays in the submission of the measure to Congress.

Lacierda said even if the BBL was passed into law by the first quarter of 2015, the administration still has enough time to put in place a Bangsamoro Transition Authority ahead of the 2016 elections.

“Certainly, we would hope that we can expedite the process, but we realize that it’s not yet been submitted to Congress. So they are being realistic on the timetable,” Lacierda said.

The executive branch earlier scrapped the budget for the plebiscite under the Commission on Elections.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad explained that P2.7 billion has already been earmarked for the enactment of the BBL.

On Monday, the House adopted a resolution creating an ad hoc committee with 75 members to review, evaluate and propose legislation relative to the comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro, mandated to finish its work within six months from its establishment.

“This is to help expedite the process of approving the measure,” said House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II.

The resolution passed Monday said the ad hoc committee will exercise jurisdiction over all matters directly and principally relating to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Belmonte said he would immediately elect the officials and members of the ad hoc committee, which would be led by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

Gonzales said creating the ad hoc panel is a practical way of deliberating the BBL instead of allowing four standing committees to hold joint hearings.

Gonzales said the House has almost completed the selection of five lawmakers who will serve as his vice chairmen in the ad hoc committee.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said Monday that the BBL could be passed before March 2015 if politics don’t get in the way.

“It will be up to the politicians. That is why we are asking them to set aside everything related to the 2016 national elections so that we can focus on the BBL, which is for the peace and progress of the country,” he said.

He said he expected to start debates on the BBL during the first week of December.

Drilon on Sunday called on fellow senators and members of the House of Representatives to set aside political bickering and individual political aspirations for 2016 to achieve a lasting and genuine peace in Mindanao.

He said the Senate will immediately start deliberations on the proposed BBL once it is submitted.

“We will request the Senate Committee on Local Government headed by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Senate Committee on Peace, Unity and Unification headed by Senator Teofisto Guingona III to immediately conduct committee-level hearings,” said Drilon.

By the time the 2015 national budget is brought for plenary debates, Drilon said he expects that substantial discussions on the BBL draft have already been made.

“We will have to terminate temporarily the discussion on the BBL to give way for the 2015 budget. But we will immediately shift discussions back to the BBL once the budget is passed by the first or second week of December,” he added.

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