‘Senate may be offered pork’

SENATOR Sergio Osmena III said  Tuesday  that President Benigno Aquino III can use “goodies” like pork barrel to railroad the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the Senate in the same way he did in the House of Representatives.

The President said  Monday  he was ready to meet the senators on the BBL after he swayed congressmen to approve the Palace-supported bill with very few changes at the committee level in two meetings ahead of a key vote.

Pork may be served. Senator Sergio Osmeña III said
Tuesday that “goodies” may be offered by the Aquino
administration to ensure the passage of the
Bangsamoro Basic Law in the Senate. Lino Santos
Osmena said the BBL was “definitely” railroaded through the House. “It’s very clear,” he said.

He added that the same thing could happen in the Senate.

“I’ll be naughty. If there are some goodies, it might help win a couple of senators,” Osmena said.

He likened the situation to 2011 and 2012, when the President pressed congressmen and senators to impeach and convict his political opponent, Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Saying he had qualms about meeting with the President, Osmena said he was worried that the public would believe the senators were bought.

In 2013, Senator Jinggoy Estrada–now detained on corruption charges—revealed that the administration used Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds to bribe senators to convict Corona in his impeachment trial. Each senator who voted to convict was given P50 million to P100 million in funding for their projects.

Osmena said pork barrel was still in the budget process, even though the Supreme Court had struck it down as unconstitutional.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairman of the local government committee discussing the BBL, said he was willing to talk to anyone, including the President, for a genuine discussion on how to iron out the kinks in the BBL.

“But count him out if it is merely meant to muscle the Senate into passing Malacanang’s version of the BBL,” Marcos said.

“If [the meeting is] only for political maneuvering as what was done with the House of Representatives, then, I don’t think I should be part of that. I don’t want to be involved in anything like that,” he added.

Osmena said he believed the meeting that the President sought was aimed at swaying some senators to immediately vote for the BBL to meet the Palace deadline of  June 11.

“Definitely, that’s why the President will call for a meeting,” said Osmena, who was the President’s campaign manager in 2010.

He added that if the meeting pushes through, he would not attend.

“What will I do there? You might just say, Osmena received pork barrel. I will not go,” he said.

Osmena added that there was no need for anybody to talk to him because he could make his own judgement.

He said although he is for peace, he wants to ensure that the rest of the country is protected.

“It’s difficult if we accept the BBL as it is written. I see a lot of defects [and] constitutional issues... We have to amend it. So I will predict it will not be passed the way the House passed it,” he said.

Osmena said he hoped his colleagues would be independent-minded and learn lessons from the past.

“You will always be under suspicion, and I would rather not be under suspicion because politics is perception. If the people think you are corrupt there is nothing you can do. You’re dead in the water already because their perception is reality,” said Osmena, who intends to seek re-election in 2016.

Senator Francis Escudero, also an administration ally, assured the public the BBL would not be railroaded through the Senate.

“We will and should pass a correct and constitutional BBL, not a rushed one,” he said.

He said while he appreciated the President’s offer to meet with the senators, this was an indication that his team was not doing its job.

“This is why the President himself is offering to do it for them,” he added.

Opposition Senators JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay said it was no longer necessary for the President to talk to the senators about the BBL.

“It would be better if we are left alone,” said Ejercito, noting that legislators should be given space and allowed to deliberate such a controversial bill.

Binay said the President should attend to other problems and let the senators do their job of scrutinizing the BBL.

But Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Juan Edgardo Angara welcomed the President’s offer to meet with them.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Palace respects the views of the senators because these are part of the deliberations in a democracy.

“We will wait for their decision during [the voting]. We hope that in the end, they will take into consideration the interest of the country—achieving lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” Coloma said.

In the House, the majority continued to push the BBL toward passage as the committee on ways and means approved the revenue and tax provisions of the bill.

The committee chaired by Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo approved the tax component of the measure, including the wealth sharing provision, which gives the Bangsamoro government 75 percent of its collected internal revenue.

The committee on appropriations, on the other hand, was expected to approve  Tuesday  night the funding aspect of the BBL.

Under the proposed bill, the new entity will receive a block grant of P70 billion that will be automatically appropriated from the national government.

The House is expected to tackle the BBL in a plenary session on Wednesday.

If the bill hurdles Congress and is signed by the President, it will be submitted to a plebiscite before it can become the enabling law to create a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. – With Maricel V. Cruz and Sandy Araneta

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