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House may not pass FOI, anti-dynasty bills

In a radio interview, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II of Mandaluyong said the House would be preoccupied with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the 2016 national budget between August and mid-October, before lawmakers running in the 2016 elections file their certificates of candidacy. File photo

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives may not be able to approve the Freedom of Information (FOI) and anti-dynasty bills during the last session of Congress, which starts on Monday.

In a radio interview, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II of Mandaluyong said the House would be preoccupied with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the 2016 national budget between August and mid-October, before lawmakers running in the 2016 elections file their certificates of candidacy.

“Historically, after the filing of certificates… and after we approve the budget, it will already be difficult for us to muster a quorum. It’s almost a miracle if we can have a quorum,” he said.

He said the window for approving important bills is only two-and-a-half months.

He added that the House would approve the proposed budget and try to pass the controversial draft BBL within that period.

Gonzales admitted that aside from the FOI and anti-dynasty bills, the fate of the economic Charter change resolution hangs in the balance as well.

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He said he and his colleagues would run out of time to consider and approve all these important measures.

After the approval of the budget before the end of the year, Congress will go on recess and convene in mid-January only to adjourn for the long election campaign, he said.

Lawmakers will reconvene after the elections just to close their third and last regular session.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, one of the authors of the FOI bill, has admitted to losing hope about its approval by the present Congress.

“We have only a two-month or three-month window – August to October – to pass the FOI bill. After that, I am not optimistic that we could still do it,” he said.

“I am seriously worried that the FOI bill will again not be passed by the current Congress, considering that there are other important legislation pending before both chambers,” he said.

He said the draft BBL has not even reached the halfway mark of deliberations, and Congress is also gearing up for budget hearings come September and October.

“Considering the calendar, it is a worrying prospect that the FOI will again languish in the legislative mill,” he added.

He said the other important measures that would compete for priority include the anti-dynasty bill, the extension of the agrarian reform law and the economic Cha-cha resolution.

The House is expected to resume plenary debates on House Bill 5811 or the basic law on the Bangsamoro autonomous region while the Senate local governments committee chaired by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is set to submit the committee report of its own version of the measure.

Legislative priorities

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he would meet with Senate President Franklin Drilon “to go over the pending bills again to see what we can push very quickly.”

“I’m very happy that these are very likely going to be economic bills,” Belmonte said.

“It takes two to tango, I really don’t like passing stuff in the House in the last few months of effective work in Congress. I’d like to concentrate on things that will be passed also in the Senate,” he added.

Majority Leader Gonzales, Markina City Rep. Romero Quimbo and Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan for the House and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III are expected to attend the meeting.

Belmonte said the chamber was able to pass several key economic bills, some of which will be signed into law today, including the Philippine Competition Act.

Substitute bill

Marcos said the concern of legislators about losing voter support if they back the original version of the BBL only strengthens his argument that a substitute bill is the only way to go.

Gonzales was quoted as saying that many lawmakers fear they would lose in the 2016 elections, considering that at least half of their constituents reject the proposed law.

“The Palace underestimated the intelligence of our people. They know a bad deal when they see it in the version of the BBL that Malacañang wants Congress to pass without any changes. That’s why many lawmakers are reluctant to support it,” Marcos said.

Marcos said the strongest opposition against BBL is reportedly coming from Mindanao.

“When lawmakers fear they’d lose in the 2016 elections if they support BBL, you’ve got to listen. Their entire political future depends on their accurate reading of the people’s pulse. In fact, that is consistent with the public sentiment we got when we went around Mindanao for our BBL hearings,” Marcos said.

He said his committee would present the substitute bill when Congress resumes plenary sessions.

“I can say categorically that the draft BBL, as it was given to Congress, will not pass in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. So there is really a need for a substitute bill,” Marcos said.

“BBL alone will not be enough to ensure peace in Mindanao, but a good BBL will help us move towards that goal,” he added.

Unite for BBL

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles appealed to the public to unite for the passage of the proposed BBL.

“We call once more on the Muslim Filipino community, after having sacrificed and endured so much for generations, to be patient and remain walking with us on this arduous road to peace,” Deles said.

“We cannot promise that the road to achieving long-lasting peace will be easy, but we give you our most solemn vow: you will never feel alone in your journey to this righteous path,” she added.

Deles said a united stand by Muslim Filipino communities for the BBL’s passage would send a message to legislators of the Bangsamoro people’s aspirations for peace and security under a regime of self-determination and self-governance.

“Those who actively block the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and those who’d benefit from maintaining the oppressive status quo in Muslim Mindanao – will know and feel the strength of our truth with our unity,” she said.

Government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer echoed Deles’ message.

“May our Muslim brothers and sisters who fasted for peace and mutual understanding during the month of Ramadan reap the fruits of their sacrifice,” Ferrer said.

Bigger crowd

Speaker Belmonte said the House is prepared to host the President’s last State of the Nation Address, which is expected to draw a bigger crowd.

“This is something that we do every year, and this is the fifth time that we’re doing it and there are no particular concerns that have not happened in the past. There’ll be the usual demonstrations outside,” Belmonte said.

“As usual our problem is that, we’ve a lot more people who want to be invited than we have available space in the House – we’re doing what we can to address that,” he added.

He said he has instructed House Secretary General Marilyn Barua-Yap to ensure the security of the event, but said he does not anticipate any problem.

House Deputy Secretary General Artemio Adasa Jr. said 10-year-old Gwyneth Dorado, one of the Filipino finalists in the just-concluded Asia’s Got Talent search show, would sing the national anthem.

“This is in recognition of the mercurial achievement of a young girl, whose singing ability is adored not only in Asia but worldwide. She truly represents the vast and incredible wealth of talents Filipino youth can offer,” Adasa said.

He said Deputy Secretary General for Internal Audit Cecilia David invited Dorado. – With Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Jose Rodel Clapano

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