House, Senate set Dec. 16 BBL deadline

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate and the House of Representatives have set Dec. 16 as the new deadline for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which continues to face opposition in and out of Congress due to its numerous questionable provisions.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the 75-member ad hoc committee on the BBL, issued the statement after the House closed plenary debates on the measure yesterday to give way to deliberations on the proposed P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016.

“On Nov. 3, we’ll hit the ground running because the budget will be on its way to the Senate, and we can resume deliberations on the BBL and finish it, including the period of amendments until Nov. 30,” he said.

Once plenary deliberations on the proposed budget start, no other measure will be entertained on the floor until it is passed in the chamber, he added.

The House, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., set the new calendar of approval for the BBL a few days ago after a meeting in Malacañang last week with President Aquino, who pleaded to have the BBL passed before he steps down from office.

Rodriguez said the House still has 13 interpellators listed while the Senate has four.

“It may even happen that the Senate will pass it ahead of us,” he said.

BBL deliberations in the House have been sluggish due to a lack of quorum and support for the bill, although its proponents remain confident that it can be revived once the controversial provisions are clarified.

Following the new timeline, Rodriguez said the BBL might be passed and ratified by Congress on or about Dec. 16 and signed into law by Aquino before the end of the year.

He added that the administration is eyeing the holding of the plebiscite by March after Aquino would have appointed the first members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

The BTA members will hold office until 2019 when the election of members of the Bangsamoro parliament will be held.

It was not clear, however, whether the new calendar took into account the expected case that will be filed before the Supreme Court questioning the BBL.

The BBL was supposed to be submitted by Malacañang to Congress in May last year with the expectation that it would be approved by the end of 2014. However, Aquino submitted the draft only in September and the discussions on the bill were overtaken by the Mamasapano incident, where 44 members of the police Special Action Force were killed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Meanwhile, Zamboanga City 1st District Rep. Celso Lobregat said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will not suspend the filing of the certificates of candidacy for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) pending the passage of the BBL.

Citing a statement by Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, Lobregat said that since there is no statutory directive to suspend the filing of certificates, the Comelec has no choice but continue with the process as provided by law.

“So, the ARMM election will push through (in May 2016) and that is another complication” to the passage of the BBL, Lobregat said.

He added that the budget for the plebiscite in the proposed areas of the Bangsamoro region was scrapped by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the regular Comelec proposed budget, citing the statement of Comelec Commissioner Robert Lim that this was incorporated in the proposed BBL.

Meanwhile, the group of retired generals in the country maintained its stand against the BBL in its current form despite meeting with President Aquino in Malacañang.

Retired Gen. Dionisio Santiago and retired Commodore Carlos Agustin, Philippine Defense and Armed Forces Attaché Association (PDAFAA) president, said during the Kapihan sa Luneta forum yesterday that the current BBL will only result in a more fragmented Filipino people instead of unifying the country through peace efforts.

“We simply voiced our concerns and the President also made known their own positions,” said Santiago in an ambush interview after the forum, when asked what really happened during their meeting with Aquino on Tuesday.

The group believes that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the BBL, in its original form, are seriously flawed, as “these agreements were clear violations of the Constitution.”

Santiago added that the BBL seeks to establish a political entity, which has all the makings of a state and, in effect, creating a state within a state.

“Our position is we are supporting the peace process but the BBL has to be amended and we totally agree that in its present form, will result to more fragmentation of our people,” Agustin said.

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian also believes that the recent kidnapping of foreigners in Samal Island may be linked to the BBL as he urged Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento to intensify security in southern Philippines.

He said the kidnapping might impact adversely on the economy as potential foreign investors may no longer do business in the country because of security concerns. - With Roel Pareño, Jaime Laude












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