2019 Bangsamoro polls eyed under BBL

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The first election in the planned new autonomous Bangsamoro region in Muslim Mindanao can only be held in 2019 or later, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said yesterday.

“That is, if the present Congress or the next Congress passes the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would create such region,” he told the Usaping Balita forum at the Serye restaurant in Quezon City.

He said there is a “moving timeline” for the approval of the draft BBL by the House of Representatives.

“The first deadline was in June, before the adjournment of the second regular session. The second is before we go on our first recess on Oct. 10, but that is no longer possible because we will tackle the 2016 budget starting on Monday. So Dec. 16 before the Christmas break is the new deadline,” he said.

He said he doubted whether the new deadline could be met.

“There is still a lengthy process before we could finally vote on this controversial measure. We are still in the period of debates,” he said.

“After that, we go to the period of amendments. We will tackle all provisions one after the other. The amendments will be subject to debate,” he added. “Then there is the turno en contra before we vote on second reading. After that comes the third and final reading vote.”

He added that he has numerous changes to propose to the BBL bill.

Lobregat pointed out that lack of quorum could derail the Dec. 16 approval deadline.

“We’ve had only five or six days of BBL debates since we convened last July 27. Those of us who were interested in participating in the discussions were always there. Unfortunately for us, there was no quorum on most days,” he said.

He said if the proposed BBL were not approved before the Christmas break, most likely it would be the next Congress that would have the burden of passing it.

“We will no longer be able to tackle it because of the election campaign,” he said.

In the event the House and the Senate are able to pass it on Dec. 16 and President Aquino signs it into law, it will still have to be submitted to the people of the covered area for ratification in a plebiscite, he stressed.

“And the plebiscite cannot be held until after the May 9, 2016 elections because you cannot have it in the middle of the election campaign,” he said.

Meanwhile, officials of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which the draft BBL seeks to replace with the Bangsamoro entity, would be filing their certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections.

Lobregat said the winners would have to complete their three-year term of office until the next elections in 2019.

“Which means that realistically, the first election of the autonomous Bangsamoro region under the proposed BBL could happen in 2019,” he said.

He said the provision in the bill calling for a one-year transition during which the interim leadership would be headed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would “complicate things.”

The draft BBL is the product of years of peace negotiations between the government and the MILF.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chairs the ad hoc committee on the BBL, expressed optimism that the House could still pass the proposed law before the end of the year.

“There remains a narrow window for approving it, that is between Nov. 2 when we resume session after the Oct. 10 break and before our Christmas recess. We have to do it for the sake of peace,” he said.

However, House leaders have said it would be more difficult to muster a quorum after the filing of certificates of candidacy on Oct. 12-16.

They said they expect members to visit their districts more frequently than they do now.

But they are assuring President Aquino and the nation that they would be able to gather enough members to pass the proposed P3-trillion 2016 national budget before their Christmas break.

Budget priority for now

At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said debates on the BBL would only take a back seat at the moment while Congress deliberates on the 2016 national budget.

He said the peace measure has to be shelved for the meantime while both the Senate and the House deliberate on the proposed General Appropriations Act for next year.

“This is the highest priority of Congress – the timely passage of the national budget. That’s why they intend to make way for this,” Coloma said in Filipino.

While both chambers are discussing the budget measure, some lawmakers may take the opportunity to further examine the BBL so they can promptly raise their concerns in the plenary, once the budget program is approved, Coloma said.

Meanwhile, participants in a security summit in Davao City last Monday lauded the breakthrough in the peace negotiations between the government and the MILF.

“Since the ceasefire between the government of the Philippines and the MILF has been in place, we have seen marked reduction in violent incidents, with the exception of the all-out war in 2000 and after the MoA-AD decision in 2008,” Australian First Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Warren Hoye said, refering to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“We have also seen increasing investments in the ARMM in recent years, so we have seen peace bring an improvement in security which has allowed development,” Hoye added.

The Asia Foundation and Conciliation Resources sponsored the security summit.

Hoye reiterated the Australian government remains committed to supporting the peace process as well as the development of the envisioned Bangsamoro region.

He said that after many decades of violence and conflict in Mindanao, a durable political settlement is now on the horizon with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

“There are some uncertainties around BBL at present, but we shouldn’t let this threaten the benefits which have accrued to date through peace and security,” Hoye said.

Kristian Herbolzheimer, Conciliation Resources program director for the Philippines and Colombia, said the Mindanao peace process is being used as reference of groups seeking lasting solution to conflicts across the globe. Peace agreements in Nepal, Sudan and the Northern Ireland had served as models for other peace initiatives.

“This is to say that what you are doing now is not only important for Mindanao, for the Bangsamoro, for the Philippines, it’s a reference for the rest of the world,” he added.

Herbolzheimer revealed that military officials and civil society groups in Colombia would regularly request him to share developments in the Mindanao peace process, particularly on issues related to security and normalization, and on the role of civil society in enforcing and implementing agreements.

“We do know that security is the most valued peace dividend for people who live in conflict affected areas,” he pointed out.

Retired Maj. Gen. Leo Cresente Ferrer, a member of the joint normalization committee representing the Philippine government, said civil society should play an active role in enforcing the peace agreement and in pressuring the government and the MILF to follow through on their commitments. – Delon Porcalla, Jose Rodel Clapano













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