Last nine days for BBL

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate and the House of Representatives have only nine days to approve the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before they go on an adjournment again on Feb. 6 for the long election campaign.

The two chambers reconvene today after their month-long Christmas vacation.

The House is expected to start tackling amendments to the draft BBL, while the Senate is still in the period of floor debates.

Before the recess, Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile reportedly requested for at least one week to ask questions about the BBL.

If enacted, the BBL would create a Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao. The draft BBL is the product of the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The period of amendments in the House will start with Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the ad hoc committee on BBL, presenting the changes he and his committee recommend.

Rodriguez told reporters yesterday that his first amendment would be to delete the controversial opt-in provision, which would allow the envisioned new Bangsamoro autonomous region to expand.

He said House leaders have agreed to the deletion to lessen opposition to the proposed BBL from Mindanao lawmakers.

Lawmakers from Mindanao expressed fears that they would lose their districts to the Bangsamoro regional government if it were allowed to expand. They said it is envisioned that in its early years, the MILF would dominate the regional government.

They also said the MILF could go on an expansion binge through the use of force and intimidation, since 70 percent of its members would still be armed.

Rodriguez said his committee deleted more than 40 provisions in the original BBL draft, which the panel considered to be constitutionally questionable.

“That is why the draft we reported out should by and large be acceptable to members. With the additional deletion of the opt-in provision, I don’t think there would still be strong opposition to our version,” he added.

Rodriguez maintained there is still time to pass the draft BBL.

“We have to do it for the sake of peace,” he said.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the House would give the BBL its best shot. However, gathering enough attendance “would be a continuing challenge.”

President Aquino has promised to do his part in pushing for the approval of the proposed BBL.

“The President has volunteered to appeal to members through phone calls or text message to attend sessions so that we can approve the BBL bill,” Gonzales said.

But Gonzales admitted that if the measure is not passed before Feb. 6, he doubted whether it could still be approved when lawmakers reconvene after the elections.

When they resume their session on May 23, senators and congressmen will convene as a canvassing board to tally the votes for president and vice president.

Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat predicted that it would be the next Congress that could pass the draft BBL and the first election that could be held under the planned law would be in 2019.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate committee on local government, said that the chance of passing the original draft of the BBL is dead in both the House and the Senate even if the President said he was optimistic the bill would still be passed before his term ends.

Marcos said he would still push for his version of the BBL, which he named as Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in which several provisions of the original BBL draft were amended.

Even if Congress would eventually fail to pass the BBL, the peace process should still continue.

“There is no plan B here. There is only plan A which is to continue pursuing peace. Let us pursue peace in Mindanao. That is the only plan,” Marcos said during a regional assembly of Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party-list in Davao City over the weekend.

Former Department of Trade and Industry undersecretary Ernesto Ordoñez also said that the passage of the BBL would address security concerns in the area and stabilize the economy of Mindanao.

“Investors are looking for stability in the area. The promises from the business sector have been coming in since the start of the BBL discussion. If we have these companies, there will be jobs. The Bangsamoro people need jobs but there are no new jobs because of the armed conflict situation which is a concern of the business community,” Ordoñez said.

“We are calling on our congressmen and senators to pass a BBL that is consistent with the 1987 Constitution and continues to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro. We are talking of inclusive growth that will benefit the Moro people. It will be a shame to waste all the efforts as we have come so far.

“Short-sighted politics should not derail this legislation. If we do not act now, we are losing this golden opportunity to show our government’s sincerity in ending this conflict. Stop politicking this legislation,” he added. – With Edith Regalado

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