House leaders keeping fingers crossed on BBL

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Leaders of the House of Representatives are keeping their fingers crossed that the plenary can muster a quorum this week to vote on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with just two weeks left before Congress adjourns for the electoral campaign.

Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said the chamber’s leadership has been urging House members to attend sessions in the past two weeks, but results have not been encouraging.

“We have been doing what we can, but in the end, it’s up to the individual lawmaker to decide to attend or not,” Gonzales said.

He said most of the House members are running for reelection or other local posts while a few are running for the Senate and are therefore busy preparing for their campaigns.

Gonzales said the period of amendments for the BBL was not yet finished as of last week. The House managed to hold a few plenary sessions since Congress returned from the holiday break on Jan. 18, but mostly the chamber adjourned for lack of a quorum.

Another senior administration lawmaker said the BBL, which seeks to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao, remains unpopular among congressmen dragging their feet on approval of the measure.

The lawmaker, who declined to be identified, said the uncertainty of having a quorum has also put President Aquino in a bind as he is all set to certify the BBL as urgent to allow voting on second and final reading to be done in just one session.

The lack of attendance however might only prove that his certification no longer carries weight, he said.

The source said Aquino needs to be assured first of attendance before issuing the certification but that assurance has yet to be forthcoming from the House leadership. 

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the 75-member ad hoc committee on the BBL, said last week that he aims to put the measure to a vote on Wednesday.

“As long as we have quorum, the voting will push through,” Rodriguez said. 

He said the date was set so there will be time to transmit the BBL to the Senate.

Rodriguez said the date was agreed upon in a meeting with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., other House leaders and members of the ad hoc panel.

He claimed the opposition to the BBL has greatly decreased due to the numerous amendments. 

“With deletion of unconstitutional provisions, resistance to the bill has been decreased,” he said.

The BBL to be voted on is already a substitute bill officially titled Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR). Rodriguez said at least 40 unconstitutional provisions have been either deleted or amended to comply with the Constitution, including the controversial opt-in provision where contiguous areas may call for a plebiscite to join the Bangsamoro region upon request of 10 percent of the population.

“There will be no more expansion of the Bangsamoro region because under the Constitution, only Congress can expand,” he said.

Also deleted were the provisions that would allow the Bangsamoro government to put up its own military and police commands as well as creating its own ombudsman and audit bodies. “The power to investigate will always be with the (Office of the) Ombudsman,” he said.

Former senators Heherson Alvarez and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. called on Congress to support the continuance of the peace process by passing the BBL.

“If we look at our history, our Moro brothers and sisters joined the rest of the Filipino people in fighting for our independence,” Alvarez said.

Pimentel reaffirmed his support for the Bangsamoro peace process and reminded legislators of their duty to uphold the Constitution.

“As I have time and again said: the intent of the BBL – peace and development for the violence-afflicted areas in Mindanao – is good. What needs to be done is to align its provisions with the mandate of the Constitution. And the sooner it is done by Congress, the better it will be for our country and people,” Pimentel said.

Christian Monsod, National Peace Council member and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, echoed the statements of the former senators, explaining the powers detailed in the BBL are within the bounds of the Constitution and that anti-BBL propaganda merely emanate from Muslim antipathy and distrust.

“There is a provision in the Constitution that it would deem part of any agreement or law in the country. The BBL will pass constitutional scrutiny. We have to distinguish the articulated reason to the objections. Former constitutional framers already said that they have no problem with the constitutionality of the BBL,” Monsod explained.

“The issues they have are out of their own fear. It’s not about constitutionality anymore, it’s about power. They are afraid that their powers will be lessened once the BBL gets passed,” Monsod added.

Monsod, former chairman of the Commission on Elections, called on current lawmakers to look at the big picture of the Bangsamoro peace process and work on the passage of the BBL immediately for the peace roadmap to continue.

“The peace process is more than the BBL. It is part of [it]. To have peace, we must first pass the BBL,” he said. –Jose Rodel Clapano












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