BBL in deadlock but not dead

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 - The Philippine Star

From all indications, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may not get through the legislative mills of the 16th Congress before both chambers adjourn for their Christmas break this year. This, despite the push being made by President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III when he certified BBL as his urgent priority administration bill for immediate approval into law by Congress.

As of this writing, the BBL has been set aside at the Lower Chamber to give way to plenary debates on the proposed P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016. The House of Representatives, in fact, is set to approve the proposed 2016 General Appropriations Act (GAA) bill by next week. Or this is before both chambers take their calendared recess on Oct. 10 until Nov. 2.

This is also the period coinciding with the filing of certificates of candidacy (CoCs) set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for all aspirants running for national and local posts in the coming May 2016 elections. The Comelec set from Oct. 12 to 16 the filing of all CoCs.

More than half of the 24 senators are running in next year’s elections while more than a majority of the 290 members of the House are also up for re-election or will bid for higher or local posts.

Sessions of Congress are set to resume on Nov. 3 until  both chambers take their next break, this time for Christmas recess starting Dec. 18. So perhaps, there is still time for the Lower Chamber to frontload anew the BBL while waiting for the Senate to complete its own floor debate on the proposed 2016 GAA bill.

This is why I find melodramatic the statements made by Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his cousin, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez when each of them declared BBL “as good as dead” in describing its status in Congress. To put it bluntly, both Marcos and Romualdez were exaggerating the fate of the BBL.

Understandably, Marcos spoke in his capacity as chairman of the Senate committee on local government which is also sponsoring the proposed substitute bill that he crafted to replace the Malacañang version of the BBL.

Romualdez, on the other hand, is leader of the House independent bloc. A lawyer, Romualdez is the current president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), which is also opposed to the BBL.

House Bill 5811, which is in substitution of HB 4994 (An Act Providing for Basic Law for Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) is still in the period of interpellation like its counterpart bill at the Senate authored by Marcos. The measure seeks the abolition of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the creation of a more autonomous Bangsamoro region.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez is the author of HB 5811. According to Rodriguez, the original BBL has been stripped of 48 unconstitutional provisions to make it more compliant to our country’s laws.

As chairman of the ad hoc committee on the BBL, Rodriguez, however, remains optimistic both chambers of Congress would still be able to approve the BBL before Congress adjourns later this year.

Rodriguez though clarified his optimism presupposes active cooperation of all concerned. “Let us just hope that we will be able to get the needed quorum during the Nov. 3 to Dec. 16 deliberations, otherwise the BBL is dead,” Rodriguez warned.

Unlike the pessimism and fatalistic opinions of the lawmakers, retired police and military generals turned out to be more supportive to the Aquino peace process in Mindanao even as they earlier expressed their vehement objections against the original Palace version of the BBL.

The “Manifesto of Retired Officers” expressed in detail their “great apprehensions and alarm” over the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the BBL. The FAB, the CAB and the BBL are all products of the peace negotiations of the Aquino administration with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 

The “Manifesto” was signed by 31 retired police and military generals, many of whom once fought in the battlefields in Mindanao and later got involved in peace negotiations with rebels.

President Aquino invited these former military and police generals to a meeting at Malacañang last Sept. 21 to hear them out. This was a week after their manifesto was published in a full-page ad in The STAR.

However, only 14 of the 31 signatories led by former Armed Forces chief retired Gen. Renato de Villa  were able to attend the meeting with President Aquino. According to retired Gen. Emiliano “Mitch” Templo, former AFP civil relations service chief who attended the Palace meeting, De Villa spoke for their group during their almost two-hour long “dialogue” with President Aquino.

This is why, Templo told me, they were surprised with the Palace statement after the President’s meeting with them when Secretary Herminio Coloma was quoted saying the retired generals supposedly were “supportive” of the BBL. “Yes, we support the peace process in Mindanao but not the BBL in its original form,” Templo reiterated.

Also present in the meeting were Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles who, Templo said, did most of the talking.  

“We have participated in a dialogue meeting. We did not agree on anything with the President. I think we have a stalemate,” De Villa was quoted saying by Templo after their meeting at the Palace.

A stalemate is a situation in the game of chess where the player cannot move any piece except the king and cannot move the king without putting it in check or lose the game altogether.

Perhaps, De Villa and his fellow retired generals have so much time now to play this tactics game that they even use chess terms in their talks with the incumbent Commander-in-chief. But De Villa reassured P-Noy that they are not against him and his administration.

But to describe their objection to the BBL as in stalemate – which means a deadlock – at least it’s not yet dead as far as the retired police and military generals stand on P-Noy’s pet bill.












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