MANILA, Philippines – Government officials welcomed the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law at committee level in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 20.
Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the 3 most important elements of the proposed law survived the marathon hearings conducted to finish amendments to the bill. (DOCUMENT: Bangsamoro bill as approved in House committee)
“The important elements are still there, notably: the structure of government; automatic block grant; and the layered voting process, where the majority vote in the 6 Lanao del Norte municipalities and 39 North Cotabato barangays shall be determined at the level of the local government unit,” Ferrer said.
A product of the peace accord between the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the BBL seeks to create a parliamentary form of autonomous government in Mindanao, with greater powers and resources than the current Muslim region.
The BBL version approved by the House ad hoc committee retained the proposed parliamentary form of autonomous regional government, as well as the block grant scheme, which is similar to the internal revenue allotment that local government units nationwide get.
Lawmakers also introduced improvement to the bill, including the appointment of two deputy chief ministers instead of just one. The two deputies will be for Southwestern Mindanao (Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan) and Central Mindanao (Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, and other areas).
However, the committee also deleted key provisions. These include the position of the Wali or the titular head of the Bangsamoro – a key component of the parliament. Also deleted was the provision establishing coordination protocols between the chief minister and the executive branch for the movement of armed forces in the area.
The committee also recognized the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act in the bill, but rejected amendments providing for more protection for natural resources in ancestral lands.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman, meanwhile, reiterated his declaration that he is ready to step aside for the Bangsamoro.
“We of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are ready for this transition. We have been preparing for it for more than 3 years. Everything that we have done in the working ARMM government has been for the benefit of the Bangsamoro,” Hataman said.
The passage of the BBL in Congress and its subsequent ratification in a plebiscite would pave the way for the creation of an MILF-led transition government, which would stay in place until the election of the first set of officials in 2016.
The BBL version passed in the committee protects the rights of tenure of ARMM employees, but Hataman has said he is willing to step down once the BBL is passed.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda thanked the House committee for passing the BBL.
“It brings us closer to transforming Muslim Mindanao from a permanent potential into a reality where peace and prosperity abide,” Lacierda said.
The bill is set to be referred to the House committee on appropriations and House committee on ways and means before going to plenary. The two committees will discuss the tax and budgetary elements of the law.
Over at the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, chair of the local government committee, has expressed doubts that the Senate would be able to finish the bill before Congress adjourns on June 11.
To beat the deadline, lawmakers only have 3 weeks to debate on the bill on the floor, introduce amendments, reconcile contradicting provisions in the bicameral committee, and ratify the bill. President Benigno Aquino III is expected to certify the bill as urgent.
Marcos has said it might be difficult to pass the bill in the Senate when legislators return to work in July as the 2016 elections will be on top of concerns.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles acknowledges the challenges ahead.
“This is a good day in our quest for just and lasting peace as the draft BBL is one step closer to passage, having been approved on the committee level. We are aware that there will still be challenges along the way but we are confident that our lawmakers will heed the call of the people for meaningful autonomy and end to conflict,” she said. – Rappler.com