Senators on Bangsamoro basic law: Where do they stand?

Michael Bueza
Senators on Bangsamoro basic law: Where do they stand?
Here are the previous pronouncements and statements of all 24 senators regarding the proposed Bangsamoro basic law

MANILA, Philippines – The proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) is expected to go through extensive scrutiny in the Senate, a necessary step in creating a law that will stand the tests of time and constitutionality.

The Aquino administration sought the Senate’s approval of the BBL by June 11, before Congress adjourns sine die, but many senators have said the Senate would take its time in going over the contentious provisions of the law. Senate President Franklin Drilon said that the Senate is now considering passing the bill by October instead.

Twelve senators, including its author Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, have signed a committee report tackling the constitutionality of the bill, which proposes a political entity called the Bangsamoro, replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (READ: How different is ARMM from the Bangsamoro?)

On June 1, the BBL reached the plenary of the House of Representatives, after a 50-17 vote by the House ad hoc committee on the measure, which is now renamed the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Here are the previous pronouncements and statements of all 24 Philippine senators regarding the proposed BBL.

Click on the names of each senator below to read their statements.







  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate


In late May, Drilon said that the Senate, while committed to pass the BBL, will still strive to make it constitutional. He later added that the Senate is eyeing to pass the bill by October.


This harks back to his statement after the signing of the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March, when he said, “We cannot afford to err on this most-sought piece of legislation, if we truly want to secure this peace in Mindanao, which we have now realized after decades of hostilities.”


At the time, however, Drilon said Senate and House leaders agreed on a June deadline for the BBL’s passage.


Meanwhile, in May, Drilon dismissed fears of obtaining “goodies” ‒ as Senator Serge Osmeña called it ‒ from a planned meeting with President Aquino regarding the BBL and its enactment. The Senate President called it “baseless” and “mere speculation.”


Drilon also addressed the continued use of a nom de guerre by MILF chief negotiatior Mohagher Iqbal, saying in April that it should not affect the ongoing peace process.








  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate

  • Signed Senator Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


In February, Senator Recto said that the BBL should be recalibrated because its current form is “littered with policy landmines which must be defused.”


However, he added that the BBL should not be mangled with; instead, it should be improved, so that the final version would be acceptable to the people. “In legislation, it must be black-and-white so there will be no room for multiple interpretations,” he said.


As the vice chairman of the Senate finance committee, Recto was also interested in tackling issues about the funds and finances of the Bangsamoro entity upon its establishment.


He sought clarification on, among others, the “block grant” or automatic appropriations, and provisions on retaining tax collections within the region.


Recto also argued that the planned plebiscite to ratify the BBL should involve the whole nation, not just the Bangsamoro region.







  • Signed Senator Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Senator Cayetano is a staunch critic of the BBL. He was among its original co-authors in the Senate, but withdrew his authorship following the incident on January 25 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where at least 67 Filipinos including 44 elite cops died in a clash with Moro rebels during a clandestine operation to arrest two “high-value targets.”


Cayetano had scored members of the government peace panel, and observed that the draft BBL favored the MILF, which he sees would obtain more powers in the proposed Bangsamoro region. He even stated in mid-May that the proposed law was “tailor-fitted” for the MILF, which he had tagged as a “terrorist group.”


He also agreed that the Senate will not be able to finish examining the measure by June 11, saying that “massive amendments” are needed.


Cayetano said that he is for a just, inclusive, lasting peace in Mindanao, but asserted that the BBL, if passed as is, “will send a wrong message: that we will always negotiate with those who take arms against the government, and government will grant anything to earn the promised ‘peace.'”


He is drafting his own version of a Bangsamoro-related bill as an alternative to the BBL.







  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate

  • Signed Sen. Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


On May 16, Senator Sotto said that the BBL “will not pass in its present form” and could not be passed in the Senate by June 11. He also supported moves to thoroughly revise the BBL in the Senate to address lingering concerns.


Sotto walked out of a Senate committee hearing on the BBL in April, when MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal refused to reveal his true identity. “I prefer to discuss it with people I know,” Sotto said.








  • Chairperson, Senate committee on constitutional amendments

  • Released a committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


In April, Santiago said that the latest government-MILF peace deal creates the Bangsamoro as a “substate” instead of a mere autonomous region, and “appears to facilitate” its secession. She was the first senator to call the deal unconstitutional, ahead of congressional debates on the Bangsamoro region.


She stood firm on this position in the May 21 report by the Senate panel on constitutional amendments, which she chairs. She maintained that the Constitution would need to be amended to accommodate the current draft of the BBL. Eleven other senators signed the report.


“The Bangsamoro has much merit, but its promulgation requires constitutional amendment or revision; mere legislation will not suffice, and will spark Supreme Court litigation,” said the report.


Among others, Santiago argued against granting the Bangsamoro exclusive powers and the use of natural resources found in the area. She also criticized provisions regarding the capacity of the Bangsamoro to raise revenues, as well as the proposed parliamentary form of government and how it would function alongside the national government.








  • Chairperson, Senate committee on local government

  • Signed Sen. Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Marcos called for a careful scrutiny of the proposed BBL so that it would be constitutional. He also promised that its passage would not be railroaded in the Senate.


As chairman of the Senate local government committee, Marcos focused on the provisions on constitutional bodies, the “opt-in” provision, and the composition of the Bangsamoro police body, among others.


Regarding the “opt-in” provision, for instance, Marcos proposed to remove it, saying that it was a “creeping expansion.” The provision allows contiguous areas to opt “at anytime” to join the Bangsamoro territory when at least 10% of registered voters file a petition for it, and the request is approved in a plebiscite.


In addition, he chided some members of the government peace panel in late May for not consulting important stakeholders like the sultanates and indigenous peoples, and instead leaving that task up to Congress.


On June 3, Marcos announced that he would be filing a substitute bill, saying that the proposed measure in its present form won’t bring peace to Mindanao.


The rebellion in Mindanao in the 1970s, led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), reached its peak under the regime of the senator’s father, the late president Ferdinand Marcos. (READ: Bongbong Marcos’ Sulu visit: How did Moro rebels react?)







  • Chairperson, Senate committee on peace, unification, and reconciliation

  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate

  • Signed Sen. Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Guingona remains supportive of the BBL, but warned against passing the measure for the sake of meeting Malacañang’s June deadline.


Serious challenges to the BBL’s constitutionality “can only result in greater instability in the Mindanao region, and put at risk the people’s trust and confidence in the peace process,” said Guingona in a statement. He also pushed for a BBL that is “both easy to understand and to implement.”


Along with fellow Mindanaoan Senator Pimentel, he filed a Senate resolution on May 5 urging lawmakers to “submit to the electorate” whether or not to call for a constitutional convention to change the 1987 Constitution for the BBL and federalism.








  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate

  • Signed Sen. Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Following the Mamasapano incident, Angara requested for transparency from the MILF camp, noting that the support for the BBL, as well as the trust put on the MILF themselves, would wane if they won’t do so.


He agreed in March that many provisions in the BBL would have to be amended, including those concerning the funds that the proposed Bangsamoro region stands to get.


But, in a forum  on the same month, he argued that the estimated funds for Bangsamoro’s first year of operation is “not a big deal” when compared to the total budget the ARMM received in 2014.







  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate


Aquino noted in March that even before the Mamasapano incident, many senators wanted to revise the BBL so that it would pass tests of legality. He added that indigenous groups had approached them, seeking the inclusion of a provision that would safeguard their rights in the proposed region.


He also noted that the funds that the Bangsamoro region would get would go to public services, but there is a need to monitor where and how it would be spent.








  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate


In late May, following reports of a possible meeting between senators and President Aquino to tackle the BBL’s passage in the Senate, Binay asked the President to leave the task of scrutinizing the bill to legislators.


She previously sought a report on the expenditures of the Bangsamoro Transition Council, which drafted the BBL, and an inquiry into the Sajahatra Bangsamoro welfare program of the government and the MILF in Bangsamoro communities.








  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate


Following the Mamasapano incident, Senator Pia Cayetano encouraged the MILF to be more sincere in its efforts to push the peace process forward. “The government has already gone great lengths to push for the success of the peace process. Nothing less should be expected from the MILF leadership,” she said in a statement.






Ejercito was among the BBL’s original co-authors in the Senate, but withdrew his authorship following the Mamasapano incident in January.


He was also against a perceived rush to pass the bill, arguing that the BBL is “a very sensitive, controversial and significant piece of legislation which needs careful scrutiny.”


Ejercito noted that he is still open to pass the BBL, provided that its provisions would be constitutional. He added that peace in Mindanao “should be based on justice and in harmony with the 1987 Constitution.”







It was reported that Senator Enrile refused to sign Santiago’s draft report on the BBL’s constitutionality because “he has not studied the bill fully.”


Enrile is currently detained in Camp Crame in Quezon City, following his indictment for plunder in connection with the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.








  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate


Back in April, Escudero said in a statement that the BBL “should withstand any legal challenge once the bill is passed.”


Escudero likewise voiced his objection in rushing the passage of the BBL, and agreed that Congress should study the measure thoroughly.


“We will not follow the deadline set by Malacañang or Senate President Franklin Drilon. We’re not Grade 1 students that we have to pass our paper, finished or not finished,” he stressed on June 1


Like Marcos, Escudero chided the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in late May for not consulting important stakeholders like the sultanates and indigenous peoples.


He had also echoed Senator Alan Peter Cayetano’s observation that the government peace panel’s chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and OPAPP Secretary Teresita Deles seemed to have become the “mouthpieces” of the MILF.


As chairman of the Senate finance committee, Escudero raised questions on the provision on fiscal autonomy, notably on the taxes it would collect from businesses which have head offices outside the region. He also suggested to place under line-item budgeting the funds that the region would be receiving.








  • Signed Senator Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Estrada is currently detained in Camp Crame for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.


However, he had said in March that the MILF had “eroded its own credibility” in the peace process following the Mamasapano incident.








  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate

  • Signed Senator Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Back in February, Honasan stressed the importance of “staying the course” on the passage of the BBL and continuing with the peace process, despite the Mamasapano incident.








  • Signed Senator Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL








  • Co-author of the BBL in the Senate


Legarda said in April that she would support a BBL that would be constitutional, and would protect the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities in the proposed region.







In an interview, Senator Osmeña agreed that the Senate would not be able to finish debates on the draft BBL by June, saying that the earliest it could do so is in August or September. He added that adopting a law that is not respected by a majority of Filipinos would be “useless.”


In a separate interview, Osmeña said that he would not participate in any dialogue with the President regarding the BBL. (READ: Osmeña: Palace ‘goodies’ might help sway senators to pass BBL)








  • Signed Senator Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Hailing from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao, Pimentel was also against rushing the passage of the BBL, noting in late May that it still had provisions that contradict the Constitution, notably on the political set-up of the region’s legislative and executive departments.


He and Senator Guingona filed a Senate resolution on May 5 urging lawmakers to “submit to the electorate” whether or not to call for a constitutional convention to change the 1987 Constitution for the BBL and federalism.


His father, former senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr, was the principal author of the ARMM Organic Act.







Poe, who headed the Senate probe into the Mamasapano incident, had said as early as March that she would not pass the BBL in its current form.


She said in a TV interview, “I think we should bring more people to the negotiating table. And then we should really focus more on that one part there that the AFP has to coordinate with [the region’s] leadership before they can have a legitimate operation. This, for me, is probably contradicting to sovereignty and then the control of the commander in chief.”


Meanwhile, Poe in late March agreed to the holding of a National Peace Summit to inform the public about the BBL, but urged the Aquino administration to wait for Congress to come up with a constitutional version of the BBL before conducting the said summit.







Revilla is currently detained in Camp Crame, due to his indictment for plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam.


His camp sought permission from the Sandiganbayan to allow him to join BBL deliberations in the Senate and vote on the proposed bill.


In a statement following the release of Santiago’s committee report on the BBL, Revilla warned against railroading the BBL’s passage.







Despite being an administration ally, Senator Trillanes argued in March that the BBL’s passage should not be rushed, especially after the deadly incident in Mamasapano.


He also expressed concerns about the police and military set-up in the Bangsamoro entity, and about the powers that the MILF is perceived to get once the law is passed.








  • Signed Senator Santiago’s committee report on the unconstitutionality of the draft BBL


Villar is inclined to follow the consensus of the Nacionalista Party, which rejects many “unconstitutional provisions” from the draft law as pointed out by Senator Marcos. She clarified, however, that the NP will not vote as a bloc, and will respect the stand of its members in the Senate.




– Rappler.com

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Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.