MANILA, Philippines – Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr made good on his promise to submit a substitute version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Monday, August 10, with 80% of the provisions amended.
The chairman of the Senate local government committee filed a committee report with the signature of 17 senators. The report is Marcos’ own version of the measure that is a key component of the government’s peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group.
Marcos will sponsor the bill on Wednesday, and answer senators’ questions during the interpellation period.
Even if the bill got the signature of majority of the 24 senators, several lawmakers signed the committee report with reservations and amendments.
The original version of the bill aims to create an autonomous political entity with greater powers and resources than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to end 4 decades of conflict and poverty in the southern Philippines. The government and the MILF agreed on the passage of the law under a historic deal signed in March 2014.
In June, Marcos rejected the bill, saying it was unconstitutional, and will “lead us to perdition.”
Last week, the senator said about 80% of the original version of the bill was amended, with 115 “major and minor” changes.
The senator said that the composition of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) is among the changes. The BTA will serve as the interim government once the BBL is ratified in Congress and through a plebiscite.
In the original version, the MILF will lead the body, with non-Moro indigenous peoples, women, settler communities, and other sectors included in the BTA. Yet Marcos said this provision was amended.
“So, what we tried to do is to make the membership of the BTA more inclusive. We have tried to include, as I said, all the stakeholders we have identified during the hearings,” he said.
Marcos also said that the substitute bill deleted some of the provisions that the House of Representatives also omitted from its own version.
The MILF has said that the report of the House’s Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL was “50% bad.”
The BBL was initially set to be passed by March, but a clash between elite police and Moro rebels in January endangered the peace process.
The Mamasapano tragedy killed 67 Filipinos include 44 commandos on a mission to arrest terrorists in the MILF stronghold of Maguindanao. The MILF said that the operation violated coordination mechanisms under the peace process. The encounter drew public outrage, and sparked strong opposition to the bill.
MILF won’t accept diluted BBL
Called Senate Bill 2894 under Committee Report 200, Marcos’ version is 100 pages long, with 17 articles and 215 sections.
Like the House’s amended version, it is titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”
The Senate substitute bill was the product of 12 public hearings, one briefing, and two separate hearings of Senate constitutional amendments committee chairperson Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. Santiago’s committee was among the 3 panels tackling the bill, along with the local government and peace committees.
Marcos conducted hearings in Cotabato, Marawi, Tawi-Tawi, Jolo and Zamboanga.
Congressional leaders had extended the deadline to pass the bill by September, before the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2016 polls in October.
Marcos though could not commit to a timeline to pass the measure. The senator said he cannot even assure the public that the bill will pass within the current administration.
In an editorial in July, the MILF warned against watering down and delaying the bill.
It said that beyond October, it is unlikely for the bill to pass as politicians focus on campaigning.
The rebel group said it will not accept a “diluted BBL,” like the House report on the measure.
“Many quarters are beseeching the MILF to compromise. We do not know where to compromise. The BBL has passed through various levels of review and decision-making. Changes have already taken place during this process: first by the Office of the President (OP), then back to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), then to the GPH-MILF peace panels and then back to the OP and finally by the President and Chairman Murad during their meeting in early September 2014,” it said.
Here is the full text of the substitute bill: