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Mamasapano clash delays passage of Bangsamoro law

Angela Casauay
The pending probe in the House of Representatives will make it difficult for the proposed law to be passed by March, says the chair of the ad hoc committee tackling the measure

PEACE PROCESS. What is the status of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in the House? File photo by Malacañang Photo Burea

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives will no longer meet the March 2015 deadline to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). 

The ad hoc committee tackling the measure agreed on Monday, February 9, to suspend deliberations “indefinitely” to give way to the House probe into the deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Wednesday, said Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, chair of the ad hoc committee tackling the bill, said the pending probe would make it difficult for the House to pass the law by March before Congress pauses for a break until May.

“We do not set deadlines anymore. The Mamasapano incident is so grave that it (resumption of deliberations) depends on the findings of the committees. The findings that we have will affect our deliberations,” Rodriguez said. 

The ad hoc committee will wait for the committee on public order and safety to wrap up its probe before resuming discussions. The Senate conducted its own hearing Monday. (AS IT HAPPENS: Senate hearing on the PNP-SAF Mamasapano clash)

Deliberations would also be on hold until the Philippine National Police submits its findings to the House. The committee earlier asked the PNP, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to submit their reports on the clash.  

Before the Mamasapano clash, the committee had wanted the bill to be passed at committee level by February 9 and discussed in the plenary by February 16. 

Lawmakers had covered 70% of the bill when the executive meeting concluded Monday afternoon. 

What was left hanging were key provisions on transition, as well as 4 provisions related to security: public order, the army, the police, and how troops will return to post-war life. The committee earlier agreed to postpone discussion on these until the resolution of the Maguindanao clash. 

On January 25, close to 400 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force entered the town of Mamasapano, a known bailiwick of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to serve the warrants of arrest for wanted terrorists Abdul Basit Usman and Zulkifli bin Hir. (READ: Aquino, Purisima were at final ‘Oplan Exodus’ meeting)

However, alleged combined forces of the MILF and breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters surrounded them on their way out, triggering a firefight that killed 44 elite cops, at least 17 Moro rebels, and 7 civilians. The MILF blamed the lack of coordination for the incident. (TIMELINE: Mamasapano clash)

The MILF signed a peace accord with the government in March 2014 in a deal that set the stage for the creation of a new autonomous region in Mindanao with greater political and fiscal powers than the current one in place.  

However, public clamor for accountability over the clash and the beating of war drums are threatening to derail the passage of the bill. 

The MILF is also under pressure to prove its commitment to the peace process with no less than President Benigno Aquino III asking them to return PNP-SAF weapons and turn over Usman.

‘Let emotions subside’

Does the Bangsamoro bill still have a chance to pass in the House? 

North Cotabato 1st district Representative Jesus Sacdalan, one of the supporters of the bill in the House, said it would be better to let emotions subside before gauging the chances of the bill in Congress again.  

“Let’s see what would happen after the resumption of hearings. We would just have to wait after the committee report would be out,” Sacdalan said. 

Sacdalan said BBL champions have not counted their numbers yet. 

“It’s a matter of explaining it to them. Of course, there are lots of emotions, but if you overcome emotion and look for a brighter side, then that would be good,” Sacdalan said. 

It helps that the House leadership is still supportive of the bill, Sacdalan said.  

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr earlier admitted support for the BBL was “somewhat eroded” following the clash but maintained that that incident should not derail the proposed law’s passage. 

Implications of delay 

The suspension of hearings threatens to push back the passage of the proposed law to as late as June 2015, members of the committee said. Lawmakers will report back for work in May when they pause for a break in March. 

With constitutional issues facing the bill also a top concern, proponents expect the law to be questioned before the Supreme Court once it hurdles Congress, raising the possibility of further delaying the subsequent plebiscite to pass the law. 

Even if Congress votes to pass the bill, the transition period toward the new autonomous government would be limited to only a few months if lawmakers decide to stick with the original timeline of installing the Bangsamoro government by May 2016, a month before President Aquino’s term ends.

The MILF had hoped to lead the transitional body toward the Bangsamoro for at least a year before the elections of new officers in May 2016. 

How the ARMM would transition into the Bangsamoro was discussed before the committee suspended deliberations Monday amid delays. 

One of the last items discussed was the issue on the length of the transition period from the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the proposed Bangsamoro, a member of the ad hoc committee said.  

The committee member said the possibility of extending the transition period to up to 2019 was brought up in the committee.  

But there was no consensus made as the committee was only in the initial stages of discussions regarding the Bangsamoro Transition Authority that will be led by the MILF.

Without the passage of the law and the creation of the Bangsamoro government, the MILF would not undergo full decommissioning. – Rappler.com

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