MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Amid the beating of war drums, Congress leaders on Monday, March 2, set a new deadline for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law by the end of the 2nd regular session in June.
Senate and House leaders agreed on the deadline during the monthly meeting for their legislative agenda on Monday morning at Club Filipino, Senate President Franklin Drilon told reporters.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr told reporters that Congress has no choice but to continue with deliberations on the proposed law – if the alternative means waging war again in Mindanao. (READ: Should peace be contingent on the BBL?)
Belmonte, however, maintained that Congress cannot pass a bill that is not consistent with the Constitution.
In the aftermath of the clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed 44 elite cops, 18 Moro rebels, and at least 3 civilians, both the Senate and the House postponed hearings on the measure, casting doubts on the future of the peace process.
The ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro bill was supposed to resume deliberations, Tuesday, March 3, but it was postponed anew as the Board of Investigation (BOI) has yet to file its report. The BOI is expected to submit the report to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II on March 6.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, meanwhile, cautioned Congress against pushing for passage of the BBL just because there is a deadline.
“Dapat mahinog po ‘yan sa mga mangyayari. Tsaka ‘yang kasunduan na ‘yan, dapat tugma sa ating batas, tugma sa ating saligang batas, at tugma sa sovereign authority ng ating bansa,” said Binay, who early on has made known his intention to run for President in 2016.
(It should be ripened by what is happening. And this deal should be in accordance with the law, with the Constitution, and the sovereign authority of our country.)
Both the MILF and Malacañang hope to install the new autonomous government to be established by the proposed law before Aquino steps down from office.
Special session, hearings during summer break
With the delay, the ad hoc committee chairperson, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, said the ad hoc committee can no longer finish deliberations before Congress adjourns session on March 21.
To beat the June 30 deadline for the bill’s passage at the plenary, Rodriguez said the House should consider holding special sessions. When the 2nd regular session of Congress adjourns on June 12, lawmakers will only report back for work on July 26 for President Benigno Aquino III’s final State of the Nation Address.
In the Senate, the local government committee chairperson, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, said he is awaiting the results of separate investigations of the BOI, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Senate public order committee before resuming deliberations.
“I will reiterate that we have to continue the peace process. Until we regain the trust of the people, this cannot succeed. To restore trust, we have to know the truth, what really happened,” he said.
Marcos still wants to hold committee hearings in Jolo and Zamboanga during the summer break.
While Rodriguez committed to resume hearings once the BOI probe results are in, he reiterated Monday that the bill would not be put into a vote unless the MILF complies with confidence-building measures.
This is because the BBL is guaranteed defeat in the House without a show of good faith from the MILF, Rodriguez said.
“I plead with the MILF to cooperate with the requirements. Committee members are not satisfied,” Rodriguez said. (READ: MILF returns 16 firearms)
Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer earlier said the panel hopes to pass the law before the filing of the certificates of candidacies for the 2016 elections in October.
BBL to be diluted?
Aside from running against a tight deadline, the BBL also faces dilution in Congress.
Rodriguez earlier said the House panel is set to remove provisions in the bill giving the proposed Bangsamoro government an autonomous Commission on Elections, Civil Service Commission, Commission on Human Rights, and Commission on Audit. (READ: House to remove unconstitutional powers in Bangsamoro bill)
While proponents of the bill have stressed that the proposed Bangsamoro commissions would remain under the supervision of the national bodies, Rodriguez said most committee members are of the opinion that Congress “cannot intervene with the actuation of constitutional bodies.”
“It is the commission itself that should be deciding what to do there. They can make arrangements, but it should be the decision of the constitutional commissions,” he said.
Despite the fallout after the Mamasapano clash, the MILF has maintained that Congress should not dilute the BBL, a measure that was crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and reviewed by Malacañang with the government and MILF peace panels.
In an editorial posted on Luwaran.com, the MILF said among the provisions that should be retained would be those pertaining to the creation of the Bangsamoro police force, as well as the Shariah justice system.
Under the proposed law, the Bangsamoro police would remain under the Philippine National Police but the Bangsamoro chief minister would have operational control and supervision, as well as disciplinary powers, over the body.
The MILF said such an arrangement is crucial to the decommissioning of MILF forces.
“It would be extremely difficult on the part of the MILF to undergo this decommission if the police in the Bangsamoro government cannot protect through infirmities in the BBL the limbs, properties, and well-being of the people of the Bangsamoro,” the Luwaran editorial said.
But Rodriguez said that the committee is likely to delete the provision once deliberations resume. “We only have one national police,” he said.
On how deleting such provisions would affect the decommissioning of MILF firearms, Rodriguez said the matter would be the concern of the executive branch since it is not included in the proposed law.
Marcos, meanwhile, told reporters that when the Senate local government committee resumes hearings on the BBL, he would focus on how ceasefire mechanisms would be strengthened following the Mamasapano clash.
Under the peace deal signed in March 2014, the MILF agreed to the gradual decommissioning of firearms in exchange for the creation of a parliamentary autonomous government that is designed to have greater political and fiscal powers.
The peace accord was signed after 17 years of negotiations with the MILF that aims to end 4 decades of war in Mindanao that has killed thousands. – Rappler.com