House panel set to vote on Bangsamoro bill

Angela Casauay
House panel set to vote on Bangsamoro bill
What kind of Bangsamoro Basic Law would pass the committee level?

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – When the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) puts the bill to a vote starting on Monday, May 11, two questions would hover above the room: Will the BBL pass? If it does, what kind of law would be the product? 

The 3-day committee proceedings starting Monday would not only be about whether the BBL would get enough votes to get to plenary, but also whether each controversial provision would get enough support to keep the vision of the law for an enhanced autonomy in Muslim Mindanao intact. 

Lawmakers earlier agreed to vote on the bill section by section. Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez told dzBB radio Sunday, May 10, that the 75-member panel are expected to vote on 55 out of the 220 provisions in the law. All other sections were endorsed in previous executive sessions, Rodriguez said. 

Due to the number of provisions that have yet to be resolved, predicting the outcome of the voting is difficult, the committee chair said.  

Even Zamboanga Rep Celso Lobregat, the staunchest critic of the law in the House, does not say that he is against the entirety of the BBL, Rodriguez said.  

“No one’s saying no to all provisions so we can’t say how lawmakers will be divided,” Rodriguez said. 

The 3-day proceedings culminates the 35 public hearings that the committee conducted not just in Batasan but also in differents part of Mindanao, as well as select areas in Luzon and Visayas, in one of the most expansive House discussions to be conducted on a bill in recent history. 

However, it remains uncertain whether the BBL vote would be open to the public. 

Committee schedules posted on House website show that the hearing would be done in an executive session – a closed door meeting. Rodriguez, however, gave assurances that the decision on whether to make the hearing public would be put to a vote on Monday. 

Rodriguez told reporters Monday that there were a few lawmakers who requested for an executive session due to concerns about the possible adverse reaction of proponents of the bill on how voting would go. 

Holding the vote behind closed doors would also allow the committee to avoid grandstanding from lawmakers, Rodriguez said. 

The fate of the bill was placed in danger following the clash between elite cops, rebel groups and private armed groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that killed 67 Filipinos, but discussions gained traction anew more than 2 months after the incident. 

Background 

Unlike regular bills filed in Congress, the BBL is special for two reasons. 

First, it is the product of the peace agreement between the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in March 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. 

Second, it seeks to build the foundations for an enhanced autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with more power, greater resources and possibly a larger territory in an attempt to end more than 4 decades of armed conflict in Mindanao. 

If passed, the BBL would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with a regional government that is parliamentary in form – the only of its kind in a country with a unitary presidential system. The proposed Bangamoro parliament would enjoy automatic appropriations, like other local government units in the country. (READ: How different is ARMM from the Bangsamoro?)

Because it is the product of a negotiated political settlement, amending the bill always has to keep the peace deal with the MILF in context to avoid a repeat of what happened in the past. 

MILF’s rival group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), continues to believe that its 1996 peace deal with the government was not fully implemented after Congress passed an amended ARMM law that watered down what was agreed upon in the peace pact. Feeling left out of the current peace process with the MILF, the MNLF dramatized their discontent through the 2013 Zamboanga siege. (READ: The MNLF, MILF and 2 peace agreements)

Controversial provisions 

At the top of considerations for amendments would be the constitutionality of the measure. Critics have called the BBL unconstitutional for creating a sub-state. 

Unlike his counterpart in the Senate, Rodriguez has been consistent in saying that the parliamentary form of autonomous regional government and the budget scheme proposed in the law are constitutional – two of the key features of the law. 

Among the 55 provisions expected to be voted on, Rodriguez said 8 provisions already have a huge chance of being deleted. 

These include the creation of autonomous branches of constitutional bodies such as the Commission on Audit, Commission on Election, Civil Service Commission and Commission on Human Rights. Also set to be deleted are provisions giving the Bangsamoro parliament the responsibility of disciplining officials, which the Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales strongly opposed. 

Proponents of the law have argued that the creation of these bodies are vital because they are linked to unique duties that are tied up with the way the regional parliament is designed to work. 

Another provision set to be deleted is that which would give the chief minister control and supervision over the regional police force – a power that was already granted to the ARMM governor under Republic Act 9054. 

Provisions seeking to establish coordination mechanisms between the President and the Bangsamoro chief minister on military operations in the region are also set to be deleted. The provision was flagged in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash, where the lack of coordination was blamed for the bungled police operation. 

The so-called opt-in provision, which would allow contiguous areas or areas sharing a common border with the Bangsamoro core territory to file a petition to join the Bangsamoro is also set to be cancelled to avoid the unlimited expansion of the region. The Malacañang-convened Citizens’ Peace Council also endorsed the deletion of this provision. 

Aside from these provisions, other controversial issues for lawmakers is the proposed block grant scheme, which would allow the Bangsamoro to get 4% of 60% the total revenue collection that goes to the central government, representing the proportion of ARMM residents to the total population. The remaining 40% that goes to LGUs would remain intact. 

It would be similar to the internal revenue allotment of LGUs, that are automatically downloaded to them every fiscal year. 

If the BBL hurdles the committee level, the bill is expected to be discussed in plenary starting on the week of May 18 to allow the House to beat the target deadline to pass the law before Congress adjourns session on June 11.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, meanwhile, aims to finish committee hearings by May 25, raising concerns on whether the Senate would meet the deadline.

Thousands of BBL supporters are expected to troop to the House of Representatives on Monday to call for support to the BBL. – Rappler.com

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