Congress needs more time for BBL, won't meet June 2 target

MANILA, Philippines – The two chambers of Congress on Monday, May 21, admitted they were running out of time to meet the target passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by June 2, but their leaders said a bicameral conference might still be convened during the break. 

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the House of Representatives cannot guarantee the proposed BBL will be ready for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature before his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.

The Ilocos Norte 1st District representative agreed when asked on Monday, May 21 about the possibility of both the House and the Senate failing to finish the BBL before Congress adjourns sine die on June 2. 

Fariñas explained the proposed BBL must first be able to hurdle 3rd and final readings in both houses of Congress before it is taken up by the bicameral conference committee.

“To get it on 3rd reading, we have to finish it by May 30 or Wednesday next week, or we can hold sessions [on] Thursday and May 31 (Friday),” Fariñas told reporters after the more than two hours-long all-members caucus on the BBL. 

The bicam can be dispensed with if the House and the Senate end up approving the same version of the BBL.

After the bicameral conference committee, the proposed BBL will have to be ratified by both chambers before the measure will be sent to Malacañang for Duterte’s signature.

Fariñas said Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez can request Duterte to certify the BBL as urgent, which will allow lawmakers to approve the bill on 2nd and 3rd reading on the same day.

Three House committees have approved the proposed BBL without any amendments yet. The House leadership organized the all-members caucus on Monday so lawmakers could propose and debate the amendments to the BBL.

Fariñas refused to disclose the major amendments they discussed so as not to “preempt” their meeting with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission on Tuesday morning, May 22.

Apart from Alvarez and Fariñas, lawmakers who will be meeting with the BTC are the chairpersons of the 3 House panels that approved the proposed BBL: South Cotabato Representative Pedro Acharon Jr (committee on local government), Lanao del Sur 2nd District Representative Mauyag Papandayan Jr (committee on Muslim affairs), and Tawi-Tawi Representative Ruby Sahali (special committee on peace, reconciliation, and unity).

In the Senate, newly elected Senate President Vicente Sotto III admitted time is running out for them. 

Sotto said they plan to pass the BBL by Wednesday, May 30, the last day of session.

He expects the bicameral conference committee to be convened during the break. The Senate, he added, would be able to ratify the final version once Congress resumes session on July 23. 

“During the break, Senator [Juan Miguel] Zubiri can work with the bicam.... That’s possible [that ratification will be after the break]. I would have to admit that's what will likely happen. The bicam can’t be convened next week. For sure, there are big differences between the House and Senate versions,” Sotto said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The BBL is still in the period of interpellations, with at least 4 senators, including Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, still in line to scrutinize the measure. – Rappler.com 

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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