Aquino urges lawmakers on BBL: ‘Seize historic opportunity’

Camille Elemia

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Aquino urges lawmakers on BBL: ‘Seize historic opportunity’
With barely two weeks before Congress goes on Christmas break, Aquino tells lawmakers that the passage of the Bangsamoro bill has become 'more imperative' amid increased threats of global terrorism

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III urged lawmakers to “seize the historic opportunity” of laying the foundations for long-term peace in the country by passing the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Malacañang said on Tuesday, December 8.

Aquino made the call to members of the House of Representatives during a two-hour meering in Malacañang on Tuesday – a move seen to expedite the passage of the administration measure before Congress goes on recess on December 19. 

“He said that passing the BBL now has become more imperative in view of the increased threats posed by global terrorism and radicalization,” Palace Communications Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr said in a note sent to reporters.

“The President urged the members of Congress to rise to the challenge of being able to ‘change the narrative,’ referring to the cycle of violence and poverty that has stalled peace and progress in Mindanao,” he added.

Coloma said the luncheon meeting was attended by around 120 lawmakers and other government officials, including Cabinet members. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr gave brief welcome remarks, followed by the President’s message, and the closing remarks of House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Belmonte earlier set December 16 as the new deadline to enact the measure, after Congress failed to pass it last October.

Congress will go on recess starting December 19. While it will resume session from January 18 to February 5, lawmakers would be busy with the campaign season by then. As early as few months ago, House members could not complete a quorum. (READ: 4 scenarios if Bangsamoro bill is not passed)

‘All stakeholders’ will be given opportunity

In an apparent move to appease critics, Aquino told the lawmakers that the proposed BBL gives all stakeholders an opportunity to participate in the democratic process and “significant change,” citing new investments in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Minadanao amounting to P9.8 billion from 2011 to 2014.

Anti-BBL supporters have accused the government of ignoring other major stakeholders in the peace process, including the Sultanate of Sulu, the Moro National Liberation Front, the Lumad or indigenous people, Christians, local government officials, and businesses.  

Coloma said the peace process with the MILF was discussed between Aquino and Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi during his recent official visit to Italy, as well as with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State.

“He was asked about how the Philippine government has succeeded in achieving an agreement with the Bangsamoro and he pointed out that the BBL provides a template for peace building that may be considered by the international community,” Coloma said.

The proposed BBL implements the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed in March 2014, after 17 years of negotiations.

It seeks to create a new autonomous government in Muslim Mindanao to replace the ARMM, that is parliamentary in form, with greater powers and resources.

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.