Aquino allies block Lobregat amendments in Bangsamoro law

Angela Casauay

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Aquino allies block Lobregat amendments in Bangsamoro law
Will the committee vote on individual amendments serve as a preview on how the vote will go for the proposed Bangsamoro basic law?

MANILA, Philippines – Although voting has yet to be concluded, the question on whether the House of Representatives has the numbers to get the proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) out of the committee after the Mamasapano clash was answered Monday, May 18. 

After a one week delay, the 75-member House ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro finally put the bill to a vote in a hearing that saw members of the majority in full force. House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II was seated beside committee chair Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez during the entire hearing. 

Most of the proposed amendments of Zamboanga Representative Celso Lobregat, the staunchest critic of the BBL in the House, were rejected on Monday, with votes against his motions not going less than 30 and votes in favor of them ranging between 7 to about 15.

Just before the hearing started, a new consolidated version of the draft BBL was distributed to committee members. Rodriguez said the latest draft was the product of the dialogue between Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, top members of the committee and President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang on Friday, May 15, and Sunday, May 17. 

Malacañang has called on Congress to respect the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which the BBL is based upon. Congress, meamwhile, has stood firm in its stand that the BBL will not pass unchanged. 

The close to 6-hour voting on Monday that started at 1:30 pm only covered 13 out of the 109 pages of the latest version of the BBL and yielded the following key amendments: 

  • Changing the term contiguous “areas” to “provinces and cities” in Article III, Section 2 for areas outside the core territory but are sharing a common border with Bangsamoro areas. These areas could opt to join the Bangsamoro plebiscite
  • The committee approved the new amendment contained in the post-Malacañang meeting version of the BBL that allows contiguous LGUs outside the Bangsamoro to join the Bangsamoro only 5 years and 10 years after the creation of the new entity, as opposed to being allowed to join it anytime in the original draft
  • Insertion of provisions founded on the Magna Carta for Women, which empowers women to participate in all levels of decision-making in the Bangsamoro region 

Under the approved version of the BBL in the committee, the title of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law will be changed to the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. The name of the new region was changed from just being the “Bangsamoro” to the “Bangsamoro autonomous region.” 

While the committee approved the inclusion of non-Moro indigenous peoples in the preamble, members, voting 19-34, rejected North Cotabato 2nd district Representative Nancy Catamco’s proposal to include a definition of non-Moro IPs in the law. 

AMENDMENTS. Committee leaders scrutinize the proposed amendments to the Bangsamoro bill.

Malacañang meeting 

Voting on the BBL was supposed to be held on Monday, May 11, but last minute amendment proposals from Davao del Norte Representative Anthony Del Rosario, a member of the administration Liberal Party, delayed the vote. 

His proposed amendments sparked reports of an LP draft being floated in the House, which Belmonte denied. 

At least 2 other drafts containing consolidated amendments from lawmakers were released to the media prior to Monday’s vote. 

The latest draft, which the committee approved to serve as the basis for the vote, was distributed to committee members on Monday. 

“Last Thursday, me, the Speaker, the vice chairmen met to be able to discuss my draft. It was suggested that we are able to seek an audience with the President to explain to him that there can be no as-is approval or wholesale approval of the bill,” Rodriguez said.

He added: “There will be amendments that will be asked for by our members. It was hoped that through President, the MILF will also know that they can not get what they want but it will not be watered down.”

The MILF has called on Congress to pass the BBL as submitted to the government body, although Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairman and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has indicated that the MILF is open to revisions that would improve the bill. 

Rodriguez told reporters that the latest draft includes about 120 changes and contains the following amendments:

  • Powers of the Ombudsman were added to reserved powers of the central government 
  • Banking was transferred back to powers of the central government
  • Coordination protocol for military movements in the Bangsamoro was deleted 
  • Giving the Bangsamoro primary powers to investigate its officials was deleted because only the Office of the Ombudsman should have this power under the Constitution
  • The creation of a position for the Wali or titular head of the Bangsamoro was deleted because it characterizes a sub-state
  • Following the advice of the Peace Council, the proposed Commission on Audit in the Bangsamoro will be called an internal auditing body
  • The proposed autonomous branches of the Commission on Elections and the Civil Service Commission will become regional offices
  • Jurisdiction over human rights will remain under the Bangsamoro since it was already devolved under Republic Act 9054 – the basis of the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) provided that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the Bangsamoro that will be created with remain under the national CHR
  • Instead of deleting the opt-in provision, the plebiscite to join the Bangsamoro may only be held after 5 years and 10 years and nothing more after that upon the petition of at least 10% of residents in local government units. The committee voted to approve this during Monday’s hearing
  • The chief minister will retain operational control and supervision over the police in the Bangsamoro since this power was already devolved in the ARMM law. However, the power to organize the police force will be moved back to the PNP, not the Bangsamoro. 

Rodriguez said the BBL will contain over 100 revisions from the original draft submitted to Congress. 

The President told lawmakers that he would want “as much as possible” that the BBL would remain consistent with the peace deal between the government and the MILF, Rodriguez said. 

CONSTITUENTS. Boxer-congressman Emmanuel Pacquiao, the representative of the lone district of Sarangani, attends the House committee vote on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Lobregat proposals 

During the Senate hearing in Zamboanga City on Thursday, May 14, Lobregat said he proposed over 120 amendments over the course of the more than 40 hearings and weeks-long executive sessions for the BBL. 

But Lobregat was unable to insert most of his provisions during Monday’s voting as his proposals were blocked by the majority vote. (HIGHLIGHTS: House committee vote on the BBL)

Some of his proposed amendments that were rejected, include:

  • Changing the term “Bangsamoro people” to “Filipinos” in the preamble
  • Limiting the definition of redistricting to areas in the Bangsamoro, not congressional districts 
  • Deleting jurisdiction over economic zones and industrial centers, barter trade, and power generation and regulation in the Bangsamoro territory under the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro 

At one point, Davao Oriental Representative Thelma Almario took the cudgels for Lobregat and quipped that she was “feeling very harassed” as most of Lobregat’s motions were lost “no matter how intellectual, logical and rational” they were.  

One highlight of the hearing was when Sarangani Representative Emmanuel Pacquiao, who is nursing a shoulder injury after his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, graced the hearing and voted on some provisions. He, however, left after one hour of voting. 

The proposed Bangsamoro basic law hopes to install a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with greaters powers and resources than the current one in place in a bid to end close to 5 decades of armed conflict. (READ: How different is ARMM from the Bangsamoro?)

Voting on the bill resumes Tuesday, May 19. –

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