MANILA – President Aquino met with leaders of the House of Representatives twice over the weekend to ensure the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as the chamber’s ad hoc committee votes today on a second version that retained or reworded several key provisions that were considered unconstitutional.
The meetings were held at Malacañang yesterday and last Friday, and included leaders of parties belong to the pro-administration bloc, deputy speakers, as well as vice chairmen of the ad hoc panel.
The meeting continued until last night, with lawmakers finalizing the second draft to incorporate additional changes.
The meetings came on the heels of a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that showed only 23 percent of Filipinos supported the BBL in the aftermath of the Jan. 25 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao wherein 44 police commandos were killed in a clash with gunmen from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and a private armed group.
The BBL seeks to create a Bangsamoro autonomous region to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that Aquino described as a “failed experiment.”
The section-by-section voting on the BBL was postponed from last week due to numerous last-minute amendments put in by several lawmakers. This prompted the House leadership to ask the panel, chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, to come up with a single draft.
Rodriguez came up with and distributed a 144-page draft before the weekend that excised at least eight provisions that were considered unconstitutional.
However, a second draft that was apparently finalized only yesterday restored or reworded the contentious provisions, and is expected to be distributed this morning to committee members and voted upon this afternoon or Wednesday.
“Hopefully, there will be no more hitches, and the voting will proceed on this second edition that modified the chairman’s draft,” Rodriguez told The STAR.
He said the second draft includes 125 proposed changes, including those put in by the group of Davao Del Norte Rep. Anthony del Rosario.
He said the second draft would have both the proposed deletion of the unconstitutional provisions and the suggested changes.
Among the unconstitutional provisions are the creation of separate commissions on elections, civil service and ombudsman; creating a separate police force and allowing the conduct of a plebiscite to join the Bangsamoro region following a petition of 10 percent of residents in a contiguous area.
A senior administration lawmaker, who declined to be identified for fear of repercussions, said constituents fear the “10 percent plebiscite provision” as this is tantamount to a creeping expansion of the BBL, especially since the MILF remains fully armed as the country enters the election period.
Under the Constitution, the powers and functions of the constitutional agencies cannot be duplicated or diluted.
“I think modifying the language and other changes will change the tenor, so these agencies will just act as regional offices of our constitutional commissions,” Rodriguez said, adding the rewording was helped by the Peace Council, which is composed of legal luminaries, including retired chief justice Hilario Davide Jr.
Sources said the last-minute changes were not only pushed by Malacañang and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, but also by the MILF.
Rodriguez downplayed the SWS survey, noting the poll also showed that over 80 percent of the respondents were not knowledgeable of the BBL.
“So it’s really the fear of the unknown. I think we need another information campaign here but I ask our countrymen to reserve judgment until we’ve fully read the BBL,” he said
Magdalo party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo warned against forcing the passage of the BBL, which he described as “a tough sell in Congress.”
He said lawmakers should vote on the BBL on the basis of at least three principles, including conformity to the Constitution; the benefits it will accrue to all Mindanaoans whether Muslim, Christian or lumads; and as “an expression of the ultimate will of the entire Filipino people.”
“Since we are approaching an election year, the third principle might weigh more heavily than the other two. After all, legislators serve at the pleasure of the people that vote them into office – so it would be wise to heed their will,” Acedillo said.
Reps. Karlo Alexei Nograles of Davao City and Neri Colmenares of the Bayan Muna party-list group questioned the decision of the panel as well as the House leadership to overturn a previous decision of the committee to vote on the draft section by section.
The lawmakers said the ground rules overwhelmingly voted upon by the panel was that each section would be presented along with the proposed amendments, if any, and voted upon.
Colmenares said he read the first draft and found it difficult to compare with the previous ones where the color-coded amendments were listed.
“What we have now is a cleaned copy, so our next question is, what (proposed amendments) were discarded? The provisions became unclear because we don’t know what provisions were changed. So the cleaned copy became unclean,” he said.
Colmenares said they have long been pushing for the cause of the Bangsamoro people but the Makabayan bloc wants the BBL to genuinely address the root causes of the conflict.
The lawmakers said it is some pro-Malacañang congressmen who were delaying the voting, as the panel was ready to vote on the BBL last week if not for the influx of amendments.
Nograles warned it was possible that a member will put forth a motion to vote on the entire second draft in one single round.
He said there could be “indigestion” among many members of the panel since the second draft will only be released this morning so there will only be a few hours to read it before the start of the voting.
“They said last week that we move the voting so we can have enough time to digest the (first) draft,” Nograles said.
“There will be no transparency here because the people will not see the voting on the sections. We all want peace but the devil is in the details,” he said.
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said that based on his review of the working draft made by ad hoc committee chair Rodriguez, some BBL provisions were retained and other provisions were deleted.
“If the chairman has his draft and uses it as a guide there is no problem. But there is now talk of a second draft of the chairman. Then it is worrisome because the suspicions come – why is there a second draft of the chairman?” Lobregat said.
“Is there anybody pressuring him to change what came out in his first draft?” Lobregat added.
He said there is no reason for Rodriguez to have a second draft when there is already a draft that will be used as his guide.
“To me, if there is a second draft to come out it is highly suspicious. Specially if he now imposes on all of us and say this is the only thing that we will discuss and vote on,” Lobregat said.
Meanwhile, government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer urged Congress to heed the voice of the people, particularly those living in the Bangsamoro areas, and pass the proposed BBL.
“The Bangsamoro people’s opinion needs to be heard more because the BBL primarily concerns them. We ask our congressmen and senators to recognize this very strong support within the Bangsamoro core territory for the passage of the BBL because they are the ones who will be affected by our legislators’ vote,” Ferrer said.
She said that the voice of the people in the areas covered by the Bangsamoro areas should be given due importance.
“Congress should heed the voice of the majority of the people in the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro who favor the replacement of the ARMM government by the Bangsamoro,” she said. – With Edith Regalado, Roel Pareño
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