MANILA - Finally, someone said it, against the previous assurances given by leaders of Congress.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is a goner, this, coming from the mouth of one of its more prominent proponents at the Lower House, Deputy Speaker Pangalian Balindong of the administration's Liberal Party (LP).
Just hours after the Senate reopened its investigation into the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano encounter which became the reason for lawmakers to delay the passage of the bill, Balindong delivered a privilege speech where he gave up hope for the BBL, with just a week to go before Congress goes on election break.
When it resumes work in May, it will only do so to proclaim the winning president and vice president in the 2016 elections.
"I speak with a grieving heart for failing to achieve what could have been the crowning glory of my public service to my country and to all Filipino-Muslims of the Philippines.
"Today, with a heavy heart and a disturbing sense of foreboding, i close the book of hope for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Fifty-one public hearings, 200 hours of committee-level debates and 8 months of consultations are all put to waste -- thrown into the abyss of uncertainty and darkness. This is the lowest and saddest day of my legislative work," Balindong said.
The BBL is stuck in the period of turno en contra at the Lower House, two periods shy of a vote. After the turno en contra, bills are put through the periods of individual and committee amendments, which could prove to be contentious since any member can propose an amendment. Should the author reject a proposed amendment, it has to be put to a vote.
Once these periods are terminated, only then will any bill be put to a vote on 2nd and if certified as urgent by the President, 3rd and final reading.
"During our deliberations on the BBL, hope surged in the heart of every Muslim. It was a beautiful moment of love, reconciliation and understanding. All the pains and sorrows, memories of lost loved ones and endless days of strife and war -- all would be erased to give space for a new beginning," Balindong said.
Yet, even if the House passes the BBL, or its amended version, House Bill 5811 or the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, it will have to wait for the Senate's version.
The Senate, however, is working on a different bill, amending the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao's (ARMM) organic law. This makes for a rather contentious bicameral conference committee that will be constituted to reconcile different versions of a bill.
The bicameral conference committee version then goes back to the plenary of both chambers for ratification. Only then can it be sent to the President for his signature.
The BBL is meant to institutionalize the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which is seen as the key to a lasting peace in Mindanao which has been saddled with separatist movements first from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and now the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed the pact with the government.
READ: Peace panel chief: Stop radicalism by passing BBL
"The BBL offers the Muslim minority in this country the recognition of our distinct identity, protection of what remains of the Bangsamoro homeland, and the opportunity to exercise self-determination though a parliamentary form of government that will be run in accordance with the Moro culture, faith and way of life. The BBL will guarantee that, as a minority, we stand in parity of esteem with our Filipino brothers and sisters," Balindong said.
UP TO NEXT PRESIDENT
Former senator-turned-Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon shared Balindong's view in a separate statement.
"The BBL is effectively dead. It may pass the House of Representatives but will it pass the Senate within three days? Will it be signed by President into law? So, the BBL is dead. That's the reason why I think the next president, whoever he or she may be, will have to answer to the question 'What will you do when you get elected to be president?' Without the BBL, the CAB cannot be implemented. The next government will have to revive it back to zero, expect that there are learning elements with the CAB, the FAB [Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro], and BBL," he said.
The House has been dogged by quorum woes as not enough congressmen attended sessions as the MILF and BBL got more unpopular in the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident, which saw the deaths of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers at the hands allegedly MILF and other private armed groups who got in the way of a law enforcement operation to get suspected terrorists.
Balindong lamented that following the Mamasapano "misencounter," the Moros have received bashing not only over the media but also in the hall of Congress.
Many of those who supported the BBL also wittingly or unwittingly punished the Moro people by denying them the required votes and even the quorum to deliberate the BBL, he said.
Balindong's speech came with a warning of what could happen with the fate of the BBL.
"History repeats itself. What shall our nation's history repeat? The history of peace or the history of war? As a Moro elder who has lived through decades of war and conflict, I have never been afraid of the future of my people than I am today. What we have not done is a perfect recipe for radicalization... By sheer tyranny of the majority, we have foreclosed all possible peaceful, legal and constitutional avenues for peace.
"How can I convince my people to remain steadfast to peace without the BBL? How can the thousands of combatants return to normal life when we did not deliver the basic law that would legalize the establishment of the Bangsamoro?
"Now, all these moments of peace and accord are to be washed away in one final denial of our Muslim birthright. I see it in the process unfolding before us. I see it in the avoidance of your gestures. I feel it every time you turn away like you cannot see this Moro straight in the eye. I feel it in the sheer lack of quorum which is obviously a deliberate tactic to filibuster and lose much needed time to pass the BBL," he said.
Balindong also pointed out the Moros' minority status in the Lower House, saying there are only 10 Moro legislators against the more than 280 members of the House.
"I hate to admit that this House of Representatives has collectively failed the Bangsamoro people... I feel sad that we have effectively killed the process that took more than 17 years of hard and painstaking negotiations to finish," he said.
House leaders, meanwhile, have yet to respond to requests for comment.
After Balindong delivered his speech, the plenary resumed its turno en contra for the BBL, particularly Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat's turno en contra, which has lasted across many days, since last week.