17 senators sign committee report on Bangsamoro law

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN news

Posted at Aug 10 2015 07:28 PM | Updated as of Aug 11 2015 05:17 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - Majority of senators have signed the committee report on a bill that seeks to establish a new Muslim-led autonomous region in Mindanao, paving the way for Senate floor discussions on the measure.

Seventeen senators signed the report and substitute measure, which changed the Bangsamoro Basic Law's (BBL) name to the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, and contains substantial differences from the draft bill.

Aside from Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who headed deliberations on the bill, Senator Lito Lapid signed the committee report without comments.

Fifteen of them signed with reservations and indicated an intention to interpellate and introduce amendments to the bill: Senators TG Guingona, Koko Pimentel, Antonio Trillanes IV, Pia Cayetano, Bam Aquino, Loren Legarda, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Gringo Honasan, JV Ejercito, Tito Sotto, Alan Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, and Ralph Recto.

Senator Alan Cayetano said he is against the bill.

“Yes to strengthening the Autonomous Region that will result in a just, inclusive, lasting peace. To BBL in present form, no!” he wrote beside his signature.

Marcos will sponsor the bill at the Senate floor on Wednesday, August 12.

President Aquino wants the bill to be among his administration’s legacies. It was crafted after years of peace negotiations between government and the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

However, an encounter between elite police forces and rebels after an anti-terrorist operation in January, wherein 44 cops were killed, prompted several lawmakers to withdraw their support for the measure.

80% OF PROVISIONS CHANGED

In a briefing last week, Marcos said around 80 percent of the BBL’s 115 provisions underwent either minor or major changes.

The substitute measure includes other stakeholders, such as representatives from sultanates and indigenous groups, in the body that would oversee the transition from the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the Bangsamoro, Marcos said.

More groups were also given guaranteed seats in the Bangsamoro parliament.

Several controversial provisions were also deleted, such as the creation of Bangsamoro counterparts of constitutional offices and its own police force, as well as the mechanism for areas outside its proposed core territory to join the Bangsamoro through a petition of 10 percent of voters.

In his version of the bill, Marcos said the so-called “opt in” provision would only apply during the plebiscite when voters in areas within the core would be asked whether or not they want to be part of the new region.

The subsitute measure also seeks to guarantee security of tenure for civil servants in the ARMM who may be displaced once the Bangsamoro government replaces it.

Despite the President’s call on Congress to pass the measure and pronouncements from some top legislators that it is a priority, Marcos said there’s no guarantee it will be approved during the Aquino administration.