MANILA - Leaders of Congress on Tuesday gave assurances that there is still time to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), said to be the key to lasting peace in restive parts of Mindanao.
The BBL was one of the bills they agreed to prioritize when both chambers' leaders met earlier today.
Previously, government officials expressed their intent to have the BBL passed by end of March so that a plebiscite may be called in the areas that are expected or want to be covered by the new Bangsamoro juridical entity.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said, "May time, we have the time. Major work in any bill are committee hearings, yung mahaba na debate at maraming resource persons... Pag nagkasundo na ron, may debate on the floor, but many of the problematic provisions would have been addressed."
House Speaker Sonny Belmonte said, "We took to consideration the limited period of time. The number 1 is Bangsamoro law and tomorrow the committee will meet on a formal basis with framers of current Constitution who are still alive because of the questions on constitutionality... About 17 of them which would include CJ Davide would appear before committee on Wednesday and discuss the constitutionality of various provisions questioned."
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Muslimin Sema, however, told lawmakers at the ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro that they would want to instead have a plebiscite on the expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The ARMM only has 5 provinces now.
"We didn't accept and we didn't support plebiscite in 2001. Only government of GMA promised there maybe another plebiscite, and the officials of the government of Mrs. Arroyo are still alive... That's the reason why we say that the 1996 peace agreement has not been implemented in full," he said.
Sema is batting for the inclusion of 42 consensus points to instead amend the organic law of the ARMM.
"Since we didn't accept the result of the plebiscite in 2001, then there should be another plebiscite. We have to present first to the 13 provinces and 9 cities in area of autonomy in 1976 tripartite agreement. We will be present."
Ad hoc committee chairman Rufus Rodriguez, however, said that the executive assured them that the BBL covers the 42 consensus points. Now, they are more focused on making sure the BBL does not violate the Constitution.
Under the Arroyo administration, the high court struck down the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and MILF for this reason.
The ad hoc panel held its penultimate hearing today. From January 26 to February 4, it will go into executive session to finalize the bill that will be sent to plenary.
Plenary debates are expected from February 16 to 25.
Like the BBL, the proposed freedom of information (FOI) bill has yet to be sponsored in plenary at the lower House even if it has passed the Senate.
Belmonte said it is not one of the priorities now but it will pass. "As I mentioned siguradong ipapasa namin yan."
The FOI almost passed in the 14th Congress -- only losing the ratification vote at the lower House after it hurdled the bicameral conference committee.
Drilon explained that congressional leaders are aware that the election season will soon shift to high gear.
"That's why we're working hard... We know starting July, the election fever will be with us. Sessions will only be up to February next year. We have to work hard," he said.
On the other hand, the fate of Belmonte's pet resolution of both houses #1, which seeks to empower Congress to relax the restrictions of the economic provisions of the Constitution, remains to be seen.
"If we find the time, we only need two more interpellations. We maybe able to do this in the course of this March. Once we have completed interpellation, we have to assess majority... In order to prevent any objection, we have to be very meticulous about being able to achieve bigger majority. We will push ahead with it."
Relaxing the limits has been justified by advocates with the need to attract more foreign investments.
The Constitution requires that any amendment done through Congress must have the vote of 3/4 of the members.