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MANILA, Philippines – Debates on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the House of Representatives will move to the plenary after a special committee approved yesterday the measure seeking to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao.
The 75-member ad hoc committee, chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, voted 50-17 with one abstention to pass the BBL after three days of voting on each section of the 109-page document.
Some of those who voted for the BBL, including Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon and Palawan Rep. Frederick Abueg, did so with reservations, citing ambiguous and even unconstitutional provisions.
Malacañang denied reports that funds were dangled to congressmen to rush the passage of the BBL.
“Nothing in this law gives us anything new. Nothing is given which is not ours hundreds of years ago,” Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Sitti Djalia Hataman said in explaining her affirmative vote.
Hataman, however, said she would propose more amendments in plenary, saying there is more “space” in the BBL to make it conform to the various agreements between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Hataman was among those who voted for the bill’s passage but expressed reservations about certain provisions, indicating their intent to question or introduce amendments when plenary debates begin.
The BBL is expected to pass through quickly in the committees on ways and means, and appropriations for funding.
The majority bloc also fielded ex-officio members – around 15 – to ensure the BBL’s passage in the voting. Ex-officio members are leaders of the House who are automatically members of all committees.
Many administration and opposition lawmakers grumbled that the draft they approved was not the one they worked on for almost nine months, as a new version was presented to them by the panel only last Monday.
Abueg said his province was not supposed to be included in the “opt in” provision where contiguous areas may opt to join the Bangsamoro autonomous region.
‘Justification for secession’
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, one of the most vocal critics of the BBL, warned the BBL actually gave the MILF legal justification to take up arms for secession.
“You just made it worse,” Lobregat told the panel after the voting.
“I’m for peace but we want a BBL that is acceptable, feasible and most importantly consistent with the Constitution and existing laws,” he said.
Lobregat said the preamble of the BBL was in a language that virtually condoned secession when it recognized the struggle for self-determination from the past up to the present.
He said no less than the Supreme Court in a ruling had set conditions for self-determination.
Lobregat said he was also aghast that Malacañang, through the panel, restored the provision that allows a plebiscite to join the Bangsamoro region if 10 percent of residents in a contiguous area petition for it.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, who voted against the draft, said the panel approved the BBL when the MILF has yet to show a single sign of sincerity in the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident.
He said the panel as well as the House had taken a position that the MILF should meet certain conditions, including the return of all weapons of the slain police commandos before the BBL is voted upon.
“We’re sending a signal to the MILF – the chief beneficiary – that no matter what they do, the government will approve the BBL,” Alejano said in Filipino.
Malacañang yesterday thanked the House panel for approving the draft BBL.
“It brings us closer to transforming Muslim Mindanao from a permanent potential into a reality where peace and prosperity abide,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda also denied reports that “pork” was dangled before the lawmakers for the approval of the BBL.
Lacierda said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rodriguez was not being offered anything just so he would push for Malacañang’s version of the draft BBL.
“It’s a very, very categorical, yes, there’s none whatsoever,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said Malacañang had been respectful of the deliberative process in Congress.
“Again, as in any legislative process, it is determined by the majority. I mean, the wisdom of the majority will govern… I cannot say other than the fact that the legislative is being followed. Any concerns raised by others who seem to be in disagreement are being heard. But the process is continuing. However you characterize it, there’s a democratic process that continues to run and let’s wait for the termination of that democratic process, at least in the final version of the BBL in the House,” Lacierda said.
As far as the President is concerned, Lacierda said peace and prosperity in Mindanao was the end goal of the BBL and “if you are asking for any quid pro quo, there is none.”
Lacierda maintained the system in Muslim Mindanao must be changed as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was a failed experiment.
“We have established a framework for peace, framework for development and the BBL is the moving legislation to effect that moving forward – the peace and prosperity in Mindanao,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said stakeholders must realize that time was now running out for the passage of the bill, especially after the fallout over the Mamasapano incident delayed the deliberations on the BBL.
Forty-four members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force were killed in a clash with the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and a private armed group while on a mission to arrest two international terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
“And we need to catch up… We need to also make sure that – as we have previously stated – the need for capacity building. We need to also capacitate the people from Mindanao, those who are going to take on leadership to ensure that they are equipped with capabilities to govern the area… That’s an important thing and also to prepare the entire Bangsamoro for the eventual synchronization of elections in 2016,” Lacierda said.
“If the BBL is passed, there will be… under the Constitution, the requisite referendum that has to happen,” he said.
On the June 11 deadline for the passage of the proposed BBL, Lacierda said they would still have to discuss the matter with Senate President Franklin Drilon amid pronouncements from Sens. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Francis Escudero that Malacañang should not be imposing a target date on lawmakers.
“Certainly, these (senators) are 24 independent republics, as how the President would like to call the senators. But that’s something I will have to ask first from Senate President Frank Drilon. But I think all of us are in agreement that there is a need to pursue this avenue for the peace and development and eventual prosperity of Muslim Mindanao,” Lacierda said.
Local officials in Mindanao were elated with how the lawmakers handled the approval of the BBL.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the regional government’s rank-and-file personnel are grateful to members of the ad hoc committee for having been decisive in their deliberations on the draft BBL.
“All we can say is that this bill is the answer to the decades-old Moro issue hounding Southern Mindanao. Our appreciation and gratitude goes to all of those supporting it,” Hataman said.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said the completion of the committee-level voting on the provisions of the draft BBL is a big step toward lasting peace in Moro communities that are hotbeds of secessionist activities since the 1970s.
“We in Maguindanao, from the provincial leadership down to the barangays, support the government-MILF peace activities,” Mangudadatu said.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles lauded the 75 congressmen of the ad hoc committee in handling the draft BBL.
Meanwhile, Deles and the MILF will send delegates to the May 25 grand Maguindanao peace summit in Buluan town to discuss the political significance of the draft BBL.
The pro-BBL dialogue, organized by Mangudadatu, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, the police and the local chapter of the Mayors League of the Philippines, is the provincial government’s 33rd since the bill was submitted to Congress last year.
The MILF’s Muhaquer Iqbal, chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, said they would send representatives to the event, among them officials of their Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities.
Iqbal said the event is a good venue for sectoral leaders across Maguindanao to speak about their perceptions on the draft BBL.
Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said military officials involved in various peace-building activities in Maguindanao will also attend the May 25 peace summit. – Aurea Calica, John Unson
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