Malacañang on Saturday denied that President Benigno Aquino 3rd was railroading the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to score brownie points for his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.
In a radio interview, its deputy spokesman Abigail Valte insisted that the Palace had been following its own timetable to ensure proper transition.
“We have to afford enough time for the transition to be in process, for the mechanism to be in place,” Valte said. “If people are thinking that Malacañang came up with a timetable just to railroad BBL’s passage, that’s not the case.”
“The President has expressed this many times, and so have we, that he intends to certify it as urgent, and it’s not because of the SONA,” she added.
In the middle of the Senate hearing on the BBL, 12 senators led by Sen. Miriam Santiago signed a committee report calling for “substantial revisions” in the deemed unconstitutional provisions of the Malacañang draft.
Valte said that Malacañang had been closely coordinating with senators on how to resolve reservations and differences surrounding the measure that would create a separate Bangsamoro political entity in Muslim Mindanao.
“It’s very important that at certain phases, we undergo the transitions of the mechanism. That being said, we continue to work with the Senate on how to recapture the delays that we have encountered,” Valte said, adding that supporters and critics alike should study BBL provisions to know “why the timetable is in place.”
“If you look at the provisions, mayroon talagang nakalatag na timetable; siyempre, for the transition. We have to give Comelec sufficient time to prepare for the plebiscite,” she added.
The BBL, which will embody the peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), seeks to establish a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, will now face plenary debates and voting at the House.
Discussing the President’s forthcoming visit to Japan, Valte said encouraging more businessmen to come to the Philippines as well as security issues are on top of his agenda.
Valte said that apart from the bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other high-ranking Japanese officials including the Emperor, President Aquino is scheduled to meet Japanese businessmen.
“The President has a long line of meetings with captains of industry of either Japanese businessmen, who already have investments here in the Philippines, and those who are… because of our economy now, are looking to expand or are looking to put in more investments in the country,” she said.
“Every time the President goes out, he always makes it a point as much as possible to touch base with the captains of industry to really tell them what has been happening to country, and so far, you see that this is bearing fruit.”
The foreign direct investments are up and the number of foreign businesses that come to the Philippines are also increasing, she noted. Those already operating in the country have also shown quick expansions of their operations, she added.
With more than a year in office left, the president will continue to push for the business agenda whenever he travels overseas, she added.
Security concerns are also on top of the President’s agenda amid the crisis spawned by China’s illegal reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea. Japan also has conflicting claims with China in the East China Sea.
“The reclamation activity is a current issue, and it’s a shared issue between our country and as well as one of our strategic partners, which is Japan—mapag-uusapan at mapag-uusapan; ngunit hindi natin masasabi kung saan pupunta ang usapan,” Valte said.
An administration party-affiliated congressman on Saturday said lawmakers should take a chance and vote in favor of the BBL just like how a father would welcome a prodigal son.
Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, a member of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), made the appeal to a number of his colleagues amid lingering concerns on the sincerity of the MILF and the opt-in provision under the proposed BBL, which can expand the Bangsamoro Region.
The BBL—which establishes a Bangsamoro Region that will enjoy fiscal autonomy and be governed by the Bangsamoro Parliament elected by the inhabitants of the Bangsamoro Region—is a product of the peace agreement inked between the government and the MILF last March 2014.
Public sentiment, however, turned hostile on it because there were MILF members who were involved in the killings of 44 PNP-Special Action Force members last January 25.
In addition, the BBL retained its opt-in provision allowing contiguous areas to the Bangsamoro core area and those under the 1976 Tripoli agreement to be part of the Bangsamoro Region upon petition of at least ten percent of the registered voters and approved by a majority of qualified votes cast in a plebiscite. The Tripoli Agreement covers 13 provinces: Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Palawan.
“We should give the MILF a certain level of trust. If we keep on doubting them, that would create more problems. It’s like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. People will ask, why is the father giving so much to the Prodigal Son who wasted his inheritance? Well, the return of the Prodigal Son was celebrated because the fact remains: he had a change of heart and he returned home,” Erice told reporters during the weekly Kapihan forum, referring to the famed Biblical story about forgiveness.
“The MILF wanted secession (separate state) for so long. Now, they want autonomy. They want to be back and their claims are reasonable. We should celebrate their return,” Erice added.
The proposed BBL is expected to be debated on the plenary floor next week, and Erice echoed the claims of House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong that the opt-in provision is a big hurdle to getting enough lawmakers to support the BBL.
“The opt-in provision is the most contentious right now. Still, we should give this a bill a chance. The way to the heavens is dark, narrow and hard, but we should pursue it. If we’ll never try, we’ll never know,” Erice stressed.
Erice, vice chairman of House Suffrage and Electoral Reforms committee, also called on his colleagues to stop splitting hairs on the constitutionality of the proposed BBL come plenary debates because there were already exhaustive discussions on the measure’s legality at the Committee level on top of the fact that the final judgment on its legal ground is the Supreme Court, not Congress.
“If we had 10 lawyers here, half of them would say its constitutional, while the other half will say otherwise. There are more than 100 lawyers in Congress who can interpret the law in so many ways. I say if we have doubts, then we leave it to the Supreme Court to decide because anyway, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter,” Erice said.