AS the House of Representatives grapples with quorum problems that had delayed deliberations of the Bangsamoro bill, President Benigno Aquino 3rd threw his weight on Tuesday by summoning lawmakers to discuss the controversial measure in Malacañang.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Aquino “called on members of the House of Representatives to seize the historic opportunity of enacting the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and laying the foundations for long term peace.” Coloma said Aquino stressed that “passing the BBL now has become more imperative in view of the increased threats posed by global terrorism and radicalization.”
“The President urged the members of Congress to rise to the challenge of being able to ‘change the narrative,’ referring to the cycle of violence and poverty that has stalled peace and progress in Mindanao,” he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd led the House delegation, while the President was accompanied by Cabinet members led by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
During the meeting, Coloma said that Aquino “pointed out that the BBL provides a template for peace building that may be considered by the international community.” The Bangsamoro bill, now called the proposed Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region has been in the plenary since June.
Gonzales said there are still at least 21 lawmakers waiting for their turn to interpellate.
The progress of plenary debates has been hampered by quorum woes.
Some lawmakers said Malacañang held a survey among the President’s allies in Congress.
Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles of National Union Party and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said the Palace inquired on the stand of lawmakers from the Majority bloc on the Bangsamoro measure.
“You can say we were surveyed. I would think all parties were asked of their position, but I don’t think they got the result they wanted. The members of Congress were asked about their stand for them to know the general sentiment of the lawmakers ahead of the lunch meeting today,” Alejano said.
“That is a sensitive question. We can’t be forced to vote right away. Why are we being asked about it when the measure is yet to be voted upon? We don’t want to be put on the spot. Pumalag kami (We did not give in]),” Alejano said.
Aside from being a member of the Majority bloc in the House, Alejano also belongs to the 58-strong party-list coalition in Congress which is supportive of the Aquino administration.
“They are counting the numbers…to know who are for it, against it, or who’s undecided. Our party was asked, but I don’t know what happened with that survey. I see the Palace playing it by ear. We really thought that it was over because of lack of time and quorum (attendance) problems, but suddenly there was a meeting called. Certainly that meeting would be influential,” Nograles pointed out.
Alejano and Nograles are opposed to the measure, noting that its provisions granting the Bangsamoro Region separate constitutional offices such as an audit agency, poll body, and a police force violate the 1987 Constitution.
“I doubt that the passage of the Bangsamoro law will result in peace. We should just let the next administration handle this,” Alejano said.
“What’s the use when the MILF already said that they want the bill in its original form? What’s the use of passing it if they are going to reject it anyway? What’s the rush?” Nograles said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remain confident that Aquino can have the Bangsamoro bill passed by rallying support from Congress.
“We continue to put our trust on the President… Ayon nga kay dating MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim, the most civilized and peaceful way of settling the conflict in Mindanao is through peace,” Mohagher Iqbal said in a statement released by the office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp).
With CATHERINE S. VALENTE