The passage of the proposed Bangsamoro law was supposed to be the biggest achievement of Congress.
Unfortunately, the bill that was meant to forge peace sowed disagreement among members of the House of Representatives for a number of reasons. The measure lost its sparkle when 44 police commandos were massacred on January 25 this year by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and fighters of other armed groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The slain policemen were part of a team that was after terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law seeks to create an autonomous Bangsamoro region that will be governed by the Bangsamoro parliament that will supplant the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Understandably, the mowing down of the 44 members of the police’s Special Action Force cast a dark shadow on the Bangsamoro proposal. All at once, lawmakers who wanted to give the measure a chance withdrew their support.
“No member of the MILF faced charges over what happened in Mamasapano. How can we have the trust and confidence that they will be our partners in the implementation of the BBL?” Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, a former Marine Captain who fought the MILF, said when the Bangsamoro law hurdled committee approval in May.
“I am for peace, but not for appeasement at the expense of the Republic,” Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said.
Congress conducted hearings in aid of legislation, of course, but the House never finished the interpellation stage for lack of quorum.
Not even an appeal from President Benigno Aquino 3rd moved lawmakers to speed up deliberations. Aquino met with his Congressional allies on December 8 in Malacañang in a bid to push lawmakers to vote on the measure, but his efforts were for naught.
The day after the Palace meeting, only 134 lawmakers showed up, 11 people short of a quorum.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte is confident that the House will finish plenary debates early next year. However, whether Congress can pass the measure before Aquino steps down remains to be the biggest question because the bill will still undergo a period of amendments, a procedure that can only proceed if the House musters a quorum.
It also doesn’t help that many lawmakers are busy preparing for the campaign period which starts in February, while those running for local posts can start campaigning in March.
Still, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal remains hopeful that the BBL measure will still be passed.
“It is not an issue of believing, but a question of hope. We’re still hoping until now that the Bangsamoro law will move forward,” Iqbal said.
“The main reason why I’m here is [to show]we are serious [in pushing]that the Bangsamoro law should pass Congress. We still trust that at the end of the day, the Bangsamoro law will be delivered,” Iqbal added.