IN an apparent show of force, congressmen allied with the administration who are members of an ad hoc committee that reviewed the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Wednesday voted to endorse the measure for plenary discussion next week.
In a vote of 48 in favor, 18 against and one abstention, the House committee approved the amended BBL bill as well as the committee report.
The approved committee report is now formally named as the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
The committee deliberated on the measure in a 13-hour marathon hearing, which lasted until late Tuesday night.
Critics of the draft BBL said Malacañang had a hand in the crafting of the working draft.
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez Jr., who heads the ad hoc committee, however, vehemently denied the allegation, saying the panel incorporated 95 proposed amendments from various lawmakers.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday expressed confidence that the approval of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law will not be railroaded in the Senate like what happened in the House of Representatives ad hoc committee, as claimed by some progressive legislators.
“I don’t think so because our senators are very independent-minded,” Marcos said in a radio interview with asked on the possibility that the BBL will be railroaded in the Senate.
The draft BBL as approved by the committee will now be subjected to voting under the appropriations and ways and means committees.
The proposed BBL establishes a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region that will enjoy fiscal autonomy and governed by a parliament elected by residents of the region.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd transmitted the draft BBL to the House of Representatives last September.
The proposed BBL is a product of decades of negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Rodriguez said it is unprecedented in the history of the House of Representatives that at least 50 hearings were conducted in nine months and 91 lawmakers participated in crafting this piece of legislation.
“This will cure centuries of inherited disadvantages of our Muslim brothers sisters, as well as the neglect and injustices inflicted on them. I am from Mindanao and I’d like to see the children of our Muslim brothers and sisters having the same opportunity as the children in Christian communities…the same opportunity for good education, health and employment,” he pointed out.
“They [Muslim children] should not be judged by their culture or religion but seen as a person with human dignity. They should be with us in development,” Rodriguez said.
Before the voting, the committee approved an amendment proposed by Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal to remove the word “abolishing” in the final title of the draft.
Race against time
Malacañang also on Wednesday said passing the BBL is practically a race against time and the President is working double-time to convince lawmakers to immediately approve the measure.
Also, its spokesman Edwin Lacierda said delay in the bill’s passage was caused by the infamous Mamasapano incident that sidetracked Congress.
“I think we should recognize the fact that time is getting short… For the situation in Mamasapano obviously delayed the timetable for us,” he added.
Lacierda said proponents of the bill have a lot of catching up to do and this is the reason why the President has been making the rounds among leaders of Congress to fast-track its passage.
“And we need to catch up. We need to also make sure that as we 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,” he explained.
“So that’s an important thing and also to prepare the entire Bangsamoro for the eventual synchronization of elections in 2016,” Lacierda said.
He further explained that the BBL has to be passed soon because under the Constitution, a referendum has to happen.
Voices of dissent
An hour before the start of Wednesday’s voting, the minority bloc led by Minority Floor Leader Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan City (Metro Manila) said it will thumb down the measure.
But Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Sitti Hataman thanked her colleagues for voting
favorably on the BBL.
“I said yes today because the BBL recognizes our right to self-determination. This [proposed]law does not give us anything new. It does not give us anything which doesn’t belong to us hundreds of years ago,” Hataman, wife of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman, said.
But for Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list and Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, the BBL raises questions instead of being reassuring.
Alejano said the government still continued to push for the BBL–a product of the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)–even if the MILF admitted that its members who were involved in the killing of Special Action Force members in Mamasapano are yet to be charged with criminal cases.
“No member of the MILF has 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?,” Alejano, a former Marine captain who fought the MILF, said.
“I voted no because despite the clear non-compliance [with the peace agreement]on the part of MILF, the government still pushed for this measure, which primarily benefits the MILF. This is sending the wrong signal,” he added.
Rep. Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City was incensed over retention of a provision that allows contiguous cities and municipalities to be part of the Bangsamoro core area and those under the 1976 Tripoli Agreement to be part of the Bangsamoro Region upon petition of at least 10 percent of registered voters and approva; by a majority of qualified votes cast in a plebiscite.
Lobregat said the provision “unjustly” covers Zamboanga City, as well as the cities of Dipolog and Pagadian, and as such, runs counter to the Constitution.
‘This BBL is against the Constitution and will make life difficult for the adjoining areas. We are allowing them [Filipino Muslims] to declare independence and secede,” he added..
Opposition lawmakers have warned their colleagues against voting in favor of the BBL, claiming it would establish a larger Bangsamoro region and dissipate their legislative districts.
The Bangsamoro core area is composed of the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte and all other barangay (villages) in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the autonomous region during the 2001 plebiscite, as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.
The Tripoli agreement, on the other hand, covered 13 provinces for the formation of an
autonomous government for the Bangsamoro people including: 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.
Since Sarangani was still a part of South Cotabato and Zamboanga Sibugay belonged to Zamboanga del Sur during the time that the Tripoli agreement was signed in 1976, these provinces can opt to join the Bangsamoro Region thru a plebiscite within five to 10 years after the BBL is enacted into law.
“There are areas that are included now even if these were already excluded in the previous plebiscite [in 2001]. Why are these suddenly in play? And what would prevent other places from following suit? They [lawmakers]should start listening not just to their conscience but to what their constituents are saying [on the BBL],” Zamora said in a news conference.
Rodriguez denied allegations that Malacañang bribed lawmakers to vote for the passage of the proposed BBL.
“That is certainly false. That is black propaganda. There is no promise of anything. The detractors of this bill have always sent information like that,” he said.
“There is no truth to that. There will be no offer. There has been no offer. There will be none. And there will be none which will be accepted.”
The lawmaker cited an alleged incident where Malaysian authorities paid off members of the House of Representatives at P50 million each in exchange for supporting the bill.
He said no money from Malacañang was given to supporters of the proposed law.
“We are wiser than that. There is no offer from Malacañang. There is no money involved. We are voting for this because the Bangsamoro needs this law for their development,” Rodriguez added.
WITH JOEL M. SY EGCO