The Aquino Administration will press Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as it has pledged to do under a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on Tuesday.
“Uulitin natin, tuloy na tuloy ito [We repeat, there’s no stopping the BBL]. There is not a better alternative for the rest of the country . . . It’s time to make a stand . . . Am I for peace or am I for war? I don’t think there is any politician who will stand up to say ‘I am for war,’ ” he quoted Aquino as saying during his meeting with leaders of the House of Representatives on Monday morning.
Coloma said the President made the remarks when he was asked by a lawmaker about the BBL and how he intends to go about passing it considering delays caused by a massacre in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province on January 25 where 44 police commandos from the Special Action Force (SAF), 18 MILF rebels and six civilians were killed.
According to him, he thinks the President was able to appease the House leaders, prompting Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, whose committee handles the BBL, to “set” a “timeline” for the proposed law’s passage.
“On May 4, when we resume [it should be plenary deliberations already and then we pass the BBL on]June 11,” Coloma also quoted Rodriguez as saying during the meeting with the President.
He said the dates mentioned by the lawmaker were significant because Congress will go on recess on March 20.
Sessions will resume on May 4 until June 11 for the sine die adjournment before the State of the Nation Address in July.
But Coloma clarified that the pace at which the proceedings would be conducted depends on the legislators, noting that what the President asked them to do is to deliberate on the BBL “in a timely manner.”
He noted that after the President’s explanations, the lawmakers were appeased and emotions seemed to have subsided.
Coloma said Aquino reiterated the importance of approving the BBL in a timely manner to pave the way for the holding of a plebiscite and, if approved, to “give members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) sufficient time to demonstrate their capabilities.”
Passing the BBL was the real message that the President wished to convey to the 30 or so lawmakers with whom he met to explain his side on the Mamasapano operation that also left dead Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
Among the legislators were Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmarinas (Cavite), also House good government and public accountability panel chairman.
Other lawmakers who were present were Muslim legislators, as well as those who were former military and police officials.
“He [Aquino] said there are no winners in war… that all will be losers since there will be bombings and displaced persons. And I believe him,” Barzaga, a member of the National Union party allied with the administration, said.
But for Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila) Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, the BBL has been standing on shaky ground, pointing to undeniable involvement of MILF rebels in the killing of the police commandos.
“The BBL is really floundering because there is mistrust on the part of the government and the MILF. And this is an unavoidable consequence of what happened [in Mamasapano],” Biazon, who skipped the meeting at the Palace, said in a news conference.
The former Armed Forces chief, however, clarified that abandoning the peace agreement signed between the government and the MILF in 2014 should not be an option.
“We can’t give up. We have to nurture the BBL to its final enactment,” Biazon said.
Giving up is also not an option for the President amid the Mamasapano incident and other “challenges” to his administration.
In his speech at the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations awarding ceremony also on Tuesday, he said he is doing everything to address the troubles besetting the nation.
“Kamakailan lang, humarap muli ang sambayanan sa panibagong pagsubok bunsod ng insidente sa Mamasapano. Bilang Pangulo, ginagawa ko ang lahat upang harapin at tugunan ang mga suliranin ng bansa. Madalas, binabaliwala nalang natin ang pagod at puyat [Lately, the nation again faced a new challenge caused by the Mamasapano incident. As President, I am doing everything to face and answer the country’s problems. Oftentimes I just disregard fatigue and lack of sleep],” Aquino added.
This was Aquino’s first public engagement since his message to the nation on February 6 after some groups and personalities called for his resignation because of his alleged mishandling of the Mamasapano operation.
In confronting every issue, the President said he does not let himself get swayed by emotions to avoid worsening the problem.
“Hindi ako pwedeng magpadala sa bugso ng aking emosyon dahil baka mapalala ko pa ang problema [[I cannot become emotional because that might just worsen the problem],” according to him.
“Sa bawat pagkakataon, kailangan kong maging mahinahon at laging balikan kung para saan natin ginagawa ang lahat ng ating pagsisikap [In every opportunity I have to be calm and to recall why we persevere],” he said.
With more than a year remaining in his term, Aquino pointed out that his administration does not intend to repeat the mistakes of the past.
He is facing resignation calls amid public discontent over the January 25 Mamasapano tragedy.
The President first earned the nation’s ire when he failed to attend arrival honors for the bodies of the fallen SAF troops.
He then came under fire for his alleged role in the fatal Mamasapano operation, which he is yet to fully reveal to the public.
Last week, Aquino again drew criticisms over his perceived inappropriate remarks to families of the slain police commandos in their meeting at Camp Crame.