CONGRESS won’t hold a special session to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as President Rodrigo Duterte had requested although leaders of both the Senate and House of Representatives assured him that the bill would be discussed and passed before the two Houses adjourn in early 2018.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said that while the passage of the BBL could be fasttracked through a special session the coming days would be “very busy.”
“All I know is that we will have very busy days ahead. I will coordinate with majority and minority leaders on schedule and workload,” Pimentel said on Tuesday in a text message.
Pimentel said he filed on November 7 Senate Bill 1608 or the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region but the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms, led by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, has yet to conduct a public hearing on the measure since he got tied up with the discussions on the proposed Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) measure.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd said that not even a special session could fasttrack the passage of the measure into law this year.
“It contains 289 sections that hearings alone can take so much time. We need the Christmas break for our families. Even if we have sessions through Christmas and New Year’s Day, it is not possible to pass it on third reading this year in the Senate,” Sotto said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he discussed the BBL special session with Sotto on Monday night. “He agreed that we have no more time before December 13 break, as we are rushing TRAIN and budget.”
“(There is) no committee report yet, so no BBL debate can happen even in special session,” Drilon said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Congress may conduct committee hearings on BBL even without the President calling for a special session.
“Unless the intention is to pass the measure before yearend, which is impossible considering the complex and contentious issues involved in its provisions, a special session may not be necessary,” Lacson said.
House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas echoed Lacson.
In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Farinas said that Speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez committed to Duterte that the House would finish deliberations on the BBL by March 21.
“If we will have a special session, we cannot compress everything in that schedule so we will request the Speaker to request the President that maybe we do not need a special session and we will try to finish [the BBL]before we adjourn on March 21,” Farinas said in Filipino.
Farinas added that the Committee on Local Government has scheduled trips in the affected areas and if a special session would be in the works, the House may not meet its deadline.
“If I am not mistaken, there are several trips already for December. In fact, the Speaker and I may join in some trips,” Farinas added.
Earlier on Tuesday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said that the call of Duterte to a special session was “grossly premature.”
“The BBL bill must be first cleansed of constitutional infirmities, foremost of which is the legislative abolition of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) whose establishment is mandated by the 1987 Constitution,” Lagman said in a statement.
“No amendment to the Charter is allowed by ordinary statute. Accordingly, there is need for a prior constitutional amendment to replace the ARMM with the expanded and more powerful Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” Lagman said.
Farinas said that three House committees were handling the BBL — the Committee on Local Government, the Committee on Peace and Reconciliation and the Committee on Muslim Affairs.
The Committee on Mindanao Affairs also voiced its desire to join the hearings but Farinas said that four committees would be too much.
Farinas said that instead, interested non-members coming from the Mindanao Affairs Committee would be joining the hearings.
Duterte called for the passage of the BBL, hoping that peace in Mindanao would quell the rising threat of the Islamic State group.
Duterte made the call at Camp Darapanan outside of Cotabato City in Mindanao, base of the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which held a rally on Monday to build support for the proposed law.
The rally came about a month after Duterte declared the southern city of Marawi “liberated” from IS supporters who attacked it in May in a bid to put up a caliphate.