Malacañang on Tuesday said it is hoping that Congress would approve the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by March next year.
In a press conference, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte’s reiteration of support for the bill would lead to its approval in Congress.
“I don’t want to pressure Congress right now but I think they have received the message that this is one of the top priorities of the administration,” Roque told reporters.
“I have heard from my sources in OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) that they’re
looking at sometime in March for the passage, at least in the House of Representatives,” he added.
Roque made the statement after some lawmakers said that holding a special session to discuss the draft BBL is unlikely to happen before the year ends.
The Palace official explained that Duterte only emphasized that if need be, he will call Congress for a special session.
“He (Duterte) did not intend or did not limit the timeframe this year or the remaining part of December. In fact, the Bangsamoro bill is still at the committee level at the House. So we expect that we have time for Congress to discuss the BBL,” Roque said.
“Well, you know, it does not matter because what is important only is that if they run out of time a special session is required for Congress to meet as a body, it doesn’t have to be a joint session. There’s no requirement that it be a joint session. But a special session is required when Congress has ran out of time because both houses of Congress must convene by way of a special session if they are to approve bills,” he added.
On Monday, Duterte said he would urge Congress to hold a one-day “special session” for the deliberations of the proposed BBL.
Congress will go on recess from December 16, 2017 until January 14, 2018. It will resume session on January 15 and will again go on break on March 24.
Duterte said the special session was necessary to allow some concerned parties to also present their draft BBL.
“I will ask Congress to (hold) a special session just to hear you talk about this. I said, (the proposed BBL) is sacred. This is important and necessary,” the President said.
Roque said Duterte sent a clear message that he would fulfill his campaign promise to ensure the passage of the draft BBL, which will be “all-inclusive,” under his leadership.
“It was a campaign promise and it is a commitment from him as President that he will do all that is necessary to rectify what he described as the historical injustice committed against the Muslim population of Mindanao,” Roque said.
“He stands by his commitment to ensure the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” he added.
The draft BBL crafted by the 21-man Bangsamoro Transition Commission was submitted to Duterte last July 27 and transmitted to Congress in August.
Lawmakers, however, have yet to act on the proposed law.
The new version of BBL will serve as an enabling law of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro signed between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.
The first proposed measure for the Bangsamoro people was stalled during the 16th Congress following the conflicting provisions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The proposed BBL under the Duterte administration seeks the creation of a new Bangsamoro region to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Meanwhile, Roque assured the public that any arrangement on the proposed Bangsamoro “will be within the framework of one Republic of the Philippines.”
“Well, number 1, when he says it will be one Republic, there will still be only one political entity known as the Republic of the Philippines. However, the relationship of the proposed Bangsamoro entity will be with the Philippine government. We are not allowing any cessation. We are not allowing the creation of a new state,” he said.
Special session not necessary
President Rodrigo Duterte called for a special Congress session to discuss the passing of the BBL, Majority House Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas claimed that such session is not necessary.
In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Farinas said that House Speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez gave a commitment to Duterte that the House of Representatives will finish the BBL deliberations 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 already scheduled trips to the affected areas and if a special session will be in the works, they might not meet their 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 Duterte’s call for a special session is “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 are 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 their desire to join the hearings but four committees will be too much.
Farinas said that instead, interested non-members who are coming from the Mindanao Affairs Committee will join the hearings.
WITH RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA