Malacañang on Tuesday urged senators to further scrutinize the substitute version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted to the Senate by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Senate should examine the reservations noted by most of the 17 senators who signed the Marcos measure called the “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”
“We continue to work with the leadership of Congress on the enactment of a BBL that will promote long-term peace and progress,” according to Coloma.
Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles welcomed the Marcos version of the BBL, saying this will allow discussions on the measure “to now proceed with all due diligence and without further delay.”
“We expect the substitute bill to undergo rigorous scrutiny and debate by the plenary based on the reservations noted by other senator-signatories [to]the substitute bill,” she said.
Deles added that the government is willing to “explain and clarify different provisions and their importance in addressing the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.”
“We remain hopeful and confident that Congress will pass a meaningful BBL for lasting peace and development in southern Philippines in accordance with the mandate of the Constitution,” she said.
Marcos, chairman of the Senate local government committee, submitted on Monday a substitute to the BBL with 80 percent of the provisions amended.
The panel in June disapproved the Malacañang version of the BBL, saying it was unconstitutional, and will “lead us to perdition.”
Marcos then drafted a substitute version, which he described as an “all-inclusive measure.”
Last week, the senator said about 80 percent of the original version of the bill was amended, with 115 “major and minor” changes.
Marcos will sponsor Senate Bill 2894 on Wednesday, and answer senators’ questions during the interpellation period.
In the Marcos version of the BBL, major provisions in the original version crafted by peace negotiators from the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), including a provision which allocates P17 billion in development funds for the proposed Bangsamoro political entity.
The senator also removed the controversial provision allowing other areas to join the proposed political entities, and several provisions under natural resources creating Zones of Joint Cooperation in the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf.
The government and the MILF agreed on the passage of the law under a peace deal signed in March 2014.
The BBL was initially set to be passed by March but a clash between police and Muslim rebels in January that killed over 60 people including 44 members of the PNP Special Action Force drew public outrage, and sparked strong opposition to the bill.
The MILF meanwhile vowed to look for all avenues to restore the 28 items that the House Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL has struck down, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said also on Tuesday.
Iqbal, together with government chief negotiators Deles and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer Deles, met with panel chairman and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and other senior members of the committee to appeal to the lawmakers to bring back the 28 items, in particular that on natural resources and the preamble.
“If there is no real autonomy, there is no fiscal autonomy if there is no access to resources,” Iqbal told reporters after the meeting.
“The preamble is the soul of the basic law. Can you imagine a man and a woman without a soul, that’s how important is the preamble.”
He said there was no agreement yet but insisted that they would not stop and further explore other avenues until they achieve the common ground that is acceptable to both parties.
“I am very hopeful that if the BBL is passed into law, it will address the four decades of conflict in Mindanao,” Iqbal pointed out.
He said his meeting with the House leaders “was well engaged, straight-forward, and what is important there is we are partners in the search for peace, the discussion become very in depth, the understanding of various issues is very important in conflict resolution.”
Iqbal added that they had communicated with to the senators to meet them individually and discuss various issues to bring back the lost 28 items.
He said the only agreement was to continue discussions.
According to Iqbal, there were three levels –committee, plenary and bicameral–that can lobby until they see “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“The template for peace in Mindanao is the passage of a good law in the form of BBL,” he noted. “Peacemaking is a continuing dialogue and cannot cut corners.”
Rodriguez said he did not see how the panel would accede to the request of the MILF, noting the lengthy and heated deliberations at the committee level.
“We always appeal to them to accept the amendments. With these amendments, we’re confident the substitute bill will be constitutional,” he added.
Rodriguez said he will move to delete the controversial “opt in” provision in the proposed measure that has irked majority of lawmakers.
“Those [from provinces]adjacent to Bangsamoro are so afraid, it might reach them over the years,” he noted.
Rodriguez said the House is gearing up for resumption of the deliberations on the BBL at the House, with 20 more congressmen lined up to ask questions.
He urged his colleagues to show up for the deliberations, expressing concerns the House debates may be overtaken by the Senate debates.
Lawmakers who are opposed to the proposed law creating a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will not attend the session in a bid to stop the measure’s passage.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) made the observation amid lack of quorum or lack of warm bodies in the House of Representatives for the last three weeks, thus preventing the House from proceeding with the plenary debates on the proposed Bangsamoro measure.