Stop politicking, start deliberating.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday called on senators and congressmen not to use deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to advance their political agenda for the 2016 elections.
Speaking to reporters in Marikina City (Metro Manila), Aquino said lawmakers should judiciously use parliamentary time to calmly discuss the issues on the BBL in aid of legislation, not to score points in aid of elections.
The President reaffirmed the Palace’s position that the BBL is constitutional as earlier affirmed by former members of the Constitutional Commission that crafted the 1987 Constitution.
“We understand that this is an opportune time to gain attention especially that elections are forthcoming but I believe a calm discussion and study of the BBL will help open their eyes that the draft law will withstand the test of constitutionality,” he said in Filipino.
A draft Senate committee report released last week quoted Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago as saying that the draft BBL will raise constitutional problems when passed in its current form.
The senator, a political law expert, argued that the draft BBL will create a sub-state or a state within a state.
The proposed BBL puts flesh to a peace agreement signed by the Philippine government with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The draft BBL was approved last week with amendments in the House committee level and is set for plenary discussion in the House of Representatives.
Its counterpart bill in the Senate, however, is still undergoing committee hearings.
The President said he told his allies in Congress in a meeting two weeks ago not to delay the BBL’s passage.
According to him, he pointed to them the importance of giving the Bangsamoro Transition Authority time to jumpstart the proposed political entity.
The 50-member interim government will be appointed by Malacanang.
“I hope it won’t take until January for the new mode of governance to start. When March  comes, the election ban would already take effect and the Bangsamoro authorities would be rendered inutile by the ban and what will the public say to this, ‘This is useless’,” Aquino said also in Filipino.
“That’s why we’ve been pushing that they amend what they think needs amendment, pass the law and put it to a vote in a plebiscite where there would be a sufficient opportunity to show why this system would work for them,” the President added.
He said he will wait for Senate President Franklin Drilon’s advice if there still is a need for him to meet with the senators.
“I want to hear from the Senate President whether we need to have such meeting. Of course, there’s a part of me that wants to meet with the senators. I don’t want them to say that I’m meddling in their affairs because they are an independent body,” the President explained.
“We just need to balance things out. From my end, if they want to talk to me and listen to what I have in mind. I just wanted to talk to them regarding this issue without sounding like I’m intruding into their affairs. Just like inviting me to give my views in a meeting, why don’t we do that? I’m ready for that,” Aquino said.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government,which is conducting hearings on the proposed BBL, said having a meeting with the President is a welcome move.
“That’s good so that we could tell him the problems we see in the BBL,” Marcos told reporters.
The House of Representatives will not hold a special session to speed up the passage of the proposed measure.
Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) as well as Deputy Majority Leaders Bolet Banal of Quezon City and Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list made the pronouncement ahead of the joint ways and means and appropriations panel discussions on funding and taxation provisions of the BBL.
The House ad hoc panel approved the proposed BBL via a 50-18 vote with one abstention after discussing the proposed law line-by-line in a marathon hearing last week.
“I think we have ample time to work on the BBL. Three session weeks should be enough. Should it reach crunch time, we could start our sessions in the morning, the way we do during budget hearings,” Aggabao said.
Ad hoc panel chairman Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City earlier proposed marathon plenary deliberations for the BBL from June 1 to 4 and June 8 to 11–meaning from 10 in the morning until midnight to ensure the passage of the peace measure on third and final reading by June 11 or the last day of the 16th Congress’ Second Regular Session.
“The pace of the debates on BBL will be dependent on the presence of quorum. I will not venture on a special session. Mustering a quorum will be more difficult,” Gonzales said.
Under the proposed BBL, the Bangsamoro Region will also receive an annual block grant equivalent to 2.4 percent of the national tax collection, a Special Development Fund worth P17 billion (P7 billion initially and P2 billion for each of the next five years) and a P1 billion transition fund for the infrastructure construction and rehabilitation.
“I don’t think we’ll need a special session to pass the BBL. With 50 plus hearings and marathon line by line deliberations, everyone knows that this has been sufficiently discussed already,” Banal argued.
The House will adjourn on June 11.
As such, the House needs to approve the BBL before the adjournment date to have it ready for the President’s signature unless a special session is scheduled.