People, beware of complacency. Do not relax in the hour-by-hour vigil over Congress and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will carve a choice part of national territory into a substate within the bosom of the republic.
Just because there are only six session days left before Congress adjourns for the start of the election campaign this February, it does not follow that the nation is totally free from the threat of this Malaysian Trojan horse.
Do not underestimate the ability of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and his cohorts to deliver what they have pledged to President BS Aquino. they may resort to sorcery and trickery to get the BBL passed by the House of Representatives.
Do not forget that the opposition does not exist in the House. What passes for and takes the perks and privileges of the House minority is firmly in the pocket of the Speaker.
Manufacturing a bogus quorum
Belmonte’s biggest problem in the House is mustering a quorum for a plenary vote on the Bangsamoro measure.
Since January18 when Congress returned from its holiday recess, the House has not been able to produce a quorum to conclude the debates on the BBL and pass upon proposed amendments.
The country’s representatives are simply not interested in the legislation, or are afraid of its unpopularity and its possible impact on their reelection bids.
To surmount this obstacle, the House leadership is deploying various tactics and strategems.
One is renaming the BBL and presenting a substitute bill. The substitute bill is officially titled Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) to replace the dreaded BBL initials. Chief cook Rufus Rodriguez claims that at least 40 unconstitutional provisions have been either deleted or amended to make the bill conform to the Constitution.
More insidious is the House plan to manufacture a quorum even when none exists.
At the House, warns party-list congressman Lito Atienza, the House leadership has invented a device or stratagem for creating a quorum, which is a must for the chamber to do business.
Because the country’s representatives are generally too lazy to attend sessions and do their jobs, for which they are paid huge sums from the public treasury, the House leadership now uses a device called “the moving present” to determine whether there is a quorum in the house.
This means that when the roll is called to determine whether there is a quorum that will enable the chamber to do business, members of the chamber are recorded as “ present” when they or their apparition is within the vicinity of the Batasan. Most of the time, there are not enough members present. But when the numbers are tabulated, it magically turns out that there is a quorum because more members are marked as present, than those who are actually in the session hall. When a House member challenges the claim of a quorum, the leadership explains that there is a category called “the moving present” – the term denotes House members who are recorded as present, despite their absence from the session hall, because they are or were in the vicinity of the Batasan, moving around or doing whatever.
The moving present is why the House still manages to boast that it passes bills even when it is not doing much of anything.
House is key battleground
This brings me to the subject of today’s column – which is the frantic efforts of the administration and the House leadership to pass the BBL during the final session days of the 16th Congress.
What if instead of a real vote by House members, it is “the moving present” or bogus quorum that will take the momentous decision of creating a Moro substate in the Philippine south?
What if it is a mere apparition of the nation’s representative assembly which will perform the final act of debating the merits and demerits of the Bangsamoro law?
At last Saturday’s forum in Quezon city, Congressman Atienza was joined by fellow party-list congressman Jonathan de la Cruz in affirming the resolve of the independent house minority bloc to stand vigil at the Batasan to ensure that speaker Belmonte and his cohorts do not smuggle or railroad the BBL through the House.
They remember well how the RH law was rammed through the House under the orders of President Aquino, with Aquino cabinet members doing man-to-man guarding of House opponents of the measure.
They know what Aquino did to secure from the House the resolution for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and how the House leadership obediently suppressed all debate on the resolution.
Opponents of the BBL are bracing for the possibility of a fast-break maneuver by Speaker Belmonte during the final session days of the House.
They are apprehensive about that the wily speaker will implement a house plan to allow voting on second and final reading on the BBL in just one session. They could truncate the process via a presidential certification of the BBL as urgent.
Atienza and De la Cruz make a convincing case that it is in the House, the most representative assembly of the republic, where the nation must take its strongest stand against the BBL, in order to prevent the dismemberment of the national territory.
If the BBL passes the House, there ‘s no telling what will happen if the measure reaches the Senate. Senator Bongbong Marcos’ steadfast stand against an unconstitutional BBL could be overridden by his colleagues, if there is a repeat of Aquino‘s corruption of the Senate during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
With the elections coming up, principled resistance to the BBL in the 16th Congress could wither away.
A second hacienda
The prospect of a moving present or bogus quorum passing the BBL is one nightmare that keeps me on edge these days.
The other specter is the emerging reality that
the 16th Congress, from lack of serious leadership in both houses, has been transmogrified by President Aquino into a second personal hacienda, mirroring his family’s indestructible Hacienda Luisita.
In the traditional hacienda, the landlord was king and his word was law.
In the political haciendas of today, the President has congressmen and senators to run the place for him and keep the peasants under control.
People, it’s time to take back your Congress and to never let go.