Palace to critics: Read the 122-page BBL first
Malacañang is urging critics of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to read it first before assailing the measure, which seeks to carve out a new Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. noted that the law Congress would pass would be based on the draft submitted by the Palace.
“Expressing doubts (over the BBL) is part of the democratic dialogue and understanding comes once questions are clarified,” Coloma told reporters. “Let’s also ask those expressing these views, ‘Have they read the (draft) law?’”
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) on Wednesday tweeted a link to an online copy of the 122-page draft of the measure hammered out in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that seeks to establish a substate that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Congressional leaders are eyeing June to pass the draft BBL, about two months behind the Palace schedule, following widespread outrage over the slaughter of 44 police commandos by forces of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, on Jan. 25.
Videos of the massacre and subsequent autopsy showed wounded commandos were gunned down at close range.
On Wednesday, Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF negotiator, rejected demands in Congress that the group surrender Moro rebels involved in the massacre of the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, pointing out that the MILF remained a “revolutionary group” until the full realization of the peace agreement.
“We need to respect each other,” Iqbal said. “When you make demands, you are no longer negotiating. You are dictating.” He warned that the BBL should not be “watered down.”
Iqbal’s position drew an angry reaction from the Senate on Wednesday.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said approving the draft BBL and seeking justice for the commandos must be parallel endeavors. “We have to continue both paths: One is justice for Mamasapano victims, but at the same time we must not make it hostage, the BBL, to the Mamasapano incident,” Guingona told reporters.
But there are conditions that have to be met in approving the draft BBL, said the chair of the Senate peace and unification committee.
“Congress has plenary powers and we are free to do what’s best for the country as a whole,” Guingona said. “We will be guided by, number one, the interest of the Filipino people as a whole; number two, the parameters of the Constitution.”
Stepping on Senate
Sen. JV Ejercito, who has withdrawn his support for the BBL, said the MILF was in no position to make demands.
“It’s as if they’re stepping on our authority as lawmakers,” Ejercito told reporters. “They don’t want to give us the chance to study and review the BBL.”
He said the MILF was holding the government and the legislature hostage.
“If they are really sincere, they have to let us perform our duties and respect the authority of Congress to review and make the adjustments if necessary,” Ejercito said.
No rubber stamp
Sen. Francis Escudero, in a statement, said Congress was no rubber stamp for the BBL and would not approve it without first going through it meticulously.
“Let the MILF be reminded that we in Congress are not dictating, we are legislating,” Escudero said.
The Opapp and the government peace panel should explain to the MILF that what Congress is doing is part of the legislature’s duties in a democratic process, he said.
The peace negotiators should have made this clear to the MILF from the start, Escudero said.
He noted a letter from Murad Ebrahim to the House of Representatives where the MILF chair said its understanding was that it was negotiating with the totality of the Philippine government.
Sen. Grace Poe said it was natural for the MILF to be displeased if the bill would be touched, given its agreement with the government peace negotiators.
But Congress has to do its job and tweak or remove what it finds unconstitutional in the measure, Poe said.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed displeasure at a tarpaulin put up in Sultan Kudarat, photographed by the Inquirer, showing him, Ejercito and Alan Peter Cayetano as “anti-BBL senators.”
“I am not opposing it. I want to perfect the BBL, which is why we’re studying it thoroughly. That is why I do not want to rush the process,” Marcos said.
“They’re harassing the senators,” Ejercito said.
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