Speaker: ‘Carrot-and-stick’ policy no longer works to pass BBL
With pork barrel funds excised from the 2015 budget, using the traditional “carrot-and-stick” approach to rally support among lawmakers for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), is no longer possible, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. acknowledged on Thursday.
“But I think [passing the BBL] is not just about carrots and sticks,” the Speaker said of the usual practice among House leaders to dangle huge appropriations for the pet projects of lawmakers in exchange for their support of administration bills.
“At the end of the day, we all want peace for our country.” Belmonte said, while admitting that the BBL itself may not eradicate the roots of conflict in Mindanao.
But this does not mean the House of Representatives should stop trying completely, he said, conceding that even with the BBL, violence is still a possibility.
Possibility to probability
“If we don’t do it, (that) possibility becomes a probability,” Belmonte said in a freewheeling interview at a dinner he hosted for reporters on Thursday night.
The House official admitted that “nobody could guarantee” that Congress would be able to pass the contentious bill because the “sentiments of a lot of people have not settled down,” following the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident that left 44 police commandos, 18 Moro rebels and five civilians dead.
“(But) we will try to do it,” he said.
Belmonte and his counterpart in the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon, earlier set a self-imposed deadline on June 30 for the passage of the BBL despite waning support from lawmakers outraged by the Mamasapano clash and wary of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The BBL would create a self-governing Bangsamoro region in Mindanao and flesh out a comprehensive peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF last year.
But the Mamasapano clash between Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and Moro rebels has eroded support for the BBL, with some lawmakers accusing the MILF of coddling international terrorists, including Malaysian explosives expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” who was killed by the commandos.
Belmonte said the deadline agreed on by Senate and House leaders was necessary to hasten the process.
“We can’t afford to have a floating target, and that was the most generous target we can think of at this moment,” the Speaker said, adding that when the matter was brought up on Monday in their meeting with senators, “it looked like a good working target.”
Belmonte also responded to concerns that Congress’ version of the BBL would be “mangled” or “watered down” because of distrust of the MILF among some lawmakers, who feared giving too much power to the Bangsamoro people.
“Yes, they keep saying that (but) still, our obligation is to the Constitution,” he said, adding that people “definitely have to abide by it,” especially public officials and MILF leaders.
“Aside from being Bangsamoro, they are first Filipinos,” he said.
“The Constitution also holds sway over them, which (was) why we tried to hew as much as possible to what was agreed upon, but definitely not at the cost of violating our Constitution,” he said.
Belmonte said he believed that majority in Congress still trusted President Aquino in spite of criticisms leveled against him for what some described as “a failure of leadership.”
Asked if he thought Mr. Aquino’s political capital was enough to ensure the passage of the BBL, the Speaker said, “Yes, I do think so,” adding that he took note of the sparse crowds at protest rallies calling for the President’s resignation, particularly during the anniversary of the first Edsa revolution.
“There was so much talk of huge crowds, ‘million people march,’ and so on, but we saw only a couple of hundreds,” Belmonte said.
As for the Mamasapano probe, the House Speaker said everything depended on the results of the probe by the board of inquiry of the Philippine National Police.
“If it’s satisfactory, then we will rely on it and consider it a closed matter,” he said.
“(But) if, in our view, it’s not satisfactory and (leaves) too many questions unanswered, then I hold that we can still continue the inquiry,” Belmonte said.