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Congress first hurdle: Is BBL constitutional?

04:06 AM September 11, 2014

MANILA, Philippines–Is the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) constitutional?

This is the primary question members of Congress will need to determine when they begin scrutinizing the legislative measure that would establish a new autonomous region in Mindanao.

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President Aquino on Wednesday finally transmitted the draft to Congress, asking its members to “pass this bill in the soonest possible time.”

“Now that we have a bill, I fully believe that it is in accordance with our Constitution and with the principles of our Framework Agreement [on the Bangsamoro], and that it reflects our shared efforts toward growth that leaves no one behind,” he said in a speech during turnover rites in Malacañang.

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“If we are able to legislate this, we can give our Moro brothers enough time to prepare, thus enabling them to nurture the seeds of meaningful governance, which were planted for the Bangsamoro.”

‘Our best shot’

Senate President Franklin Drilon, who received a copy of the bill for the Senate, said passing it by the end of the year would be “extremely difficult” but that senators would “give it our best shot.”

He said a March 2015 deadline would be more realistic and would still provide enough time for a plesbicite to ratify the proposed basic law.

“We are confident that we will pass the measure. What we will look at with care is that the Bangsamoro Basic Law should be within the four corners of the Constitution,” he said.

“The President has assured [the public] that this is within the constitutional boundaries and we are glad to hear that. That will be one major point of examination.”

“Of course, private rights must be respected but at the same time we would want to give meaning to the aspirations of our Bangsamoro people as expressed in the peace agreement and now in the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” he added.

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Not before yearend

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. received a copy of the bill for his chamber, which is unlikely to be able to tackle it before the yearend, as the House will devote the next two weeks to budget deliberations and, like the Senate, take two long breaks spread over five weeks.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said all pending measures in the House would have to stand aside for plenary debate on the proposed P2.606-trillion budget for 2015, scheduled from Sept. 15 to 26.

After that, both the Senate and the House will go on a three-week break, resume work for another two weeks, and then take another two-week break, Gonzales told reporters.

“I don’t suppose the [Bangsamoro bill] will reach plenary before the end of the year. I’m not confident it can,” he said.

For the two weeks beginning Sept. 15, “we’re all budget,” he said, adding that there will be time for other pending measures, even the Bangsamoro bill.

Special committee

But on Wednesday, the House began the selection of the 75 members of a special committee on the Bangsamoro that would deliberate on the bill.

Majority members of the special committee chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez will be composed mostly of lawmakers from Mindanao, Gonzales said.

He said the minority would also be represented in the committee, to comprise 7 percent of the panel, although it would be up leaders of the minority to decide on membership.

“I will give them authority to meet next week for organizational purposes before the plenary of budget deliberations . . . maybe at 9 a.m.,” he said.

Hard to say

Gonzales said it was hard to tell how much time it would take to pass the Bangsamoro bill.

“We do expect that this will be a controversial bill. I myself have not read this. Until we know, that’s the only time we will know [if this] would be a free-flowing debate, or would there be any obstacles along the way due to controversial provisions,” Gonzales said.

“The truth of the matter is, there’s no rush to [refer it now to the ad hoc committee]. Anyway the ad hoc committee can meet for organizational purposes even when the bill is not yet referred to it,” he said.

Rodriguez, also in Malacañang for the turnover, said Congress would have to determine whether the Bangsamoro bill “reflects what have been agreed upon” in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and the four annexes.

“The first hurdle is constitutionality,” Gonzales told the Inquirer on the sidelines of the turnover ceremony.

Must be acceptable

Rodriguez said the proposed basic law should also be “acceptable to the Bangsamoro and the entire people of Mindanao.”

In his speech, Aquino assured Congress that the bill “was crafted to be fair, just and acceptable to all, whether they are Moros, Lumad or Christians.”

Drilon said the proposed law would have “bipartisan support” in the Senate, noting the presence of Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who chairs the committee on local government.–With a report from Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Basic Law, Bangsamoro bill, Congress, MILF, Moro Insurgency, Muslim insurgency, peace process, Philippines
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