Congress to pass BBL in June
MANILA, Philippines–Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Monday agreed to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by June.
“Our consensus is that we target to pass it by the end of the second regular session of the 16th Congress, which is June,” Drilon said in a telephone interview.
The second regular session of the 16th Congress ends on June 12.
Drilon, who proposed the new deadline to Belmonte, acknowledged that passing the draft BBL before Congress adjourns on March 21 for Holy Week was no longer possible.
“We can’t pass it in March,” he said, adding that passing it in June was “doable.”
Drilon said it was premature to say if the Senate could muster the number of votes required to pass the draft BBL by that time.
Belmonte said trying to enact the BBL would be an uphill effort for both houses of Congress after the Jan. 25 clash in which 44 police commandos were killed in fighting with Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.
“This is a very difficult process,” Belmonte said, adding that passing the measure would take a lot of work to convince lawmakers to approve it after the Mamasapano tragedy.
BBL work suspended
He also stressed the need for Congress to ensure that the BBL conformed to the Constitution.
He said that despite public anger over the Mamasapano tragedy, the House had no choice but to continue its work on the draft BBL because the
alternative was war.
Congress suspended hearings on the proposed BBL after the ceasefire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was broken on Jan. 25, with a daylong clash between Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and guerrillas from the MILF and its splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in Mamasapano.
The SAF commandos went to Mamasapano to take down Jemaah Islamiyah bombmaker Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his Filipino deputy, Basit Usman.
They killed Marwan, but Usman managed to escape.
As they withdrew from Mamasapano, the commandos were set upon by BIFF and MILF guerrillas, who killed 44 of the US-trained counterterrorism officers.
Eighteen MILF guerrillas and five civilians were also killed in the fighting.
But it was the killing of the SAF commandos that drew widespread public anger, leading to the suspension of BBL discussions in both houses of Congress.
President Aquino, however, asked the leaders of Congress to continue work on the BBL, rejecting suggestions to leave it to the next administration.
The draft BBL would establish a new autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao as part of a peace agreement signed by the government and MILF in March last year.
Work on the draft law has been slowed down by discussions of provisions seen by lawmakers as running against the Constitution.
Leaders of both chambers met at Club Filipino in San Juan City on Monday to discuss their legislative agenda.
Drilon said he and Belmonte, as well as other senators and congressmen, did not discuss specific provisions, including those that had raised questions in public forums.
“What we discussed is the principle that it must conform to our Constitution, and provisions which we view to be contrary to the Constitution will be modified accordingly,” he said.
Joining Drilon in the meeting of congressional leaders at Club Filipino were Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who represented the minority bloc.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the local government committee, was skeptical about the passage of BBL by June.
“I believe it will be difficult, but we might still do it,” he told reporters.
Drilon said he had yet to talk to Marcos about the resumption of hearings on the BBL.
Marcos conducted public consultations on the BBL, but suspended these in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash.
He said he would resume the hearings once the PNP board of inquiry and other investigative bodies submit their final reports to Congress.
“Once we have the board of inquiry results from the PNP, the board inquiry results from the MILF and also the committee report of the Senate, that’s enough material already,” Marcos said.
“We can still continue taking it up even during the break. Everything depends on the timetable of the [board of inquiry], but I can see how we’ll proceed. I still want to go to Sulu and Zamboanga to finish what we have begun, and conduct hearings here in Manila,” he added.–With reports from DJ Yap and Gil C. Cabacungan
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