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House starts BBL voting after Palace meet

HOLDING ON TOGETHER  A business forum on the Bangsamoro Basic Law at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City brings together Economic Cluster of the National Peace Summit head Jaime Augusto Zobel Ayala II, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and Philippine Business for Social Progress chair Manuel V. Pangilinan.  RICHARD A. REYES

HOLDING ON TOGETHER A business forum on the Bangsamoro Basic Law at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City brings together Economic Cluster of the National Peace Summit head Jaime Augusto Zobel Ayala II, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and Philippine Business for Social Progress chair Manuel V. Pangilinan. RICHARD A. REYES

Lawmakers went through the motions of voting on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the House of Representatives on Monday after a meeting in Malacañang on Sunday that chose the version of the bill to pass.

The Inquirer has obtained two versions of the draft BBL, one by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the BBL committee in the House, and another by Davao del Norte Rep. Anthony G. del Rosario.

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A source said the two versions were shown to President Aquino, who presided over the meeting at the Palace.

Aquino, the source said, was directly involved in the forging of a consensus draft based on both the Rodriguez and the Del Rosario versions.

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The source said the consensus draft was faithful to the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but resolved the constitutionally questionable provisions.

The meeting lasted up to 1:30 a.m. Monday, the source said.

Another source said the President had seen an earlier version of the BBL that had been circulating in the House but he “was not happy with it.”

Follow-up meeting

Sunday’s meeting between the President and his House allies was a follow-up to a meeting in Malacañang on Friday, the source said.

The meeting on Sunday included Rodriguez and key members of the BBL committee, the source said.

The BBL would establish a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao, the centerpiece of the peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF last year.

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President Aquino wants Congress to pass the bill by June, before Congress adjourns, to give enough time to prepare for a plebiscite in which the people of Mindanao will vote on the autonomy law.

Critics of the BBL oppose an early vote, saying many of its provisions are unconstitutional, including the establishment of what they understand as a Muslim “substate” in Mindanao and powers for the Moro government that could lead to secession.

It took a week to deal with the contentious provisions of the draft bill, with Rodriguez asking members of the BBL committee to propose amendments for consideration in a section-by-section vote.

Del Rosario introduced amendments on behalf of the Liberal Party members in the House and their allies.

The introduction of 717 amendments led to the postponement of the vote last Tuesday. The vote was postponed to give committee members time to study the proposed amendments, Del Rosario said.

Working draft

It was his version, which retained the original draft of the BBL but with a few amendments, that provided muscle for an acceptable working draft.

Del Rosario’s amendments consist mainly of reworded provisions relating to the supposed duplication of constitutional bodies; sharpened definitions of key terminologies like “assymetric relations”; a provision that gives assurance of the participation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA); and refinements of the provisions relating to the option of localities contiguous to the proposed Bansamoro territory to join the autonomous region.

Del Rosario explained that his amendments sought to preserve the intentions of the government and the MILF in designing Moro autonomy in Mindanao.

After a week’s delay, Rodriguez’s committee called the vote Monday.

Voting begins

By turns contentious and farcical, the members began voting on individual amendments after agreeing to adopt a working draft that was mostly “agreeable” to President Aquino.

Rodriguez said the panel members presented the final “chair and vice chairpersons’ working draft” to Aquino on Sunday and that the President was amenable to many of the changes—but not all of them.

That made the panel entertain changes proposed by other lawmakers that were not included in the working draft.

But political battle lines were clearly drawn as administration allies voted down all major amendments to the draft, including a plethora of changes introduced by Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, one of the most vocal opponents of the BBL in the House.

“If this is a game, I’m playing the game,” he said at one point before launching an almost farcical campaign to get even one amendment approved.

He failed.

Lobregat asked for the inclusion of the word “internal” before “self-determination” in the preamble on the aims of the BBL, saying adding “internal” would make it impossible for the Bangsamoro to secede.

The motion was defeated, 32-11.

Lobregat also sought the addition of a definition of “contiguous areas” in the bill, such that “water or air contiguity would not apply,” but his amendment was also defeated, 28-8.

He proposed to delete a section placing inland waters under the preservation and management of all inland waters, arguing that this would affect electricity in Mindanao. Again, he lost by a huge margin.

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TAGS: Anthony G. del Rosario, Bangsamoro Basic Law, BBL, BBL version, Benigno Aquino III, Congress, House bill, meeting in Malacañang, peace process, Rufus Rodriguez
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