Aquino allies, BBL supporters block most amendments at House panel
ON Day 2 of voting on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), lawmakers in the minority waged a valiant but generally fruitless campaign to introduce major amendments to the Malacañang-approved working draft by the ad hoc panel.
By mid-day, only a few minor amendments survived the second round of voting, as administration allies and BBL supporters refused to accept most of the changes proposed by other members that were not already included in the version drafted in President Aquino’s company on Sunday.
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat continued his tirade against the apparent numbers game, proposing one amendment after the other but losing almost every time.
“It’s really a sad day for Congress,” he said Monday night after the first round of voting had allowed none but two amendments to the draft BBL.
“Others said, ‘you’d lose anyway, why not let the whole thing pass?’ And I said, you know, the whole world is watching. They expect that at least the salient points of the bill would be brought out, and I have been bringing out the salient points of the bill,” he said.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Lobregat repeated this grievance by noting that even though the session on Monday had drawn the presence of 91 lawmakers, including non-members, the votes the minority could muster in favor of a particular amendment would not go over 20, while the majority vote never went over 40.
His question implied that with only fewer than 60 lawmakers actually voting, what were the others there for?
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, the chair of the 75-member committee, however, dismissed the question: “Many would come in and then go, so there aren’t really that many at any given time. Plurality is the rule in this committee,” he said.
North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco was the first to succeed in pushing for an amendment to the working draft.
She proposed that the section protecting the rights of indigenous peoples (IP) be placed under concurrent powers, or those shared with the national government, rather than under the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro government.
Davao del Norte Rep. Anthony Del Rosario, who led an administration alliance that succeeded in incorporating several changes to the working draft, said he would second Catamco’s motion but asked for an explanation why it was necessary.
Catamco explained that the national government should retain the power and responsibility to promote the rights of the native tribes under the IP law, noting that the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao “never implemented” that law successfully.
Rodriguez, in calling for a vote, commented: “I’m sure Congressman Del Rosario was very satisfied with that explanation,” signaling the allies to vote overwhelmingly in favor of the Catamco motion. It won 32-11.
But the second amendment that won the vote of the body came from an unexpected source: Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.
He had proposed the restoration of the provision in the original draft submitted by the executive to Congress granting exclusive powers over Bangsamoro settlements to the Bangsamoro government.
In a surprising turnout, the Zarate motion won the vote of virtually everyone in the body, prompting the presiding chair not to continue the count and to simply say the motion was carried. At this, the gallery erupted in cheers.
But most other amendments were voted down by the panel.
Lobregat was persistent in suggesting changes for virtually every section of the draft.
He proposed limiting the Bangsamoro government’s power to conduct a cadastral survey of lands only by recommendation, instead of automatic inclusion into the national cadastral survey. He lost by a huge margin.
Lobregat also moved to delete a section delegating to the Bangsamoro government the power to declare nature reserves and aquatic parks, forests, and water reservations, and other protected areas, as only national government has been wielding that under the Constitution. The motion was lost, 6-34.
He also wanted to remove the Bangsamoro’s exclusive powers over inland waters, but was again outvoted, 30-7.
At one point, while suggesting that the exclusive powers previously granted to the ARMM be “integrated” instead of “transferred” to the Bangsamoro government, Lobregat thought he had finally succeeded in making an amendment.
“So it’s carried, Mr. Chair? Thanks ha,” he said. But he had only misheard, as there was in fact an objection. When the chair called for a vote, he grumbled: “Akala ko ba walang (I thought there was no) objection?”
His motion was lost.
But later in the afternoon, Lobregat finally succeeded in inserting at least four minor changes to the working draft.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon also tried a number of times to make an amendment but was not successful. For instance, he moved to delete lines from the draft transferring the rights over museums, libraries and other historical to the Bangsamoro government. But his motion lost by a 7-38 vote.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio moved twice to retain the original provisions on the “asymmetric relationship” between the Bangsamoro and national governments, and on the “parity of esteem” between the two parties.
He lost the vote both times, 3-26, and 5-25.
The Makabayan bloc of minority party-list lawmakers assailed the voting in bloc by the administration coalition, saying Malacañang’s hand was obviously involved.
“This situation was forced upon by the majority by canceling last week’s amendments but rammed a Malacañang version which was just given early yesterday (Monday). This also seems to be a prelude of the final voting,” they said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The majority essentially bulldozed the Malacañang version of the BBL and ran over the amendments of congressmen. They also wasted the 48 hearings of the ad hoc committee and imposed what the Palace wants,” they said.
The sections on police and military power also invited several amendments from the lawmakers, particularly Lobregat and Blazon who wanted to erase entire provisions.
“God help this country in the future,” Blazon intoned after each of his motions was defeated.
The closest vote of the day occurred when 1BAP Rep. Silvestre Bello proposed removing a clause in a section allowing the Bangsamoro chief minister to request the President to call upon the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during emergencies.
He moved to delete the phrase “the chief minister may request the President to call upon the AFP,” to “the President may call upon the AFP,” as the former would effectively limit or restrict the President’s authority.
Bello’s motion narrowly won, 26-22.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano also succeeded in changing what he considered a problematic wording in the section stating that the national government may create a “Bangsamoro regional command.”
This phrase in the original draft was “Bangsamoro command,” and was later changed in the working draft to “Bangsamoro regional command.” Alejano wanted to make it “unit or units instead,” such that an “AFP unit” may be created by the national government for the Bangsamoro.
The Alejano motion also made it, 35-9.
The ad hoc committee is expected to finish voting on the bill on Wednesday, with Tuesday’s session scheduled to continue well until 10 p.m.
Once approved, the bill will go to the committees on appropriations and ways and means, and then finally to the plenary floor for deliberations and a final voting by the 290-strong chamber.
But Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales admitted that meeting the target of passing the BBL by June 11 was already a case of “wishful thinking” as a result of delays. He said there was still a window of time between August and September in the third regular session when Congress could pass the bill before floor deliberations on the 2016 budget.
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