House passes proposed BBL, 50-17
Video by Noy Morcoso
A clause was added to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at the last minute to allow at least 10 provinces outside the core territory of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to join the new Bangsamoro region.
The BBL committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 50-17, with one abstention, to approve the bill, clearing the way for the submission of the measure, renamed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, to at least two other committees for further scrutiny.
The vote by the 75-member body ended three days of marathon sessions on the 109-page bill, marked by heated exchanges and allegations of Malacañang involvement in the preparation of the working draft and influencing the vote.
Lawmakers in the minority sounded alarm bells on Wednesday over a last-minute clause that could dramatically expand the territory of the Bangsamoro through plebiscites in the fifth or 10th year after the passage of the bill.
Under Article 3, Section 3, of House Bill No. 4996, “any local government unit (LGU) or geographical area outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro, but which are contiguous to any of the component units of the Bangsamoro and within the area of autonomy identified in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, may opt to be part of the Bangsamoro by filing a petition of at least 10 percent of the registered voters of the interested LGU or geographical area.”
The same section states that petitions may be filed only in the fifth or 10th year after the enactment of the Bangsamoro law. Inclusion in the Bangsamoro region will be effective when approved by a majority vote in a plebiscite in directly affected political units.
Departure from original
This is a huge departure from the original provision in the version submitted to Congress by Malacañang, which read: “The areas [that] are contiguous and outside the core territory may opt at any time to be part of the territory upon petition of at least 10 percent of the registered voters and approved by a majority of qualified votes cast in a plebiscite.”
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said he was “shocked” by the reference to the Tripoli Agreement in the amended version of the BBL, which implied the provinces that voted against joining the ARMM in past plebiscites could still be subject to future petitions for a plebiscite to join the new Bangsamoro region.
“Did you notice the reference to the Tripoli Agreement?” he told reporters at the regular forum of minority lawmakers.
“Maybe people don’t know what this means: The provinces that they thought were not included, and who thought there was nothing to fear in the BBL, these congressmen who represent these provinces, may not realize that they may be included,” Zamora said.
The “area of autonomy” identified in the Tripoli deal signed in 1976 between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) spans the core territory of the ARMM covering the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao.
The autonomy deal also covers eight other provinces outside the ARMM, as well as the cities and villages located in those provinces.
The eight provinces are Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Palawan.
Also, two new provinces that did not exist in 1976—Zamboanga Sibugay, which was carved out of Zamboanga del Norte, and Sarangani, which was carved out of South Cotabato—would be included.
Thus, 10 provinces would be covered under the “opt-in” provision of the Bangsamoro draft law.
“Do the congressmen voting so readily for these provisions understand that they are now in play?” Zamora said. “Whether you voted against inclusion in previous plebiscites [to join the ARMM], you’re now back in play.”
Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Seth Frederick Jalosjos said it was clear that “not just core territories” would be affected but all the provinces under the Tripoli Agreement.
“We’re talking about opt-in, but there’s no opt-out. This is a very dangerous provision,” he said.
YACAP Rep. Carol Jayne Lopez said that including the ARMM provinces, the opt-in provision would cover 15 provinces “involving 28 congressmen,” whose constituencies might not welcome the idea of joining the Bangsamoro.
The BBL committee chair, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, moved to have the original opt-in provision deleted from the bill on a recommendation of the Peace Council.
Added in Malacañang
But the clause, including the reference to the Tripoli Agreement, was apparently added when Rodriguez and other lawmakers met with President Aquino in Malacañang to draft the final version of the BBL bill on Sunday, the eve of the vote.
It was this “chairman and vice chairpersons’ working draft” that was adopted, voted on and approved by the committee from Monday to Wednesday.
Rodriguez, however, dismissed fears about the inclusion of provinces in the Tripoli Agreement.
He told reporters that the province opting in would have to satisfy the requirement of contiguity to be subject to the plebiscite. If the province does not share a border with the core territory, then it will not be covered, he explained.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. was not too concerned about the Tripoli clause, noting that even the ARMM core territory would have to ratify the proposed Bangsamoro law.
“You will notice the current ARMM will also be subject to new voting,” Belmonte said in a text message.
He said amendments could still be introduced during the plenary debates.
But minority lawmakers were jittery about the clause.
During the voting on Tuesday, a number of congressmen attempted to remove the reference to the Tripoli Agreement, but they were outvoted by the administration’s allies.
South Cotabato Rep. Pedro Acharon moved for the deletion of the phrase “within the area of autonomy identified in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement.” His motion was defeated, 12-37.
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat also tried to have the entire opt-in provision taken out. He lost by a 17-35 vote.
Palawan Rep. Frederick Abueg attempted to remove his province from coverage by adding the phrase “excluding Palawan” after the clause on the Tripoli Agreement, but his motion was lost, 12-33.
On Wednesday, Malacañang’s allies celebrated the passage of the bill.
“Our vote this afternoon is a historic vote to address centuries of inherited disadvantages inflicted on our Muslim brothers and sisters … an affirmative action to correct centuries of neglect and injustices inflicted on the Muslim sector,” Rodriguez said.
“I am from Mindanao and I wish to see the day that children of our Muslim brothers will have the same opportunities as the children of Christian communities: good education, health, and employment opportunities,” he said.
“I wish to see the day in Mindanao that no one of our Muslim brothers and sisters will be left behind,” Rodriguez said in closing the committee deliberations on HB 4996.
The body, which spent almost nine months in public hearings and executive sessions, in and out of the House, finished accepting amendments to the bill on a page-by-page basis just before 11 p.m. on Tuesday.
Rousing applause met the completion of the per-section voting after 12 straight hours, and Rodriguez congratulated the body for “being on the right side of history.”
Only the appendix, the title, and the final clean draft that would serve as the committee report, were put to a vote on Wednesday, each winning by large margins.
Each of the panel members was asked to stand and vote yes or no by roll call, and those who wanted to explain their votes did so afterward.
The bill, now reduced to 89 pages after the committee amendments, is still some way from enactment at the House. It is to be submitted next week to the committees on appropriations, and ways and means, which will pore through the funding and revenue-generating sections.
Then it will be subject to plenary deliberations and put to a final vote on third reading by the 290-strong chamber.
Lobregat, one of the vocal critics of the bill, said he reserved the right to put forth more questions about the validity and constitutionality of the proposed law during plenary deliberations.
On Wednesday, he was still in fighting form, proposing changes but outvoted every time by the majority.
In explaining his no vote, Lobregat said: “I am for peace. I am not antipeace, but we need a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is just, that is fair, that is acceptable and feasible, and most important, consistent with the Constitution and existing laws.”
“We listened to the voice of those for the BBL and those against. Unfortunately, there are many, many, many provisions in this basic law that really go against our Constitution, that make it very difficult for people of adjoining areas, and also, many provisions that are very ambiguous,” he said.
The lone abstention came from Representative Abueg, who said he wanted to consult his constituents on how to vote on the measure.
He cited concerns about the opt-in provision that effectively covered Palawan.
Nothing is new
“It’s a gray area for us, if we would be included. But for new situations, we reserve our vote in the plenary…. This is not only my call, but my whole province,” Abueg said.
AMIN Rep. Sitti Turabin-Hataman, in explaining her vote, said: “I say yes today because the Bangsamoro Basic Law is a recognition of our right to self-determination.”
“Nothing in this law is new to us. It does not change our history. Nothing in this law gives us new rights. Nothing is given [that] was not already ours hundreds of years ago,” she said.
But Hataman said her vote came with reservations as she saw a lot of room for improvement, particularly in consistence with the previous peace agreements.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said he voted no because he had yet to see sincerity on the part of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), recalling the Jan. 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where more than 60 people died, including 44 police commandos, and 17 MILF fighters.
He reiterated his demand that the MILF surrender its men involved in the Mamasapano clash to regain public trust.
Maguindanao and Cotabato City Rep. Sandra Sema thanked the panel “in the name of the Bangsamoro people, and in the name of the MILF and the MNLF, who have long struggled for peace.
“We thank our colleagues for supporting the BBL, and for putting back hope that the Bangsamoro people, too, can live peacefully and have a chance for a better life just like the rest of us,” she said.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman welcomed the committee approval of the proposed Bangsamoro law.
“This is a great step toward the goal of achieving lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao,” Hataman said. “This is a great step toward the self-determination we have long been fighting for.–With a report from Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.