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Senate-House clash on BBL looms

Sen. Francis Escudero (left) says he expects the bicameral committee that will reconcile conflicting versions of the BBL to have a long and hot debate on the centerpiece of Malacañang’s peace agreement with the Moro  Islamic Liberation Front, while Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on local government, laments that politics prevailed over the people’s interest in the bill approved last week by the House ad hoc committee on the BBL.  INQUIRER PHOTO / NINO JESUS ORBETA

Sen. Francis Escudero (left) says he expects the bicameral committee that will reconcile conflicting versions of the BBL to have a long and hot debate on the centerpiece of Malacañang’s peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, while Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on local government, laments that politics prevailed over the people’s interest in the bill approved last week by the House ad hoc committee on the BBL. INQUIRER PHOTO / NINO JESUS ORBETA

Time is running out on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Sen. Francis Escudero said in a radio interview Sunday he did not think President Aquino would have the bill he had certified for urgent enactment by Congress completed in time for his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 27.

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“It’s impossible that the President would be able to sign the BBL before his Sona. That’s impossible because even if Congress would be able to pass it on June 11, it’s certain that the Senate and the House of Representatives will have very different versions,” he told dzBB radio.

Escudero said he expected the bicameral committee that would reconcile conflicting versions of the BBL to have a long and hot debate on the centerpiece of Malacañang’s peace agreement with the Moro

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Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that would establish a Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on local government, has scheduled two more hearings on the BBL—May 25 and June 3—before concluding deliberations and coming up with a report.

After June 3, the Senate still has three more session days before Congress goes into sine die adjournment on June 11.

Marcos lamented that politics prevailed over the people’s interest in the bill approved last week by the House ad hoc committee on the BBL.

‘Railroaded’

“I think all the senators do not want what happened in the House to happen in the Senate,” Marcos told dzBB, referring to criticism that the bill was “railroaded” during the three-day hearing last week of the committee chaired by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

The House committee deliberated on the Palace version of the bill, chosen during two meetings of its leaders with President Aquino in Malacañang, where those who would vote for its approval, according to news reports, were promised P50 million in pork barrel projects and P1 million in cash. The Palace has denied the alleged “quid pro quo.”

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Rodriguez, before the Palace meeting, had announced in radio interviews that there was a “consensus” among committee members that at least six provisions in the BBL contravened the Constitution and should go—separate commissions on audit, elections, civil service, human rights and ombudsman and the “opt-in” membership in the Bangsamoro entity. These subjects remained in the committee draft, with very minor revisions.

On Sunday, Rodriguez said the House plenary would hold “marathon hearings” to get the chamber to pass the measure by the June 11 deadline set by Malacañang. He said he expected the bicameral committee to come up with the final BBL version by July 27, in time for the President’s Sona.

‘Creeping expansion’

Critics said they were “scandalized” by the “marketplace manner” in which the House committee rammed through approval of the BBL, which had been delayed following widespread public indignation over the Jan. 25 massacre of 44 Special Action Force troopers out to get “high-value” terrorists in an area controlled by the MILF in Maguindanao province.

Senators, Marcos said, are “more independent” than their House counterparts and will not be easily swayed. He said he would allow senators the time to fully discuss the proposed Bangsamoro constitution.

The approved House version was “worse,” given that it did not include amendments that some congressmen wanted but actually restored the Palace version, he said, pointing to the proposal to include 10 provinces to join the new Bangsamoro region. He described the option as “creeping expansion.”

“I cannot say what the Senate version of the BBL would be but in the draft committee report of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, you could see there were big changes,” he said.

“The points raised on the unconstitutionality of some of the BBL provisions were very clear. And still the House last week approved these constitutional infirmities,” Marcos said.

Enduring peace

In her draft report, Santiago, who chairs the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, questioned the constitutionality of some provisions in the BBL concerning local autonomy.

So far, eight senators have either signed or plan to sign the Santiago report: Juan Edgardo Angara, Jinggoy Estrada, Marcos, Aquilino Pimentel III, Vicente Sotto, Cynthia Villar, Lito Lapid and Ralph Recto.

Marcos said the best thing his committee could do was to produce a very good version of the BBL to avoid prolonged debate. He said his committee had begun drafting its report.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday: “We defer to the Senate’s collective wisdom. What needs to be passed is a law that enables the attainment of

enduring peace and that will promote prosperity.”

The Palace last week said those who did not like the BBL could go to the Supreme Court and question its unconstitutional provisions.

In 2008, the high tribunal nixed a homeland deal that the Arroyo administration signed in Kuala Lumpur with the MILF, triggering an uprising by disgruntled MILF commanders that left hundreds dead and 500,000 displaced in Central Mindanao.

Protest

On Sunday, around 200 people, including leaders of civic and religious groups, held a protest at Manila’s Rizal Park against the BBL.

“The language of this law that they are proposing is basically like that of a constitution,” former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan said.

“Will our Constitution be under the BBL, when in fact, our Constitution should be above the law?” Alunan told the crowd. “The intent cannot be mistaken for anything but a prelude to a subsequent declaration of independence or secession.”–With reports from Nathaniel R. Melican, Christian V. Esguerra and Dona Z. Pazzibugan

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Basic Law, BBL, Ferdinand Marcos, Francis Escudero, House, peace process, Senate
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