Anti-BBL lawmakers no-shows in House
A leader of the House of Representatives on Tuesday said the absence of many lawmakers during plenary session in the past weeks might be partly due to their opposition to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“You have to consider that the people against BBL are purposely absenting themselves,” said Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.
“Once you take up a controversial measure like the BBL, you can expect that nonattendance might be part of their way of making sure it will not pass,” he told a press briefing.
Gonzales acknowledged time was running out on the proposed measure, which would create a new autonomous region for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao to end decades of armed conflict.
“I’m not saying there is conspiracy to sabotage the BBL deliberations,” he said, pointing out that the low numbers were consistent with the downward trend of attendance during the third regular session of Congress.
This is a period when most lawmakers are keeping a presence in their districts for the upcoming elections.
The 291-strong chamber is in the middle of interpellation on the draft BBL.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the ad hoc panel on the BBL, said he hoped the House would be able to pass the measure and transmit it to the Senate by Sept. 15.
The proposed 2016 national budget is expected to reach the plenary floor on Sept. 28, during which time it will take up all of the chamber’s time.
“We only have 20 [lawmakers left to interpellate], so if we can have five a day or six a day, we should be able to finish it in five hearing days,” Rodriguez said.
House leaders met with members of the peace negotiating panels to discuss a request by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to restore 28 provisions that were deleted from the original draft submitted to Congress.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the deleted provisions should be put back to retain the heart of the bill.
But Rodriguez and Gonzales said it would not be a simple thing.
“It’s hard to tell us they will not accept a watered-down version, because that’s relative. On the part of the House, we would like the BBL to be constitutionally compliant,” Gonzales said.
“Even if it’s not ‘watered-down,’ but it is not constitutional, that would amount to the same thing. Nothing will happen,” he said.
Rodriguez said he had not yet seen the Senate version of the bill, but that he was encouraged it has the same title as the House version: Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
“I’m sure we can reconcile the two versions because our primordial concern is, No. 1, to make this bill compliant with the Constitution and, No. 2, we remove the characteristics of a substate, which would also make it unconstitutional,” he said.
The House and Senate will deliberate on the bill separately, and the two chambers will reconcile their versions at the bicameral conference committee.
The House had failed to muster a quorum for two weeks after Congress resumed session on July 27.
On Monday, a quorum was achieved with 188 lawmakers present, but deliberations on BBL could not proceed as there was no one present among the lawmakers on the list of interpellators.
On Tuesday, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza questioned the quorum, which was later achieved, with 178 members present.
But Rodriguez said there were still more than 20 House members left to ask questions on the proposed law.
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