No need for special session on BBL- lawmakers

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte prays beside Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairman Ghadzali Jaafar during the Bangsamoro Assembly in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. (Presidential photo)

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives sees no need for a special session to tackle the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law but assured President Rodrigo Duterte the chamber would finish work on the bill before Congress adjourns on March 21.

“Even if we hold a special session, we can’t compress the schedule to discuss the BBL … We will try to finish it before we adjourn on March 21,” Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said at a news conference together with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Speaking before officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro National Liberation Front and various organizations, as well as of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, at the Bangsamoro Assembly in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao Monday, Duterte urged Congress to act expeditiously on the proposed BBL and to convene in special session if needed.

House Bill No. 6475, authored by Alvarez and 97 other lawmakers, reflects the version submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to Malacañang. (A copy of HB 6475 has yet to be posted on the HREP website).

The BTC is an independent body mandated by Executive Order 08 to draft the BBL.

Three other bills related to the BBL are also pending at the House: House Bill No. 92 filed on June 30, 2016 by Maguindanao Representative Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao; HB 6121 filed by Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on August 3, 2017; and HB 6263 filed by Lanao del Norte Representative Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo on August 24.

Bangsamoro leaders hope the BBL could respond to the festering issues that have kept the Bangsamoro homeland in conflict for the past four decades. It will create a new Bangsamoro homeland to replace the ARMM.

The BBL was a product of the peace agreement forged between the administration of President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF in 2013. Several bills have also been filed on the BBL in the last Congress, but these were not approved.

The proposed law itself floundered in the wake of the January 2015 Mamasapano incident.

Fariñas said hearings would be conducted nationwide to get the sentiment of stakeholders on the proposed BBL. Three committees will handle the bill: Local Government; Muslim Affairs; and, Peace, Reconciliation and Unity.

He said House leaders will talk with their Senate counterparts to consider amending the provisions of the Constitution that run counter with the BBL.

“For example, if there are constitutional constraints to it, sabi ni Speaker puwede naman namin na isama na ‘yan doon sa Cha-cha (charter change) para isabay na sa barangay elections kung sakaling mangangailangan (the Speaker said we could include these in Charter change so this can be voted on together with the barangay elections if needed),” Farinas said.

In a separate statement, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said the call for a special session to tackle the BBL was “grossly premature.”

“The BBL bill must be first cleansed of constitutional infirmities, foremost of which is the legislative abolition of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao whose establishment is mandated by the 1987 Constitution,” he said.

Lagman stressed that “no amendment to the Charter is allowed by ordinary statute.”

“Accordingly, there is need for a prior constitutional amendment to replace the ARMM with the expanded and more powerful Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” he added.