By Ellson Quismorio
So what were the key amendments included in the substitute bill on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday?
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Zamboanga City 1st district Rep. Celso Lobregat shared some of these amendments following a closed-door, all-member caucus that preceded the plenary vote on the landmark law.
Alvarez is a party-mate of President Rodrigo Duterte, who previously vowed to pass the BBL. Meanwhile, Lobregat is a long-time critic of the BBL who nonetheless admitted to be “substantially satisfied” with the amendments entered into as yet unnumbered substitute bill.
“Many of these [unconstitutional or disadvantageous provisions] have already been addressed. Not all, but substantial,” Public Works and Highways panel Chairman Lobregat said during an impromptu press conference with the Speaker.
“A substantial amendment would be there would only be one plebiscite. Meaning, it will be silent, because if there is no provision on periodic plebiscite then that means to say there’s only one plebiscite. It’s the one after the ratification [of the BBL],” he said.
The concern about multiple plebiscites has to do with the possible “creeping expansion” of the Bangsamoro territory under its controversial opt-in provision.
Lobregat said that while there will still be an opt-in, it will only be exercised in the first and only plebiscite.
“But let’s specify that it will only be in land contiguous areas. So please, malinaw. Hindi na siya creeping (it’s clear. It’s not creeping anymore),” he said.
The opt-in provision allows a local government unit (LGU) from a contiguous area in the envisioned Bangsamoro to join the autonomous region through plebiscite.
The process is initiated through the submission of a petition to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), along with signatures comprising 10 percent of the LGU’s population.
“Yung definition of territory nandun na (The definition of territory is there). Land-based, including waters. Wala na yung fluvial, and whatever (No more fluvial and whatever).”
Alvarez confirmed that the substitute bill will follow the one Philippine National Police (PNP) rule as far as the Bangsamoro juridical entity is concerned.
“Basta isa lang ang PNP, [the Bangsamoro police will answer to the] PNP chief,” he said.
As for fiscal autonomy of the Bangsamoro region, Lobregat said that the bloc grant will still be there “but it will be five percent of national taxes including customs.”
“I’m sure that the Senate might have another version so we will have to meet sa Bicam. Here in the House and in the Senate, nothing is final until you have the Bicam and that’s where the final Bangsamoro bill will come out,” he noted.
Lobregat said the Speaker made him part of the House contingent in the upcoming Bicameral conference committee on the BBL.
“I am substantially satisfied, not fully, but substantially,” the Zamboanga solon said of the changes made to the reference bill, House Bill (HB) no. 6475, which was penned by Alvarez.
Alvarez recalled from the caucus that the Bangsamoro’s Shariah court system will retain the same jurisdiction.
“Ang recollection ko dyan, yung appellate court nila pareho ng Court of Appeals (CA). Tapos appealable pa rin sa Supreme Court (From what I recall, their appellate court will be the same as the Court of Appeals. Its decisions can still be appealed before the Supreme Court),” he said.
The caucus Wednesday was the third held by the House members on the BBL in the past two weeks.
Wednesday also marked the last session day of the 17th Congress’s second regular session.