By Ellson Quismorio
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri says the Bicameral Conference Committee will put its finishing touches on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Wednesday next week, paving the way for its historic approval by the joint panel.
“We are almost done…We’re down to 13 sections and two articles,” Zubiri told reporters Thursday in a briefing on the sidelines of the Bicam meetings on the landmark law at the House of Representatives in Quezon City.
“I’m confident that the outcome would be something that will definitely improve the lives of the Bangsamoro [people] in the region,” he said.
Zubiri hinted that the Senate and House panels involved in the Bicam would pull an all-nighter to consolidate the remaining un-tackled provisions of the chambers’ respective versions of the BBL.
The lawmakers would then take a respite beginning today (Friday) before meeting again for the potential big day on Wednesday, July 18. The Bicam meetings began last Monday.
“Uwi muna ako sa probinsya ko (I’ll go back home to my province first), I haven’t seen my family in a week,” he said, laughing.
Zubiri, who co-chairs the Bicam Committee with House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, said the secretariat has asked for two days to produce a “clean copy” of the BBL in preparation of its approval.
“We will meet again Wednesday, hopefully wala nang i-aamend pa (hopefully there’s no more need for Amendments). This is a much better proposal than what we have in the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).”
The BBL is expected to be signed into law on the day of President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23.
The BBL is the enabling law of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and secessionist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It seeks to establish the Bangsamoro juridical entity, which will replace the ARMM.
Among the “big steps” that the Bicam Committee took toward the approval of the proposed BBL Thursday was the consolidation of Article X on the Bangsamoro Justice System.
“We’re happy to announce that we’re already done with the Bangsamoro Justice System…this is a very contentious article because it’s the delivery of the justice system in the Bangsamoro and part of it is through the Shari’ah court system.
“But we’d like to take note that under the approved version of the article, when it comes to the cases involving Muslims and Christians, it’s very clear that it would be the ordinary court’s–municipal trial courts, regional trial courts in the area,” Zubiri said.
He added: “We’re done already on several issues on governance, on classification of public lands, waterways for navigation, penology and penitentiary, the issues on forfeiture of seats in the parliament. We’ve already tackled also the problem on settler communities.”
Zubiri said he doesn’t see extended debates on the remaining provisions. “Konti na lang ang [deadlocks], tinatapos na lang namin (There are few deadlocks, we’re just finishing up).”
The BBL was aggressively pushed by the previous Aquino administration, but its plethora of unconstitutional provisions coupled by the unfortunate January 2015 Mamasapano, Maguindanao siege doomed its passage.
Zubiri also shared just how stressful the Bicam has been for the solons, especially on Wednesday when President Rodrigo Duterte had to turn down the Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s (BTC) preference for single-majority vote inclusion on some 39 barangays in North Cotabato and six towns in Lanao del Norte in the Bangsamoro region.
“Talagang stressed na stressed kami na mag walk away sila sa negotiations (We were very stressed over the possibility that they might walk away from the negotiations),” he said.
“I was stressed last night, I could’ve used a drink actually. I would’ve wanted a whisky or sake shot,” admitted the Senate leader.
He then heaved a sigh of relief when he learned from reporters that no less than Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chairman and MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar called the BBL draft Thursday as “acceptable” and “not watered down.”
“He (Jaafar) said that? Fantastic! What a relief. For me, that’s a relief. I’m getting emotional. I was tasked to save the gains of the CAB, which is a difficult task because as legislators, we have to balance what is right and what is constitutional.
“Sometimes what we want is not exactly constitutional.”