By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Despite expectations, the Congress bicameral conference committee failed to approve Tuesday the reconciled version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), after yet another impassé over the remaining provisions of the measure.
Five days into the bicameral conference committee’s deliberation, the priority measure has yet to hurdle Congress despite earlier pronouncements that it will be approved early this week.
Sources said members of the bicam committee agreed to suspend deliberations Tuesday night and resume Wednesday to iron out provisions of the proposed BBL. The bicameral conference will be held in Senate.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, co-chair of the Congress bicameral commitee, maintained that the bill, which he likened to a “new constitution,” should not be rushed.
Still, he said he is hopeful that they will finish deliberations so that President Duterte can sign the priority measure on July 23, Monday.
The bicameral committee had to pause discussion and go on an executive session in the afternoon with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to settle disputes on the contentious provisions of the measure.
‘National laws’ dropped
The BTC had disagreed with provisions subjecting the laws formed in the Bangsamoro government under national laws as was stated under Article 5 of the bill.
“Because under the proposals in the BBL, the Bangsamoro parliament, when it crafts laws, should not be opposed to, first of all the Constitution of the Philippines — which we agreed with 100 percent — and second, respect national laws legislated by the Congress now and in the future,” BTC chair and MILF vice chair Ghazali Jaafar said.
“Now, if that provision would be approved, the Bangsamoro parliament might have a problem. We think it’s not necessary because it is understood that the laws that we will create in the Bangsamoro parliament should adhere to the Constitution,” he said.
After the executive session which lasted more than one hour, Zubiri said the bicam agreed to delete from the provisions the words “national laws” as the BTC wished.
“We agreed to remove ‘national laws’ on Section 2 Article 5 of the powers of the government, so it will read, ‘Under the provision of the Constitution and this organic act.’ It’s a simple amendment and we both sides agreed to accept that particular deletion,” he said.
Zubiri, however, assured that the laws that will be crafted by the Bangsamoro parliament would still be under the Constitution.
He said they opted to remove the word “to sell” the proposed law to the Bangsamoro region. The deletion is expected to avoid perception that they are limiting the powers of the parliament as Jaafar had raised.
On the fifth day of the bicameral conference held in Mandaluyong City Tuesday, lawmakers tackled the remaining provisions of the bill, particularly on the waters within the proposed Bangsamoro region.
Zubiri said the bicam agreed that the Bangsamoro waters shall extend up to 19 kilometers from the low-water mark of the coasts that are part of the Bangsamoro territory. The Bangsamoro Waters shall be part of the Bangsamoro territorial jurisdiction.
Zubiri said the bicameral committee agreed to adopt a “co-management” system over the inland Bangsamoro waters that are used for energy production. This is specific to Lake Lanao, which, Zubiri said, is a source of power to 30 percent of the whole Mindanao region through the Agus Hydro Complex.
The senator said it would be similar to the agreement on the joint zones of cooperation in the Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf which stipulated that the national government and Bangsamoro government shall “co-manage” matters such as fisheries and marine development, environmental protection, and enhancement of the movement of vessels, and goods in the area. As in the joint zone of cooperation, the two governments shall have a 50-50 sharing on the revenues raised from these waters.
Under the measure, it was proposed that the Department of Energy and the Bangsamoro government shall form a body which shall oversee Lake Lanao. The Energy Secretary and Bangsamoro Chief Minister shall have the same level of authority and create rules and regulations on the use of the waters.
Zubiri said that such would be the “ideal” setup for the government and Bangsamoro people, and that “both sides will agree to that.”
The Bicam earlier agreed that the Bangsamoro government and the national government would have joint powers over the exploration, development, and use of fossil fuels and uranium in the Bangsamoro territory.
Zubiri clarified the proposed BBL would not repeal the existing Republic Act 9054, or the ARMM law.
“It amends specific laws like the organic act, [RA] 9054, local government code, etc., to make sure that these are documented properly so that those who will interpret and implement this law wlll see that certain laws were amended to craft the Bangsamoro organic act,” he told reporters.
Zubiri said they decided not to repeal the ARMM law to ensure a smooth transition from the present regional government to the Bangsamoro parliamentary system of government, through the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).
He added that they wanted certain measures stipulated in the ARMM law to remain.
Should President Duterte sign into law the BBL, there shall be no 2019 elections for the Bangsamoro region. Instead, members of the BTA will be appointed by the President. The BTA shall lead the shift to parliament government for until the 2022 national elections.
During the transition, hiring and cleansing of personnel for various agencies shall also take place. Except for social workers, health workers and teachers, employees of the current ARMM government will be subject to retrenchment.
“But we have a very lucrative retrenchment, actually it’s a compensation package for those who will be retrenched, better than what Civil Service rules are as of the moment. We put that in place so that we can make that change in the Bangsamoro government,” Zubiri assured.
Campaign for approval
Zubri said he is hopeful that proceedings for the BBL will speed up as they have already adopted and settled major provisions of the bill during the last four days of their deliberations.
Zubiri said they are looking to have the plebiscite for the BBL in November, so that the transition of the ARMM to the new Autonomous Region of the Bangsamoro by December or January next year.
To convince residents to vote for the passage of the BBL, Zubiri said the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process, and other concerned agencies, should conduct a massive information campaign on the contents of the measure.
“If it is not passed, I think it’s a big loss to the Bangsamoro region..This will address the problems of poverty, lack of educational support, and bad management,” Zubiri said.
“This is the best law that we can give to our Muslim brothers and sisters in the area. This will be a waste if there are naysayers,” he added.
Zubiri reiterated that changes to the original proposals of the BTC were made to ensure that it will be constitutionally-compliant.
“You can’t get everything. Sometimes what we want may not be constitutional,” he said.
Jaafar, meanwhile, said he is “100-percent” satisfied with how the deliberations are going so far.