Simplify bill postponing BARMM elections to avoid issues, Zubiri asks senators

Senate Majority Leader Juan MIguel Zubiri has suggested to his colleague, Senator Francis Tolentino, to make simple the measure that would postpone the elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindano (BARMM) from 2022 to 2025.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel 'Migz' Zubiri (Albert Calvelo/Senate PRIB)

During their plenary session Thursday, May 27, Zubiri asked Tolentino if he was amenable to shortening Senate Bill No. 2214 to a one-page measure, to avoid tedious debates and contentions against the legislative proposal.

Tolentino, who chairs the Senate committee on local government, was sponsoring the bill.

"Maybe we should just keep it quiet, maybe we should just say, 'The essence of the BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law) shall be maintained and implemented and we, at the proper time, just remove Section 2 and Section 3, and just leave Section 1...that says we just move, postpone the elections to 2025," he said in his interpellation.

The Senate leader was referring to the provision that would mandate the President to appoint 80 new interim members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), who shall hold office until the May, 2025 elections; as well as the provision creating joint congressional committee to aid and look into the BTA's performance of its functions and priorities.

"This is to unburden us, because if we do not that, all of us will get calls. And you know, many of us are reelectionists, many of us are getting calls now from the governor, from the congressmen, from the mayors, from different make sure that instead of two, they are given three seats , instead of six, they be given eight seats," said Zubiri, whose first term as a senator will end in 2022.

In his interpellation, Zubiri informed Tolentino about claims being circulated thru text messages that the Senate has "removed" the representation of Christian communities in the BTA.

Both senators called this "fake", with Tolentino saying "there was no intention" to exclude settler communities, including Christians, in the bill.

"To make our lives so much easier...would it be agreeable, when the time comes, that we just simplify the measure, because if by any stroke of luck we do not pass this this week or next week, over the sine break, I am sure they will visit you in Cavite or Tagaytay, they will visit me in Cagayan de Oro...and they will really lobby...continuously," Zubiri told Tolentino.

"I believe it will also stand the scrutiny of constitutionality. It will be a bit easier to stand the issue of constitutionality of somebody challenges this in the Supreme Court," he added.

Simplifying the bill, Zubiri said, will allow the chamber to give its approval "without any problems".

As Tolentino expressed openness to accepting Zubiri's proposal, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said diluting the measure "will not be as simple as that."

"Yes, we can limit it to a one-page law, but there are implications particularly on the transitory authority...The policy issue that you have to decide is that when you postpone , what will happen to the incumbents whose term will expire. Are their terms automatically extended in a holdover capacity? Or would they need a new appointment?" raised Drilon, a former Senate president and justice secretary.

Tolentino maintained that the "main policy consideration" for postponing the BARMM elections is to extend the term of the BTA, and not its officials, so it could continue its transition efforts for the region.

He also said that the President has the prerogative to exercise his appointing powers, and should be allowed to decide whether or not to allow incumbent BTA officers to keep their positions in a holdover capacity.

Drilon, however, said Congress must specify the terms of office of appointed officials.

"You do not leave to the discretion of the President whether an appointed official will holdover, will continue to sit in that position in a holdover capacity. That is to be determined by law, not upon the will of the appointing authority. Because by the law, the term of the office expires," he explained.

"We should decide expressly and provide it in the law," he added.

The Senate will continue debates on Senate Bill No. 2214 next week.