Hard Decision on BBL

In our preceding editorial, we described the versions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) passed in the House and the Senate as not bad. But did we say they are good?

Our stand hinged on two grounds: First, this is in recognition for the utmost, nay passionate, efforts of those who really fought for the passage of the BBL in both Chambers. There are several of them. We can only mention some of them here: in the Senate, we have Senators Miguel Zubiri and Riza Hontiveros; in the House, we have Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema and Congresswoman Ruby Sahali. And second, indeed, it was a great relief that the most difficult part of the legislative track had been overcome; i. e., the passage of the BBL in both Chambers. Frankly, we waited with baited breath for the release of the certification of the BBL as urgent, which came at the most precise moment, but already way past 8:00 pm on May 30. By the time, Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon had barely started the list which contained more than 100 amendments to the proposed bill. He could have easily filibustered its passage had he wanted it, but, perhaps, the remaining statesmanship in him ruled the day.

On the basis of the House and Senate versions of BBL, FRANKLY we are expecting a bill barely above the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but less compliant with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). Many powers which were already given to the ARMM were either not transferred to the new political entity or are classified as concurrent.

In both deliberations, the lobby power of the 22 sardines company based in Zamboanga City against the grant of 22.224 kilometers from the low watermark in the shoreline, forming the Bangsamoro Waters, was very obvious. The House agreed to peg it at 19 kilometers (14 municipal waters and four kilometres of Bangsamoro Waters). We hope the Senate’s 15 kilometers would improve or they use the BTC’s proposal of 22.224 kilometers)

Given this impending grim scenario, the MILF is expected to have a very hard decision to make. If it accepts what others’ say a “mangled” BBL will their members, political and military, agree? How about the people in general?

Our hope for a better BBL is pinned on the forthcoming bicameral conference on July 9-13. Seventeen legislators from the House and 10 from the Senate will meet and try to come up with the final version of the BBL. We hope that the best in the House and the Senate versions would be assembled together to become the energized BBL that we would like to see.

But this hope is rendered into nothingness after listening to legal pundits who say that only those contained in both versions can be discussed and assembled into the final consolidated bill. No new or foreign elements are allowed into discussion, much more new provisions will be entertained or added.

Moreover, what makes this thing gloomier is the presence of four legislators from the House who voted “yes” for the adoption of the original BBL in its entirety in order to be qualified to be member of the bicameral conference. They did not like the Committee Report almost in its entirety.

Are they Trojan Horses of modern times? Certainly, the answer is no, because unlike the Trojan Horse of Troy, their negative stances are already known right from the start. In fact, they tried to use various tricks to delay, stop, or dilute the proposed bill.

Be this as it may, there is a contrary view on the nature and power of the bicameral conference. If there is a third chamber of Congress, it is this bicameral conference. As such, it is understood to have power to propose amendments or add elements into the bills under its deliberation.

Let us hope for the best, a better BBL in the offing!