Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri (Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB)

If simplified, bill resetting BARMM polls to 2025 could pass Senate next week, says Senator Zubiri

COTABATO CITY- Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri recommended simplifying Senate Bill 2214 to just changing the date of the BARMM election from 2022 to 2025 as "it will be easier to stand the issue of constitutionality if somebody challenges this in the Supreme Court."
"I think, if it is just Section 1 of the bill (which refers to only changing the date of the BARMM election), I believe we may even pass this next week without any problems," Zubiri projected.

SB 2214 seeks to extend the term of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) and postpone the first BARMM regular elections from 2022 to 2025.

According to Zubiri, Section 2 has sparked a lot of issues among various parties lobbying for BTA positions. The number of new interim members of the BTA was defined in Section 2 of the proposed bill.

Tolentino agreed with the suggestions to change the proposed bill's provisions, saying, "I do recognize the distractions, the ramifications of what was embedded in Section 2. Definitely, I will follow the lead of the good majority leader."

He reiterated that the essence of the BTA is in the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), and the modification will not repeal the existing laws.

"We can simplify, we can delete, we can dilute some items just to achieve the same process and results. Peace for Bangsamoro," he said. 

Meanwhile, during the period of interpellation on Thursday, Senators discussed the status of BTA's mandated duties, its participation in the normalization process, and inclusivity for involved sectors in the BOL, among others.

Senator Joel Villanueva said that his intention in asking questions is "to ensure that the genuine autonomy and the upholding of democratic processes we envision for the BARMM region will be protected."

Answering Senator Villanueva's queries on the timeline and action plan of the BTA for the next three years, Senator Tolentino said that it would depend on the BTA's honest compliance and the "pressure" that the Senate can exert.

"So the timeline will now depend on the Congress as imposed," he added.

The Bangsamoro Parliament enacted three of the six important legislation mandated in the BOL, the administrative code, civil service code, and education code, while local government, electoral, and internal revenue codes have yet to be passed.

Tolentino also described the role of the BTA in the normalization process as "more distant" relative to the role of the MILF. He explained, "It's the MILF and the government of the Republic of the Philippines, with international observers undertaking this normalization process."

He clarified as well the misconceptions that funds were directly downloaded to the BTA.

"The normalization process, if I am not mistaken, involves the downloading of funds, not directly to the BTA, but to various national government agencies, you have the DSWD, you have I think the Department of Health, Education. They are all involved," he explained.

Senator Villanueva lauded the BTA for its effort in setting up the new institution and for consistently striving to pursue peacebuilding.

Senators Zubiri and Tolentino also assured that a new set of BTA members would represent all sectors.

"I can vouch for the integrity of our dear colleagues who is sponsoring the measure, and as mentioned a while ago, again reiterating that the two seats for each non-moro indigenous people and settler communities retained po yan, one sectoral seat each for women, youth, traditional leaders, and the Ulama retained po yan," Senator Villanueva said.

"Putting on record that we all believe that we are all advocates for ensuring an inclusive local representation. We most especially want those belonging to marginalized communities to be able to participate in democratic processes," he added.

The period of interpellation on SB 2214 will continue on Monday, May 31.