Philippine palace washes hands of Bangsamoro Basic Law vote delay

Philippine palace washes hands of Bangsamoro Basic Law vote delay
Hundreds of Muslims and peace advocates from various groups participated in a peace march calling for the immediate passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Malacañang on Tuesday washed its hands of the House of Representatives' decision to defer voting on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), saying that the executive department "respects" the independence of Congress.

"We recognise and respect that there are processes in Congress that are separate and coequal with the executive branch," Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told a press briefing.

The House ad hoc committee that is deliberating on the proposed amendments to the BBL was supposed to vote on the amendments on Monday but moved back the voting on the measure by a week.

"Our government's aim is to pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law that will push for the objectives of the peace process. I repeat, we leave it up to the House of Representatives how they would decide on this matter as a separate and independent branch [of government]," Coloma said.

More amendments

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, the chair of the ad hoc panel, said that the decision to defer the voting was made to allow the committee to collate the amendments and give committee members enough time to study the proposed changes to the bill.

Speculation rose that the voting had been deferred after it emerged that the anti-BBL lawmakers outnumbered those in favour of the proposed measure.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. denied that the voting was postponed because the administration did not have the numbers to pass the polarizing bill.

He claimed the decision to move the voting was made in order to give Rodriguez enough time to gather all the recommendations and observations for each of the BBL provisions in one working draft.

Missing the target

But Belmonte admitted that the one-week delay might affect his target of passing the BBL in the House before Congress adjourns sine die on June 11.

"The timetable definitely would be somewhat affected but not that much," he said.

But Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, the independent minority bloc leader, said the lack of support was the real reason for delaying by one week the start of the committee voting on the BBL.

"This development indicates that the House majority has no solid number to pass the BBL because even their allies believe that Congress should not hurry the approval of a very vital and important measure," said Romualdez in a text message.

Romualdez said the biggest reason for the lack of support for the BBL was the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front's failure to justify their actions in the Jan. 25 Mamasapano encounter which led to the death of all but one member of the 55th Special Action Force.

Belmonte explained that the BBL was basically an "administration draft" which should explain why a group of LP members in the ad hoc committee were moving to ensure that the eight provisions that Rodriguez said should be excised because they are unconstitutional. These are the creation of the Bangsamoro entity's own Commission on Audit, Commission on Elections, Commission on Human Rights, Civil Service Commission and police and defence forces.

Compromise

Belmonte was optimistic that the ad hoc committee would reach a "compromise" on the draft BBL because this was likely to be brought to the Supreme Court for further scrutiny.

"For sure somebody will bring this to the Supreme Court and at the end of the day, the Supreme Court will say what is allowed. If we remove these provisions at this early stage, you in effect deprive the Supreme Court of the right to go over or to rationalize it or to make a judgement on it," said Belmonte.

Meanwhile, 19 House members have issued a statement calling on their colleagues to ensure that the BBL that would be passed in Congress would be reflective of the hopes for lasting peace in Mindanao.

"We are legislators of the 16th Congress who call for a BBL that is reflective of the hopes and dreams of the Moro people, which in turn, represent the aspirations of all Filipinos. We desire a BBL that is responsive to the needs and issues of all inhabitants of the proposed Bangsamoro Region," read the signed "Statement of Legislators on the Bangsamoro Basic Law," a copy of which was posted in the Facebook page of Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo.

In her Facebook post, Robredo said that three other legislators have expressed their intention to sign the joint statement. Fourteen of the 22 representatives are from Mindanao.

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