House to prioritize BBL, federalism on resumption of 17th Congress

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 24) — The House of Representatives said it will deliberate on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the shift to a federal government as it opened its second regular session on July 24.

"We have to concentrate our efforts in (these) two legislative measures that hold the key to lasting peace and prosperity for our country," House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said in his opening statement.

On July 17, Duterte received the draft of the BBL, which paves the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, the successor to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao established in 1989 through Republic Act No. 6734.

Read: Federalism gets boost as Duterte meets with Cordillera, MNLF leaders

The BBL will be submitted to Congress for deliberation. Its creation is seen as a template of what a federal state could look like.

Meanwhile, Duterte has been pushing federalism even before running for President, emphasizing that the system would usher in peace in conflict-stricken Mindanao.

A federal government aims to set up autonomous states that have greater power over administration and resources. Under the current unitary system, authority is centralized on the national government based in Manila.

Read: NEDA chief: Regional development needed for shift to federalism

Under the 1987 Constitution, charter change may be done in two ways:

• Through three-fourths of the votes of all the members of Congress

• A constitutional convention, where voters decide on whether or not to shift to a new form of government.

Alvarez said in a press conference after the regular session that they are hoping to pass both measures by the end of 2017. However, he added that discussions on federalism could take more time.

Same-sex unions, easier break-ups

Alvarez also said in his statement that the laws on marriages need to be revised, especially in light of unhappy marriages.

"We do not always get it right the first time around," he said. "Unfortunately, the present system practically coerces married persons to remain with each other even if the relationship is beyond repair and has caused, and continues to cause, harm to the well-being of the husband, the wife and, worse, the children involved."

He said Rep. Pia Cayateno has committed to file a bill that will allow married couples to separate without the issues under the Family Code.

"Married persons can mutually agree to end their marriage subject to the approval of the Court," Alvarez said. "One of the conditions, which must be complied with, is an agreed upon and executable framework for the care and support of their children."

Under the Family Code, there are two ways for married couples to separate.

One is through legal separation, where the spouses may separate, but are not allowed to remarry. The other is through annulment, where the marriage is presumed to never have happened.

Critics of the Family Code say the requirements to separate are difficult and expensive, especially since annulment requires the parties to prove psychological incapacity or coercion when the spouses got married.

In August 2016, Gabriela Women's Party filed a House Bill 2380, which aims to legalize divorce in the Philippines.

The bill marks the fifth time that Gabriela filed a bill to legalize divorce since the 13th Congress in 2005. The Philippines remains the only country in the world, other than the Vatican, that does not allow divorce except for marriages solemnized under Muslim Sharia law.

Meanwhile, Alvarez also said he will file a bill to recognize civil partnerships, including same-sex couples.

Under the Family Code, marriage is only recognized between a man and a woman.

Alvarez also said Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, Congress' first transgender legislator, also gave inputs for this measure.

Read: Same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage

"Our citizens should not be excluded from society just because of the person they love," he said. "They must also be treated with equality before the law."

Government 'right-sizing'

Alvarez also said the structure of some government agencies needs to be reviewed.

"The regulatory framework is chaotic, full of overlaps, conflicts of interests and, at times, there is no clear central regulatory body," he said.

Alvarez said the powers of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, which regulates the country's casinos, "runs the risk of dealing itself a favorable hand while undercutting others."

Alvarez also called for the reorganization of transport authorities.

"We should also look into how land transportation, railways, airports, and seaports are organized and regulated," he said. "Often, a review of said areas of public interest would show how chaotic their regulatory frameworks are.

Alvarez said the Land Transportation Office and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to be merged into a single agency called the Land Transportation Agency, while a Philippine Railways Authority and a Philippine Airports Authority should be put up to regulate railways and seaports, respectively.

Alvarez added that operators of casinos, public transport companies and mining companies should secure a legislative franchise from Congress so that their applications are scrutinized more closely.

The House Speaker's comments come amid controversies over Transport Network Companies Grab and Uber, who were each fined P5 million by the LTFRB for numerous violations, such as activating drivers into their systems despite a July 2016 moratorium on the issuance of franchises, which has created a glut of "colorum" Grab and Uber drivers.

At 4 p.m., the House will hold a joint session with the Senate for Duterte's second State of the Nation Address, where he is expected to tackle not only the country's progress, but also propose other priority legislation.

Read:Duterte's second SONA to be 'frank, hopeful'

Catch CNN Philippines' special live and in-depth coverage of the SONA starting 5 a.m. on July 24.

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