Bicameral committee ironing out remaining sticking points in proposed BBL

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 12) — First, lawmakers were fighting control over land – whether to allow certain towns and villages in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato to be part of the proposed Bangsamoro government.

On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte had to intervene to resolve the issue.

Now, some congressmen are fighting for control of the sea.

Heated debates Thursday centered on who should fish in the resource-rich seas of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region.

The country's biggest sardine factories are in Zamboanga City and the Zamboanga provinces.

But sardine companies traditionally get their supply from the Sulu Sea, which is under the jurisdiction of the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi all of which are under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and will also become part of the new political entity.

District congressmen are at odds over how to manage the Sulu Sea and its resources under the Bangsamoro government.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Miguel Zubiri said, "One portion, of course, the job generated by the fishing industry, and income derived from it, but at the same time, yung social justice problem of lack of fish, in their own traditional fishing grounds."

"Kaya daw nananatiling mahirap ang mga Tausug sa Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and the other tribes in Basilan, the Yakans, is because wala na daw sila maisda, sa kanilang mga areas, in the Sulu Sea," Zubiri added quoting congressmen from the ARMM provinces.

The district representatives, among them Celso Lobregat (Zamboanga CIty), Ruby Sahali (Tawi-Tawi) and Bai Sandra Sema (Cotabato City), had to convene again into a sub-committee to settle their differences.

Zubiri said the sub-committee has to find a compromise and "strike a balance."

"Kailangan may balanse kasi ayaw din natin na mangyari na hindi makapasok ang fishing fleets dyan. They also employ tens of thousands of workers in factories, as well as in the fishing vessels," Zubiri pointed out.

The section of the so-called zones of joint cooperation, which includes the tug-of-war over fishing at Sulu Sea, is among the few remaining sticking points the bicameral committee is hoping to iron out before wrapping up deliberations.

"Puwede silang (Bangsamoro government) humingi ng konting permit or taxation dito sa isda na nahuhuli sa lugar nila, then earmark the income of that for social services to coastal communities sa Sulu Sea," Zubiri said.

The Bangsamoro justice sytem and the Sharia law was among the latest provisions the joint-panels have approved.

"When it comes to cases involving Muslims and Christians, its very clear, it will be the ordinary courts, municipal trial courts, regional trial courts," Zubiri said.

As of Thursday night, almost all of the 18 articles of the bicam draft have been discussed, except for about 13 contentious sections, that have been previously set-aside.

Zubiri was hopeful they could complete the deliberations so they could take the weekend off.

"Kailangan ko naman umuwi sa pamilya ko," Zubiri, who hails from Bukidnon, said in jest.

This early, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed the 2014 peace deal with the government is saying it is inclined to accept the bicameral report.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair and chairman of the body that drafted the Bangsamoro bill, is dismissing criticisms the draft has been weakened with the deletion of several provisions.

"No, we don't consider this as a watered down BBL," he said.

Jaafar added, "The fact is that the BBL now as we see it, unless it is changed drastically...it is no longer ARMM minus. It is ARMM plus plus plus. But of course, we want to maintain yung mga provisions diyan, na na-approve na [the provisions there that have been approved]."

When told about Jaafar's comments, Zubiri said, "Fantastic, I'm so happy. What a relief."

"Talagang stressed na stressed kami na mag walk away po sila, sa peace negotiations," recalling the tension-filled four-day deliberations.

The bicameral committee is slightly adjusting its timetable, targeting to sign the final report on July 18, Wednesday – practically, giving the President a few days to review it before signing it into law on the day he delivers his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23.