Senate, House approve their versions of proposed BBL on third and final reading

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is a step closer to becoming an actual law after both chambers of Congress approved their respective versions of the law on third and final reading.

The House voted 227-11-2 on Wednesday, while the Senate voted 21-0 early Thursday.

Duterte certified the bill as urgent on Tuesday, waiving the three-day rule before Congress could vote for final reading.

READ: Duterte certifies proposed BBL as urgent

"We listened to the concerns of the congressmen, mostly those who are from Mindanao whose areas would be affected. The majority caucus (today) addressed that so we can proceed to pass the bill smoothly," said House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Meanwhile, senators discussed provisions of the bill for 10 hours until early Thursday morning. Among the issues the senators discussed are rules covering which municipalities or towns in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao can be part of the Bangasamoro government.

"We will have to figure out if in the plebiscite: let's say those towns decide that they will not join, then we have a new situation. If they decide they would join and the rest of the province don't wanna join, that's another situation. What kind of rule do we want, is it a majority?" Senator Dick Gordon said.

Representatives from the two chambers of Congress will meet for the bicameral conference committee during recess to iron out differences in their versions of the BBL.

House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas on Saturday said the meetings are set on July 9 to 13.

The panel would submit a report for ratification on July 23, which will be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte in time for his State of the Nation Address later that day. He would then have to either sign it into law or veto the proposed measure.

The two chambers of Congress have previously stated they will approve the BBL before session adjourns sine die on June 2.

The President has repeatedly said the BBL will help satisfy the Moro people's aspirations for real autonomy.

The BBL paves the way for the creation of the Autonomous Region in the Bangsamoro, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) established in 1989 through Republic Act 6734. ARMM groups the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

READ: Road to peace in Mindanao: The Bangsamoro Organic Law

The bill outlines authority in the region by assigning jurisdiction of reserved powers for the central government, exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro government, and concurrent powers for both the central and Bangsamoro governments.

Anna Tarhata Basman, former head of legal team of the government panel on the BBL, emphasized the importance of the proposed measure.

"What we would have wanted was for them to look at it from the perspective of the peace process. That this was a product of decades of negotiations. It encapsulates the aspirations of a group of people that has for a long time felt neglected, or isolated, or cannot relate to the central authorities," Basman said.

BBL unconstitutional?

Alvarez said abolishing the ARMM should be done through charter change as the region is enshrined in the Constitution.

"As a lawyer, I share that doubt. Talaga namang nasa Constitution yung ARMM eh (the ARMM really is in the Constitution)," Alvarez said.

Alvarez, however, said he will leave the decision of the measure's constitutionality to the Supreme Court.

"Hayaan mong Supreme Court ang mag-decide diyan. Hindi kami yung magsasabi kung constitutional ba yan o hindi. Basta kami merong proposal, ito BBL as a substitute doon sa ARMM law, so gagawin namin. Now, anybody can question, yung constitutionality nung gagawin namin," he said.

[Translation: Let the Supreme Court decide on that. It's not up to us to decide if it's constitutional or not. For us, we have a proposal, the BBL as a substitute for ARMM law. Now, anybody can question the constitutionality of what we will do.]

Contested provisions

The BBL has been the subject of many contentions among lawmakers, the Bangsamoro Transition Committee, and other affected parties.

Among the contested provisions was the opt-in clause, or the inclusion of a plebiscite to be held once every five years for the next 25 years, in case more areas want to be part of the Bangsamoro territory.

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said, however, there will only be one plebiscite of the BBL, to be held three to four months after it takes effect.

The opt-in provision will only apply to all land-contiguous areas, where at least 10 percent of registered voters petition to be included prior to the plebiscite on the proposed law.

Lawmakers earlier feared that this opt-in provision might result to a creeping expansion of the Autonomous Region on Bangsamoro.

Lobregat said proponents also agreed that there will only be one police force in the region to be assigned by the Philippine National Police.

He adds the military will no longer have to coordinate its movement and protocols.

"I think none of us are opposing, we are opposed to some provisions which are unconstitutional or disadvantageous but many of these have been already addressed. Not all. But some," Lobregat said.

Malacañang, meanwhile, said it is aware of the contentious issues in the BBL.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said they are monitoring armed groups in Mindanao that may exploit possible discontent brought about by the outcome of the legislation.

"They will not go to war. Kilala naman natin sila [We know them]...They will become very good partners...Meron tayong monitor of course, ang ating security forces ay nagbabantay kung ano magiging development. Di natin pinababayaan yan [We have a monitor, of course, our security forces are monitoring the developments]," Esperon said.