By Amita O. Legaspi | GMA News Online
Senators supported Thursday the decision of Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to junk the Malacañang-crafted Bangsamoro Basic Law and instead submit a substitute bill which will be discussed in plenary.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and acting Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III both said that drafting a substitute bill is a prerogative of Marcos as chairman of the local government committee tackling the BBL.
Drilon said that it has always been the stand of the Senate that it will scrutinize and amend the version submitted by the Palace.
“Nobody has said that we will not revise the BBL as submitted by the Palace. We have always said that we will review and make sure that the BBL is within the four corners of the Constitution. This is something that all senators agree on,” he said in a weekly forum at the Senate.
He added that the senators will debate on the substitute bill when it is submitted to the chamber.
“We have many common grounds, One, it should pass the constitutional test. Two, it should result in peace in Mindanao. Three, that national interest should be served,” he said.
Drilon said the statement of Marcos should not cause concern as it has always been the position of the senators from the very start.
Asked if the crafting of the substitute bill will delay the passage of BBL, Drilon believed it will not because it is already a result of the previous hearings conducted by the committees. Sotto said that in the Senate, committee chairmen have the freedom to decide on the bills referred to them.
“That is his (Marcos) prerogative as chairman of the mother committee. That is the way the Senate is run. The committees call the shots,” he said in a text message to GMA News Online.
He said his only question was whether BBL should be referred to the committee on finance because of the funding it needs. But Drilon said there is no need for such referral as the BBL is not an appropriations bill.
In a text message, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said “even the Palace has come to terms with that reality that Congress cannot reasonably be expected to be a rubber stamp.”
“We value the expertise and the work done preparatory to the BBL but both houses of Congress have the proper mandate to tackle the bill. Having said that, we hope to come up with an improved version,” he said.
Senator Sergio Osmena III said Marcos’ made a good move. “Let’s see what the new version will look like,” he added.
For his part, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito said he completely agrees with Marcos that the BBL, in its present form, has so many loopholes, defects, and violations of the Constitution.
“Long-term repercussions might be irreversible, so why the rush?,” he said in a text message.
Meanwhile, Marcos, in a press statement, said one of the areas his BBL substitute bill will address is the warning raised by retired military and police officers during the committee hearings.
“We intend to incorporate in the substitute bill the inputs of our retired generals. Many of them have a wealth of personal knowledge and experience as veterans in the war against insurgency and terrorism in Mindanao,” he said.
“They are the ones who risked their lives in saving Mindanao from separating from our Republic. So when they point to danger signs in the draft BBL we should listen,” he added.
Among the changes the Association of General and Flag Officers (AGFO) suggested were:
Uphill battle for BBL
Earlier on Thursday, a lawmaker said that while the BBL has a good chance in the House of Representatives, the proposed law would have an uphill battle in the Senate.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said the Bangsamoro bill, now called the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR), will likely be approved on third and final reading in the House before Congress adjourns next Thursday, June 11.
“Inaasahan naming papasa ito sa pinakamaagang panahon—I’m expecting by June 11, pasado na ang BBL sa plenaryo. Ang magagawa na lang ng minorya ay mag-filibuster at mag-interpellate for the longest time. However, the majority might still have tricks up their sleeves,” he told reporters at a press briefing.
But although the bill’s approval in the House is imminent, Ridon said it still has a long way to go before becoming a law.
Palace firm on its BBL version
Following Senator Marcos' criticisms, Malacañang on Thursday expressed its firm belief on its version of the BBL.
At a press briefing, presidential spokesman Secretary Edwin Lacierda said the original version of the draft BBL, as submitted by the executive to Congress, “is the best course of action.”
“I think our draft BBL is the most practicable solution to finding lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” Lacierda told reporters, contradicting Marcos' remarks that the Palace's draft BBL, if approved, would on lead to more armed conflict and bloodshed.
The Palace version of the BBL will “stand legal scrutiny,” Lacierda also said.
He further said that Marcos’ proposal to replace the draft BBL with an alternate bill will “not be as productive” as what the executive has done.
“I don’t believe that the draft BBL is as bad as Senator Bongbong described it, that it will lead to the road to perdition,” Lacierda said. "Our allies at the Senate would hopefully rally behind our BBL. We have reviewed it, and we’re always willing to work with the Senate."