Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., Chairman of the Committee on Local Government, on Tuesday gave the Third Party Monitoring Team a sneak preview of the substitute Bangsamoro Basic Law bill, days before filing the committee report to the Senate.
The 5-man Third Party Monitoring team was created in 2013 to evaluate and monitor the implementation of the signed peace agreements between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Led by its chairman, former European Ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald, the TMPT met with Marcos to inquire on the progress of BBL deliberations in the Senate. Other members of TPMT are Rahib Kudto, Huseyin Oruc, Steven Rood and Karen Tañada.
“I promised that I would have the committee report on Monday. I will sponsor the substitute bill within a day or two and I will provide the senators copies of the substitute bill for them to study. Then we will come back, maybe the next week, and the interpellation process will begin,” Marcos said.
To speed up the process, Marcos said the senators agreed in their caucus to have the debates on the floor rather than the usual route of debating at the committee level before the plenary discussions.
“I have never stopped working on this—it’s been close to a year. We were working on it even during the break,” Marcos stressed.
Marcos said that in crafting the substitute BBL, he tried to adhere to the spirit of FAB and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), on which the draft BBL was based.
“The underlying principle of our decision has always been, if we can give it to them, give it to them. If it’s illegal, we can’t give it to them no matter how much we may want to. If it’s unconstitutional, we can’t do that either. If it’s impossible to administer, then there’s no reason to do it because there’ll be chaos,” Marcos said.
Likewise, Marcos said that in amending the draft BBL, he and his legislative team made sure not to reduce anything from what is already in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“If ever, we can enhance, but we cannot diminish from ARMM. So the provisions in terms of power sharing, in terms of shares in national wealth, in terms of local shares, none of them are lower and some are higher than ARMM,” he said.
Marcos invited the TPMT to the room where he and his legislative staff were meeting to finalize the substitute bill and showed them that his proposed amendments were actually based on the draft BBL.
According to Marcos, extensive discussions on the constitutional issues against the draft BBL helped them address these problems.
What proved quite difficult, according to Marcos, was finding principles to follow in the provisions on power-sharing and on devising a scheme on economic wealth sharing.
Among others, Marcos said they had to define the principle of “asymmetric relationship” to mean that the relationship between the Bangsamoro government and the national government is asymmetric or not similar to the relationship between regular local government units and the national government.
In addition, Marcos said they recognized the need for the block grant to the Bangsamoro government as necessary to help it start toward true fiscal autonomy, but that this has to be temporary and backed with checks and balances to ensure the funds would be used properly.
Marcos added that the substitute bill will likewise include provisions to strengthen the weapons decommissioning process.
However, Marcos told the TPMT that he cannot predict how long the floor debates on the BBL could last since he expects most senators to raise questions on the provisions of the substitute bill.