BBL is out

No more time to pass peace measure, Congress leaders say

MANILA — The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which administration allies thought would be a legacy of President Aquino, is dead – at least in the 16th Congress.

With only three session days left before the campaign period for the May, 2016, elections starts on February 9, Senate President Franklin Drilon conceded there is no more time for Congress to pass the BBL. The measure is already dead in the Senate, Drilon, a staunched supporter of President Aquino, said.

Likewise, Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr., another key Aquino ally, admitted that the BBL is dead in the 16th Congress.

He said that even if the House would be able to pass the measure, the Senate “has not been acting on it.”

“No question that it won’t become a law, even if we pass our version. The Senate has not been acting on it,” Belmonte said.

The Lower House still has three session days to act on the bill but proceedings have been hindered by lack of quorum.

Deputy Speaker Pangalian M. Balindong, one of the staunchest advocates of the passage of the peace measure, had earlier thrown in the towel in the bid to pass the BBL in the 16th Congress.

With only three session days left before the House goes into election break, Balindong rose Wednesday to deliver a privilege speech airing serious misgivings about losing the move to pass the BBL, blaming colleagues in the chamber for contributing to its impending non-passage.

“As I close the book of hope for the passage of the BBL, I want you to recall the faces of the people that you met during the public hearings all over the country, especially in the Bangsamoro homeland. Remember their expectant smiles, their hopeful faces, and their warm gestures of goodwill,” he told his House colleagues.

Despite this development, Malacañang said it will continue to pursue the road to peace.

Whatever will be the final decision on the proposed BBL, the government will remain determined to pursue the peace process and urge stakeholders to ‘give peace a chance,’” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

Drilon attributed the slow death of the Aquino-backed proposal for a long-term peace program for Mindanao to the Jan. 25, 2015 Mamasapano massacre in Maguindanao that left 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos dead.

“The political environment has become very toxic… I think the BBL and the peace process of the BBL is the 45th victim in the Mamasapano (incident),” Drilon said in an interview with ANC.

But Drilon said Congress should not be faulted for its failure to pass the BBL, saying lawmakers were bent on its passage up until the Mamasapano incident happened.

The 44 SAF troopers died in a bloody clash with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) guerrillas, and other private armed groups while trying to escape after successfully neutralizing Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan.”

It is the MILF that has an ongoing peace talks with the government peace panel. Congressional support for the BBL dwindled after the massacre, especially after the Senate joint committees released its findings saying President Aquino is “ultimately responsible” for the incident.

“The committee hearings were going smoothly, we knew where we were going until the Mamasapano incident took place. In fairness to the legislature, we did our best,” Drilon pointed out.

“But we operate only in a political environment conducive to the passage of this bill and unfortunately, the environment, after the Mamasapano incident, really made it impossible to pass,” Drilon said.

Even President Aquino, he said, has become realistic and acknowledged it is already impossible to pass the BBL under his term.

“It’s not a matter of giving it to this administration. Yes, the President has been pushing for the BBL, but he has also been very realistic. He has called me many times to personally discuss how we can do it,” he said.

“But unfortunately, especially given the environment, the political environment we have been operating in the last three weeks, it’s extremely difficult to get this through this week. And I said, they keep on pushing but I don’t think we can pass it,” added Drilon.

The Senate has until Feb. 10 to conduct its regular sessions. Afterwards, Congress will adjourn in preparation for the May, 2016 elections.

The Palace had been determined in pushing for the passage of the BBL within President Aquino’s term despite calls to leave the passage of the measure to the next administration.

President Aquino had said the passage of the BBL would ensure the progress and development in Mindanao even after his term ends in June, noting that the goal for Mindanao is to transform it “from the Land of Promise, to the Land of Promises Fulfilled.”