MANILA, Philippines – Discussions on the proposed law for an enhanced autonomous entity in Mindanao might have to wait a month longer.
Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte on Wednesday, June 4, said he has asked Malacañang to submit the Bangsamoro Basic Law after the President's State of the Nation Address in July to give lawmakers ample time to study the bill.
With only 3 days left before Congress adjourns its 1st regular session, Belmonte said it would be "unfair to all" if the measure is discussed on a "piecemeal basis."
"The feedback from Malacañang is that they have virtually completed their review of it, but I am not certain that there is anything to be gained by giving it to us during our final one week, which is next Monday," Belmonte told reporters.
"I don’t know what their strategy is for that but for us here, for sure, we will not be able to discuss it until after the opening of the session. That’s why it's unfair to all of us if we were to start discussing on a piecemeal basis within the remaining 3 days of session," Belmonte added.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law will legalize the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity, which is designed to have greater political and fiscal powers than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which it will replace. (INFOGRAPHIC: The Bangsamoro peace deal at a glance)
Asked if Malacañang agreed to his request, Belmonte said in a mix of English and Filipino, "Well, if they don't submit it by Wednesday then it means they agreed."
Submitting the law before Congress will give lawmakers the choice to call for a committee hearing during the break to discuss the measure.
As indicated in the final peace pact between the government and the MILF, the Bangsamoro bill will be stamped as urgent by the President once it is transmitted to Congress.
To speed up deliberations, the House leadership will create a super committee to be composed of several concerned House panels
Belmonte said he has "several guys in mind" to lead the committee, but he will only announce the names when the draft is submitted.
In his 2013 SONA, Aquino asked Congress to pass the basic law by the end of 2014. This will give the MILF-led transitional authority at least one year to lead the transition from the ARMM towards the Bangsamoro.
Belmonte said he is "still hopeful" the deadline will be met.
Gov't panel asks for patience
For Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles, the greater challenge is not keeping to the timeframe but refining the details of the law.
"Perhaps the question now is not so much the when but the how," Deles said Tuesday evening on the sidelines of the send off for the delegates to the Global Summit on Sexual Violence in Conflict in London.
"It's a difficult legal document. Just imagine the CAB and how much time [it took to finish it]. Now you're going to put it in legal form," she added.
It took the government and the MILF 17 years to arrive at a final peace accord that hopes to end 4 decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.
The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted the draft law to Malacañang in April – close to a month after the signing of the peace deal.
Constitutional experts have raised concerns about the legality of certain provisions of the CAB – even as the draft of the basic law has yet to be released.
Deles, however, said it is not the constitutionality of the law that is causing the delay but reconciling the operation details of how the BTC interpreted the peace accord.
"No, it's imagining... there may be different imaginations of how that could happen. The [Office of the President] has to see whether this is the best. The President, he's also a legislator. He knows the questions that are asked. The President is very choosy. Certifying a bill as urgent, he does not use that loosely," Deles said.
The MILF has said it would prefer that Congress pass the law as it is.
Deles doused concerns that the BTC draft could be watered down from the review and stressed the need for the draft to go through a political process.
"I certainly want it to be debated rigorously so when it is passed, people will know. It went through the process. All the questions that can be asked have been asked so critics can't say that the law was just passed because PNoy pushed for it," Deles said.
"[If we took the law as it is], we don't think it's an important law. But we think it's an important law. Congress thinks it's an important law. We want it to go through a process that no one will question, that this is the best possible law that could have come out," Deles said.
Once the Bangsamoro Basic Law hurdles Congress, the measure will be subjected to a plebiscite.
Once majority of the voters decide in favor of the law, the interim MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority will take over until the election of Bangsamoro officers in the 2016 general elections. The ARMM will then be deemed abolished.