House delays Bangsamoro law ratification over Alvarez-Arroyo showdown

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House of Representatives adjourned session on Monday, July 23, without ratifying the the bicameral conference committee report on the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law.

This comes after lawmakers are reported to oust Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and replace him with former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga 2nd District representative.

At 10 am, Alvarez went through the regular motions of reopening the session of the 17th Congress, sticking to his prepared speech lobbying for the federal shift and remaining mum on the plans to unseat him.

At around 11 am, the House suspended session after adopting a resolution calling for a joint session in preparation for President Rodrigo Duterte’s 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) later in the afternoon.

At 12:28 pm, Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia and Assistant Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc entered the near-empty plenary hall. Garcia resumed the session, but Bondoc immediately called for the adjournment of session until 4 pm. Garcia accepted.

With this motion, the House closed its session on Monday without ratifying the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the bill that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with the more powerful Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

The bicam had originally planned for both houses to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law during their morning sessions so Duterte can sign it into law before his delivering his SONA. The Senate already ratified the measure during its morning session.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacañang considers the developments in the House as a “temporary setback” for the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

“We find it unfortunate that the Bangsamoro Organic Law was not ratified before the adjournment of today’s session of the House of Representatives. We consider this as a temporary setback in the administration’s goal of laying the foundation for a more genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao,” said Roque.

He remains confident Duterte will still be able to sign the law later in the afternoon.

Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza expressed the same sentiment, saying, "The BOL suffered this temporary setback, as a 'collateral damage' to an internal leadership issue in the House but I trust and expect that in due time, the ratification which it deserves, will take place as a matter of course."

Manifesto vs Alvarez

Just before 1 pm, lawmakers were called back to gather at the plenary hall. Deputy Speaker Miro Quimbo says the House leadership may once again call for resume session.

But is this allowed by the House rules?

“Well ang rules ng House is always dictated by the majority. So kung ito man ay may pagbabago, it requires a 2/3 or 3/4 vote to suspend the rules. So tulad ng sabi ko, kapag ang majority ay maipakita na dapat mag-resume, magre-resume ‘yan,” he said.

(The House rules are always dictated upon by the majority. So if they will make changes, it would need the vote of 2/3 or 3/4 of the members to suspend the rules. Like what I’ve always said, if the majority would be able to show there is a need to resume, the session would resume.)

As of posting, a manifesto expressing support for Alvarez’s removal as Speaker is being passed around lawmakers for signing. The document is likely to be used by Alvarez’s coup plotters against him should session resume on Monday.

Sources said legislators plotting Alvarez’s ouster were planning to declare the speakership vacant – thereby allowing the nomination of Arroyo in his place – during the opening of the 17th Congress’ 3rd session at 10 am.

But there were last ditch efforts to deter the change in the House leadership. Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who is party mates with Alvarez at the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, called for an all-members caucus at 8:30 am. Only 76 out of 291 lawmakers attended.

Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and AKO Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe, president of the party-list coalition, also called for meetings with their respective blocs before the 10 am session. – With a report from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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