Crunch time for the BBL
The passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law may be the single most consequential legislative objective of the Duterte administration, but it has unfortunately been overtaken by other priorities or overshadowed by other sideshows: impeachment threats and actual impeachment complaints, the ill-advised attempt to postpone the barangay elections yet again, the continuing campaign to change the system of government from unitary to federal.
Now the 17th Congress, controlled in both chambers by supermajorities allied (and aligned) with the Duterte administration, is staring at the bottom of the legislative barrel. It has less than a week left before it adjourns until the State of the Nation Address in July.
How important is the proposed BBL?
Enough for President Duterte to say, wearily, last April: “Nangangako ako na before May, lulusot ’yan … before the end of May, lulusot na ’yan. ’Pag hindi, baka mag-resign ako pagka-presidente. Inyo na lang ’yan, hindi ko talaga kaya.” (I promise that before May, that will pass … before the end of May, that will pass. If not, I might resign as President. You can have it, I really can’t do it).
The President has been known to wax emotional in public before, and indeed to claim that he was too old or too tired to continue in the presidency.
Passage of the BBL ranks among the few issues that have caused him to confess just giving everything up: “It’s useless. If you give me this kind of administration until the end of my term, frankly, I would rather resign. Napapagod na ako (I’m getting tired) to solve the problem.”
Going into the last three days of the second session of the 17th Congress, “this kind of administration” faces serious obstacles in passing the BBL.
As presidential spokesperson Harry Roque admitted on Tuesday morning: “There are kinks that are being ironed out but their promise is to pass the BBL. We would like the BBL enacted before Congress goes on recess on June 2 … The promise is they would do everything humanly possible to pass the BBL. Certifying it as urgent may not happen because of the conflicting versions of the Senate and House.”
This was an unusual position to take, because one of the uses of a presidential certification of urgency is precisely to force the Senate and the House to reconcile conflicting versions of a legislative measure.
And one of its effects is that the mandatory three-day waiting period between second and third readings is considered waived.
Perhaps Roque did not understand what the true situation was?
The Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Jesus Dureza, insisted that the President had committed to a speedy passage in a late-Monday meeting with congressional leaders.
“The meeting adjourned with a general consensus that the two chambers conclude their work at the earliest possible time and if there are varying versions, that the mandated bicameral committees of both chambers meet to come up with a joint reconciled and accepted version,” Dureza said.
“The President said he would certify the bill as urgent,” he added.
Finally, at around mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, Secretary Adelino Sitoy, told reporters that the BBL certification had been transmitted to Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
The lack of clarity that persisted until mid-afternoon is frustrating, but at least the President has again put the full force of his office behind the BBL.
The certification of urgency is needed to push the passage of the law. Necessary, but not sufficient.
As important as the substance of the proposed law is, and even though the passage of the law has serious consequences for the peace process in Mindanao, the chambers of Congress have run into the hard wall that is the legislative calendar.
Can they pass the law before the President delivers his third Sona?
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas has a clever plan. He thinks that the bicameral conference committee can work on the reconciled version of the bill between now and the fourth Monday of July, when the Constitution requires Congress to begin a new session.
The conference version can then be ratified by the two chambers, meeting separately in the morning, and then passed and signed into law before the President addresses the nation in the afternoon.
It’s a long shot, but it’s crunch time, and Congress needs to take it.
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