House leaders file Palace-endorsed BBL

MANILA, Philippines — Leaders of the House of Representatives have filed the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that was endorsed to Congress by President Duterte.

The measure is denominated as Bill 6475. Members of the pro-administration majority coalition led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas signed the measure.

The leader of the minority, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, is another signatory, showing a semblance of bipartisan support for the proposed law that would establish a new autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

Fariñas said yesterday the bill has been referred to three committees – local government, Muslim affairs and peace, reconciliation and unity.

The envisioned Bangsamoro regional government would replace the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

A body called Bangsamoro transition commission drafted the proposed BBL. The commission includes representatives from secessionist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other sectors of the Muslim population.          

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The MILF had concluded a peace agreement with the government during the Aquino administration.

A commission with the same representation as the one that wrote the present BBL draft had endorsed a similar document to the previous Congress. 

The House created a special committee chaired by then Cagayan de Oro congressman Rufus Rodriguez to hold hearings and come up with its own version of a Bangsamoro law.

The Mamasapano massacre of 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force on Jan. 25, 2015 in Barangays Tukanalipao and Pidsandawan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao derailed the expected approval by Congress of the proposed BBL.

MILF fighters were largely blamed for the massacre.

The BBL draft contained in Bill 6475 is similar to the document tackled by the Rodriguez committee in the previous Congress. It is expected to be as controversial as its predecessor.

For one, it proposes to establish a parliamentary system of government in the envisioned new Bangsamoro region. This would run in conflict with the Constitution, which provides for a presidential form of government.

The sharing of powers among the national, regional and local governments would be another contentious provision. 

Fariñas said Congress would have to recommend amendments to the Constitution to accommodate some provisions in the proposed Bangsamoro law.

This was also the view of former chief justice Reynato Puno expressed in a Palace briefing on Thursday.

“I’m saying it would be difficult for this bill to overcome a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court because precisely, we have a unitary government that is not empowered to grant these identity-based demands of our Muslim brothers,” he said.

Asked if amending the Constitution should come first before the approval of the proposed BBL, he said, “That is the safer course.”

Malacañang is apparently consulting Puno on the BBL and the move to amend the Charter to shift the nation to the federal system.

Some lawmakers wondered why the Constitution would be revised to make it jibe with the BBL.

It should be the other way around, they said.