BBL bill ready to go to plenary by March 2018, says Zubiri

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Sen. Win Gatchalian smiles while listening at a Senate hearing presided over by Sen. Migs Zubiri. PHOTO FROM SENATE WEBSITE

MANILA – Senator Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri on Wednesday expressed hope that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law would be ready for plenary deliberations by March 2018.

“I guarantee you that we will try to come out with a Bangsamoro Basic Law or basic bill that will be ready to plenary, hopefully by March. We’re going to do marathon hearings all the way in the first quarter of 2018,” Zubiri said in his opening statement during the first Senate hearing on the proposed BBL.

Zubiri, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, also stressed the importance of the proposed measure to the people of Mindanao, especially to the Bangsamoro.

“We have experienced the ill effects of armed conflict of Mindanao. It brings political instability, slow economic growth, and uncertainty to our people. And for decades, we have been searching for that elusive just and lasting peace in Mindanao,” he said.

Full-scale war broke out in the early seventies between the military and Muslim rebels under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), causing widespread destruction, disruption of public services and deaths of thousands.

In 1996, the Ramos government forged a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari, but the main MNLF breakaway, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was not included.

The MILF subsequently continued to wage war on government, but in 2013, the Aquino government got MILF leaders to agree to a comprehensive roadmap to peace that was envisioned to be capped by a more inclusive Bangsamoro law.

Alluding to the crucial juncture in efforts of government to make use of the peace dividend as President Rodrigo Duterte is seen as friendly to both MNLF and MILF, Zubiri said at the Senate hearing Wednesday, “We have to seize this golden opportunity and time is of the essence.”

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara” echoed Zubiri’s sentiments, saying that the proposed BBL would be needed for Mindanao’s economic development.

Zubiri also acknowledged the “confidence-building measures” undertaken by the MILF and the MNLF with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), citing instances wherein both Muslim secessionist groups have aided the military in the fight against the terrorism in Mindanao.

“Both sides are coming to the negotiation table with high levels of trust never seen before in decades,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Minority senators will support the measure.

However, he added that they would want to make sure that the proposed law would not violate any constitutional principles.

“We consider this measure very critical for our national development because it is only in the stability and peace in Mindanao that we can achieve the progress we’re looking for,” he said.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, principal author of the Senate version of the BBL, raised President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier concerns over the constitutionality of the proposed law.

“The supreme law is our constitution. We have no choice but to follow the Constitution. That will be our primordial task… I think we all want this but we all want to pass a constitutional version,” he said.