Editorial & Opinion

Rough passage

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What’s taking so long? That’s the question on the minds, not only of leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but also of minority lawmakers worried about the delay in the transmittal of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law to the 16th Congress.

The delay is, in fact, worrying, if only because it was the Aquino administration which drew up the schedule in the first place.

Malacañang has assured both its peace partners in the MILF and the general public that the proposed law is still on track - that is, that the bill will become law before the end of the year. But the reason President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda gave for the delay can fairly be described as lame. “We just want to be sure that the Bangsamoro Basic bill - as early as now being tagged [as] unconstitutional—will stand judicial scrutiny. We are here to review [it so] that it complies with the provisions of the [Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro]. So, in both cases, we want to make sure that, to a large extent, we want to make sure that when it goes to Congress, it will be as smooth as possible.”

Yes, but again: It was the administration which set the schedule. The delay raises doubts all over again about the competence of the lawyers advising the President. To be sure, the proposed law, drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and submitted to Malacañang over six weeks ago, needs to be vetted thoroughly. But while the 15-person commission is led by the MILF’s chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, seven members were appointed by the government. That means the working and final drafts of the proposed Basic Law for the new Bangsamoro should not have come as a surprise to Malacañang. Aware of the tight deadlines, the Palace lawyers should have commenced their review even before submission, during the commission’s deliberations.

As it is, the last legislative period of the 2013-2014 session of the 16th Congress, which began on May 5, will end next week, on June 13. There is no showing that the bill will be filed in Congress before then.

 

In terms of the legislative calendar itself, there is little difference between submitting the bill by next week and submitting it when the second or 2014-2015 session opens on July 28. But in practical and political terms, an earlier submission sends the right signals. The lawmakers and their staffs would gain an additional five to six weeks of preparation; the peace process and its impressive, carefully calibrated product, the comprehensive peace agreement itself, will receive a substantial symbolic boost.

We cannot agree with the congressional minority’s sweeping view that the delay means the administration is now the biggest obstacle to peace. That is a partisan position without any basis in reality. But it is hard to argue with the minority’s point that the delay in submission means more deadline pressure on administration-allied majority and opposition minority alike.

At the same time, we can understand why the MILF’s vice chair for political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, is deeply concerned. “We are worried over the delay. We all know that the delay of the submission to Congress means there will be lesser chances for it to become a law,” he told reporters the other day.

Strictly speaking, the problem is not how to turn the bill into law; it is how to turn it into law before the end of the year. The schedule is important, because the negotiations that led to the peace agreement were based in part on the assumption that the plebiscite necessary to ratify the new Basic Law for the Bangsamoro will be held in 2015, in order to have the new Bangsamoro government to be elected into office in the May 2016 vote.

 

Jaafar and Iqbal have refrained from directly pressing Malacañang to expedite the filing of the bill, but their public statements amount, nevertheless, to a form of public pressure. They might think they have no choice, but they should also consider that the goodwill the MILF enjoys with the administration is finite, is depletable, and that there will be worse political problems to come in what we can expect to be a very rough passage from bill to law. Inquirer.net

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