Bicameral approves harmonized bill on BTA extension

By Ali G. Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – The bicameral body of the Senate and the House of Representatives approved today, Tuesday their harmonized bill deferring the 2022 Bangsamoro parliament election to 2025, stirring more praises from rallying quarters with confidence that an extension in the transition period of the interim regional governance is “90 percent” conclusive.

Senator Francis Tolentino and Rep. Juliet Marie Ferrer jointly led the bicameral meeting at the Senate annex building as chairpersons of the higher and lower chambers, respectively, and attended physically by Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Sherwin Gatchalian alongside Reps. Ronnie Sinsuat and Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, officials said.

Other representatives to the bicameral like Senators Bong Go and Riza Hontiveros, Deputy Speakers Bernadette Herrera-Dy and Loren Legarda, and Rep. Hooky Alonto Adiong participated in virtually, it was learned.

The bicameral conference briefly deliberated SB No. 2214 and HB No. 10121 provisions, adopting substantially the House version on the plight of incumbent appointed members of the 80-seat Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim governing body of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), sources told the Philippine Muslim Today news.

Thus, Section 2 of the reconciled bill read: “During the extension of the transition period, the (BTA) shall continue as the interim government in the (BARMM); provided, however, that the President may appoint the eighty new interim members of the BTA who shall serve up to June 30, 2025 or until their successors shall have been elected and qualified.”

Originally, the House bill prescribed that “upon the approval” of the harmonized bill, President Duterte shall appoint the new BTA members for a term until June 30, 2025, Rep. Sinsuat said, explaining that bilaterally agreed section makes it “optional” for the sitting President to make new appointments in the interim ruling body.

BARMM spokesman Naguib Sinarimbo said he was promptly briefed by Rep. Mangudadatu, principal sponsor of the House version, and described the reconciled bill as “fair.”

“We are elated that the bicameral just approved the HoR version of the law resetting the BARMM parliament election and thereby extending the period of transition. We thank the conferees for this immediate action. Now we can focus on the more important work of delivering the peace dividends to our people in the region and in the country in general,” Senarimbo to the PMT news over the phone.

The two panels are expected to immediately present the bicameral report for ratification in their respective plenary sessions, according to Beverly Ballitoc, Mangudadatu’s legislative staff, who assured to keep the Bangsamoro Press Corps updated of the harmonized bill’s ratification sessions.

After the Senate and House ratifications, the government printing office will print the revised bill in a process called “enrolling,” giving the President 10 days to sign or veto the enrolled bill, legislation experts said.

The offices of BTA Parliament Members Zia Alonto-Adiong, Paisalin Tago and Maisara Latiph of Lanao del Sur, and Khadafeh Mangdudadatu of Maguindanao said the bicameral conference decision today, Tuesday, indicated a “90 percent” conclusion in the legislative process for an extended BARMM transition period.

At the start of the bicameral conference, Rep. Mangudadatu delivered a brief speech recalling both excitement and dejection involved in the 10 months of multi-sector clamor for extended transition period for the interim BARMM entity to fully build the foundation of autonomous governance and transform the combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to peaceful and productive life.

He said supportive quarters from various sectors painstakingly mustered more than a million signatures, held a series of caravans and peaceful rallies to persuade Congress and Malacañang into deferring the 2022 parliament polls and providing the interim BARMM entity three more years in its infant stage amid challenges aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were times, too, when we felt dejected due to some movements that wish to derail the dream and promise for a stronger BARMM Regional Government. Wala kami magawa kundi harapin ang mga ito kasi normal naman talaga na may mago-oposisyon sa bawat prosesong demokratiko,” Mangudadatu said.

He thanked again President Duterte for “certifying as urgent and necessary House Bill No. 10121, which resulted to its swift passage during its third and final reading” at the lower chamber, saying the imminent BTA term extension is an added feather to his administration’s “legacy” in establishing the BARMM governance.

He said the House and Senate leaderships and their respective concerned committees deserved similar plaudits, so with BARMM officials led by Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, Ministers Abdulraof Macacua, Mohagher Iqbal, Sinarimbo, and Eduard Guerra,and BTA Attorney-General Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba for inspiring lawmakers during the protracted legislative processes. (AGM)

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