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Mind da News: Cat Out of the Bag

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – December 3, 2014 – Presidential Communications Operations Office chief Herminio Coloma has just let the proverbial cat out of the bag (The Philippine Star, December 1, 2014: ‘BBL passage still within government’s deadline). While the Bangsamoro Basic Law cannot be passed on December 17, the self-imposed deadline of the Congress, the government is not worried. Despite this failure, the passage of the BBL is still within target “based on our timetable”.

Coloma is reacting to a Star report on the previous day, November 30, quoting House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II that the “House can’t meet its deadline to pass BBL this year” because the scheduled public hearings and consultations set by the House Ad Hoc Committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law in Mindanao and in other parts of the country will continue until the third week of December.

To accommodate the desire of the President to pass the BBL “the soonest possible” in order to hold the plebiscite in the first quarter of 2015 or better in December 2014, the House scheduled hearings to be finished during the recess period ending on October 18 then tackle HB 4994 during the session periods October 20 to 31 and November 17 to December 19. However, even if the House had met its original schedule, the President’s wish would still hang as the approved HB 4994 would still be transmitted to the Senate.

Coloma stated the following:

[1] The real target: “Based on our timetable, the real target date is in May 2016, where the elections of officials for the Bangsamoro Political Entity would be held under the peace agreement and the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

[2] Expressed confidence in the Congress: “We noted the urgent need for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and we are confident that Congress is doing its job.”

[3] The burden of BTA: Star report cites: “Coloma stressed the need for ample time for the Bangsamoro Transitional Assembly to show its capability under the new political region before the plebiscite.”

[4] There’s ample time: Star report cites: “Coloma said there is still time since the Aquino administration has a year and a half before the next administration takes over in June 2016.”

[5] To highlight the gains: “The May 2016 elections will also highlight the gains of the peace process in Mindanao.” Star report cites: Coloma is “referring to the elections where the Bangsamoro people will also be choosing their own leaders under the peace agreement.”

Secretary Coloma as the chief of the Malacañang Press Office renamed PCOO is the principal official spokesman of the President and his Government. What he says reflects on the President. What he told the Star can be embarrassing, to say the least.

The President has not made a direct pronouncement but just a desire. But that desire expressing the urgency of the early passage of the BBL must have moved the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law to commit the December 17 self-imposed deadline and the Senate President and the House Speaker to promise to do their best to pass the BBL in the first quarter of 2015. It can be construed as a pronouncement.

The President has expressed his desire on several occasions:

Item: President Aquino on Wednesday finally transmitted the draft to Congress, asking its members to “pass this bill in the soonest possible time.” (Congress first hurdle: Is BBL constitutional?, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 11, 2014 ) [Italics bold ours]

Item: President Benigno Aquino III has said that if he had his way, the plebiscite for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA) may also be held by the end of the year. [Italics bold ours]

Aquino interviewed by Bombo Radyo: “We are after [the holding of] a plebiscite end of this year, if that can be done. It depends on the discussions in Congress. We are also after a one and a half year [dry run] of the transitional authority to show why it is more appropriate as a system to run the Bangsamoro.” [Italics bold ours]

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. confirmed this: “He wants to convey a sense of urgency. The earlier the law is passed, the earlier the plebiscite can be held,” he told The Times. (Deles: BBL draft may reach House this week, The Manila Times, September 1, 2014 pm)

From the transcript of that August 27 interview posted by Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process in Website on August 28, 2014, Mr. Acol, the host, asked:

“Mr. President, follow up ko lamang doon sa question ng Bombo Radyo Koronadal, nanatili ba iyong timeline ninyo po na at least by first quarter of next year 2015 ay maipasa ito ng Kongreso? (Does your deadline for the Congress to pass the BBL by the first quarter of 2015 stand?)”

The President responded: “Well, hindi teka (no, wait) first quarter of next year? “Hindi, hinahabol natin may plebiscite tayo end of this year, kung pupwede; at depende nga iyon sa talakayan ng Kongreso doon sa batas dahil ang hinahabol natin magkaroon ng one year and a half man lang na maipakita ng transitional authority kung bakit mas angkop iyong sistemang iminumungkahi nila sa pagpapatakbo ng Bangsamoro.” [Italics bold ours]

In Eglish: No. We are after a plebiscite by the end of the year, if possible; that depends on how fast the Congress deliberation would be. We want the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority to have one year and a half to show the appropriateness of the proposed system to run the Bangsamoro.”

Item: Despite the delay [in submitting Draft BBL], the President is looking to hold a plebiscite on a new Bangsamoro law by the end of the year. … Both Drilon and Belmonte have committed to give the BBL the highest priority… (Aquino sees ‘new era’ in Mindanao, as Bangsamoro bill goes to Congress, Philippine Daily Inquirer , September 9, 2014) [Italics bold ours]

Item: In his speech at the turnover ceremony of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law on September 10, 2014, he said: “… Ang hiling lang namin, maipasa po sana ito sa lalong madaling panahon. Sa ganitong paraan po, mabibigyan natin ng sapat na oras ang ating mga kapatid na makapaghanda, at tuluyang mapalago ang ipinunla nating pagbabago sa pamamahala sa Bangsamoro. (Our only request is to pass this [Draft BBL] at the soonest time possible. This way, we can give our brothers [Moros] enough time to prepare and nourish the new governance we have sown in Bangsamoro.) [Italics bold ours]

As reported, he has asked the Congress to pass the BBL “the soonest possible”. However, he specified this to mean passing the BBL or — better, holding the plebiscite – by end of December 2014.

In his Statement “[1]”, Coloma is playing “smart”nagpapalusot. The President knew the time constraint and other odds. But still he intimated his wish or desire for a December 2014 target date – “it must be” is the tone in his Bombo Radyo interview. Now that time constraints and the odds will not yield, Coloma says “the real target date is May 2016.

His other statements are without “rhyme and reason”. In “[3]”, he states the burden of the BTA stressing this needs “ample time”; in “[4]”, he says “there is still time” – one and a half years until the President steps down in June 2016. The “one and a half year” is time from January 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. But it’s definite that the BBL cannot be passed by December 17. As things are shaping up now, the BBL may be ratified on the eve of the May 2016 election. Can the BTA have the “ample time” it sorely needs?

Statement “[5]” is just as ridiculous. If the “ample time” for the BTA “to show its capability under the new political region before the plebiscite” — he means “election” since the BTA will be installed after the plebiscite – is uncertain, what certainty is there that “the gains of the peace process in Mindanao” can be highlighted in the May 2016 election to guide the Bangsamoro people in choosing their own leaders? By “gains of the peace process”, it should mean “Bangsamoro in reality”, not the signed Agreements.

When pieced together, the Coloma statements reveal the proverbial cat. The Palace is not worried about the lack of ample time for the proper transition of the Bangsamoro. Its real worry is the ample time to hold the Bangsamoro election in May 2016 and have the Bangsamoro inaugurated as the legacy of President Aquino III. This is most obvious!

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at patponcediaz@yahoo.com.]

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