(The headline is regularly updated based on the latest developments.)
The leadership of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) asked Congress to postpone the first regular elections to select the members of the regional parliament and extend the transition period of the peace process by another three years.
The Senate began on May 24 plenary deliberations on the bill sponsored by Sen. Francis Tolentino. In the House of Representatives, its counterpart measures were still in the committee.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) asked Congress to decide on the proposal by July to give poll officials enough time to prepare if the BARMM elections pushed through.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism is following plenary debates on the proposed bills. Follow this page for updates.
Senate misses target to pass SB 2144 on 2nd reading before long break
By JC GOTINGA
JUNE 3, 2021
The Senate adjourned sine die on Thursday, June 3, without passing on second reading a bill seeking to postpone the first regular elections of the Bagsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) from May 2022 to May 2025.
Proponents of Senate Bill No. 2214 expected the bill to breeze through the Senate, but various issues emerged during the period of interpellations, delaying its approval.
It’s still expected to pass in the Senate, but plenary actions are deferred until Congress resumes session in late July for President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.
“Here it is a matter of time. We might be able to pass this on second reading in the next few days or probably the first week of August but we cannot do it on third reading this time. It has to be after the break,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto on Tuesday, June 1, when the bill was last tackled.
The House of Representatives has been sitting on the bill, however. Sotto urged BARMM officials to lobby House members to act on the measure, which is stalled at the committee. Unlike the plenary, the committee may hold hearings during the break.
Senators supporting the measure agreed to simplify SB 2214 to amend only the date of BARMM’s first regular elections, which was scheduled in May 2022 under the Bangsamoro Organic Law that created the autonomous region. It would have fast-tracked the period of amendments and the second reading vote.
The bill was dropped from plenary consideration in the last two days of session as lawmakers prioritized other measures, however.
On Thursday, June 3, an otherwise swift vote to ratify a bill modernizing the Bureau of Fire Protection took hours as senators protested the bicameral committee’s insertion of a provision they had earlier removed — allowing firefighters to carry guns. The vote was lost, prompting the bill’s return to the committee.
On Wednesday, the Senate also prioritized bills that were certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson was scheduled to continue interpellations on the bill. He was the last to interpellate the bill before the plenary could proceed to the period of amendments.
Lacson first argued that plebiscite approval would be required to postpone the first regular elections in the autonomous region, a position rejected by Tolentino, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Franklin Drilon.
Lacson later dismissed Tolentino’s position that elections in BARMM would be impossible because the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA) or the regional parliament had yet to legislate the autonomous region’s electoral code, apportion the parliamentary districts, and create the registry of votes. There’s still time to complete these requirements, he said.
Earlier, the senators also agreed to abandon a provision in SB 2214 reviewing the allotment of seats in the BTA, after it resulted in intense lobbying from local politicians who wanted seats in the BTA and sectoral groups that feared they would be eased out.
Several issues remained unresolved. The senators had yet to agree if the current members of the BTA would stay in holdover capacity or a new set of parliament members would be appointed. If senators choose the latter, they would also have to agree when the terms of the current BTA members would end and if President Rodrigo Duterte or his successor would make the new appointments.
Sotto tells BARMM officials to lobby House members to act on bill
By JC GOTINGA
JUNE 1, 2021
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday, June 1, gave officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) assurance that the Senate in the next few days would pass on second reading the bill deferring the autonomous region’s first regular elections. However, he said they would need to “lobby” the House of Representatives to act on the bill.
“The not-so-good news I have to tell [BARMM officials] is that I had a meeting with the [House] Speaker this morning, and Speaker Velasco said…the BARMM bill is stalled in the committee,” said Sotto during the Senate plenary session on Tuesday evening.
Several BARMM officials had been a constant fixture at the gallery while the legislative chamber deliberated Senate Bill No. 2144, which seeks to postpone the elections from May 2022 to May 2025.
“So it is best that they also go [to the House of Representatives] and talk to the people there because here, it is just a matter of time” until the bill is passed, said Sotto.
“The House of Representatives has not even started, so it’s better that as you talk to them, inform them of the lobby that is necessary,” he said.
Congress will adjourn sine die on Friday, June 4. Sotto said the Senate could pass the measure on third and final reading in early August or after the 18th Congress would resume session for President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.
The main proponents of the bill included Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Francis Tolentino. They hoped to pass the bill on final reading before the sine die adjournment this week.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said there was no need to rush it because there is no certification from the president that it is urgent.
“What’s the message here?” Lacson asked Tolentino, the bill sponsor. “Why the rush when there is no certification?”
Lacson pushed for more time to examine the proposed measure’s legal implications. He also said earlier that postponing the first regular elections would require plebiscite approval, which Tolentino and Sen. Franklin Drilon opposed.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) asked Congress to decide on the proposal by July to give poll officials enough time to prepare if the BARMM elections pushed through.
Lacson also quizzed Tolentino over his speech on Monday telling senators that the coronavirus pandemic hampered the work of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) in passing measures that the autonomous region would need to conduct elections.
Tolentino said the BTA had yet to enact an electoral code, apportion the region’s parliamentary districts, and create a registry of voters. He said the BTA was also waiting for the result of the 2020 census to apportion the districts.
“The reasons cited are not valid reasons,” said Lacson, who argued that the Senate was able to draft and pass a number of laws despite several of its members contracting Covid-19.
The BTA had drafted an electoral code, which it submitted to the Comelec, according to Lacson. The poll body made some modifications and returned it to the BTA, but the transition body still failed to finish the measure, he said.
There would be no need to postpone the BARMM’s first regular elections scheduled in May 2022 if the BTA went back to work on the electoral code, said Lacson.
Tolentino disagreed. He said the BTA would still have struggled to legislate parliamentary districts because of the realities of the pandemic. He earlier cited poor Internet connectivity in several BARMM municipalities.
Lacson cautioned Tolentino against citing the coronavirus pandemic as basis for postponing the BARMM elections. He said it might “establish a very dangerous precedent” for postponing the national and local elections in May 2022.
Lacson said the BTA could have used the 2015 census if the 2020 census was not yet available.
“We’re treading on very dangerous ground…if the pandemic is [cited as] the reason for the postponement of the BARMM elections, it could open the floodgates to a no-el (no-election) situation in the national and local elections next year,” said Lacson.
The period of interpellations will continue on Wednesday, June 2.
‘BARMM elections impossible in 2022 regardless of bill’s fate’
By JC GOTINGA
MAY 31, 2021
It would be impossible for the Bangsamoro Autnomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to hold its first regular elections in May 2022 regardless of the fate of Senate Bill No. 2214, said Sen. Francis Tolentino.
The Senate on Monday, May 31, continued the period of interpellations on the bill deferring the first regular elections in BARMM from May 2022 to May 2025. The legislative chamber failed to meet its self-imposed deadline to pass the measure on second reading last week.
Tolentino cited at least three reasons elections would be impossible next year. One, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) or the regional parliament has yet to enact an electoral code. Two, the BARMM’s parliamentary districts have yet to be apportioned. And three, the region has yet to create a registry of voters.
“It would appear that we have reached a stage where it is really impossible for us right now, as we speak, to arrive at a conclusion wherein legislation would result in an elections (sic),” said Tolentino, the bill sponsor.
Tolentino said the COVID-19 pandemic hampered work on these requirements, and funds from the national government initially meant for the BARMM were diverted to the pandemic response.
Electing the 80 members of the regional parliament will be different from electing district representatives. A new electoral code will be needed to define the conduct of elections in the autonomous region.
The members of the parliament would also be elected based on parliamentary districts, which had yet to be apportioned. And until the districts are defined, they could not begin work on the registry of voters.
Tolentino said the BTA was also waiting for the release 2020 census, which would determine the parliamentary districts. The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the measure that created BARMM, required each district to have a population of at least 100,000.
‘Pass a simple bill’
The senators reiterated discussions on simplifying the bill to amend only the provision in the BOL that scheduled the first regular elections in May 2022.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said a “simple bill” would suffice to resolve senators’ confusion over the proposal, particularly on proposed revisions on the allotment of parliament seats.
Last week, hundreds of supporters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) gathered in a protest rally in Basilan province over complaints that they would be sidelined if the bill passed Congress. The group cited the Senate bill’s supposed provision increasing the parliament seats alloted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from 41 to 47.
Tolentino clarified that the proposal retained MILF’s 41 seats. The other six seats would be alloted to the MNLF, which currently holds nine seats. He said this is reflected in a “cleansed version” of the bill.
Drilon reiterated a proposal by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri last week to scrap a section in SB 2214 that amends the allocation of parliament seats in the BTA and and stick to the existing allocation as stated in the BOL.
“Do we need to amend? The answer is ‘no.’ This makes our task simpler because the proposed section is totally unnecessary,” said Drilon.
“There is a need to expedite this bill to provide stability to the region… [The bill should be] a simple postponement of the election,” he said.
The veteran lawmaker said Congress has clear authority to legislate the postponement of the autonomous region’s elections. He cited a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of a law that postponed elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the BARMM’s predecessor.
Congress passed at least seven laws that postponed ARMM's elections, he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson earlier argued that postponing elections in the BARMM would require a plebiscite approval because it would affect the people’s suffrage rights.
A plebiscite won’t be necessary, Drilon said. He said the constitution only requires plebiscites on amendments to provisions that are “constitutionally essential” to the creation of an autonomous region. The date of its first regular elections isn’t, he said.
Holdover provision, accountability
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel Jr. also reiterated his call to clarify when the terms would end for the current BTA members.
Tolentino said a clear provision on holdover capacities would be inserted into the final bill.
He also said the current BTA members would be eligible for reappointment as long as the president would issue new appointment papers.
Sen. Imee Marcos, meanwhile, was concerned about the funds downloaded to the BARMM. She said an accounting and liquidation of appropriations and block grants to the BARMM –– amounting to P160.8 billion –– were needed “so that we can get a full output report.”
Tolentino said the BTA did not handle the funds disbursed to the region. Most of the money went to the line agencies that implemented the projects for which the funds were allotted, he said.
Marcos disagreed. She said the bulk of the amount went to the transitional authority.
Tolentino said the matter could be tackled in the next budget season, and that he would support Marcos’ proposed inquiry to ensure “accountability.”
Lacson would be the last to interpellate Tolentino on Tuesday, June 1. After Lacson, the bill would enter the period of amendments.
Senators were looking at putting the bill to a vote on second reading on Tuesday.
Tolentino abandons review of BTA seat allocations amid lobbying, backlash
By CARMELA FONBUENA
MAY 27, 2021
The Senate abandoned its proposal to review allocations of seats in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) amid intense lobbying from local politicians and backlash from sectoral groups that fear they would be eased out of the regional parliament.
The senators agreed on Wednesday night, May 27, that they would simplify Senate Bill No. 2214 into a one-page measure that would seek only to move the first regular elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) from May 2022 to May 2025.
Bill sponsor Sen. Francis Tolentino and Majority Leader Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier reviewed the allocation of seats in the BTA to give bigger provinces proportionate representation in the parliament. The seats of sectoral groups would be retained, he said.
Zubiri said they have since received phone calls from local politicians who wanted to get seats in the BTA if the elections were postponed.
Tolentino was also the subject of criticism among Christians in the BARMM. They had received false information that he was reallocating seats of sectoral groups to local politicians.
Tolentino and Zubiri failed to meet their self-imposed deadline to pass the measure on second reading this week.
Several senators, including Panfilo Lacson and Joel Villanueva, raised issues against postponing the elections in BARMM without conducting a plebiscite. It violates the people’s right to suffrage, they said.
Tolentino said the postponement of the elections in BARMM did not require approval through a plebiscite because it was not a substantial amendment to the Bangsamoro Organic Law that created BARMM.
The period of interpellations will continue next week.
One of the key issues the senators have yet to resolve is if they will let current members of the BTA stay in their positions until 2025 or let the new president appoint its members.
Tolentino was adamant against a holdover parliament. He said lawmakers were only seeking to extend the institution, not the terms of the appointees.
Counterpart measures in the House of Representatives were still at the committee level.
The Commission on Elections earlier urged Congress to decide on the fate of the bill by July to give poll officials enough time to prepare if the BARMM elections pushed through.
A long break follows next week’s sine die adjournment. Congress will resume session again on July 25 for President Rodrigo Duterte’s last State of Nation Address.
Governors, mayor troop to Malacañang to air 'governance issues' against BARMM leadership
By CARMELA FONBUENA
MAY 27, 2021
Three governors and a city mayor trooped to Malacañang on Wednesday night, May 26, to air "some governance issues" against the leadership of the two-year-old Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) learned from sources.
The Malacañang meeting was hastily scheduled as the Senate was racing to pass Senate Bill (SB) No. 2214, which seeks to reset the first regular elections in BARMM from May 2022 to May 2025.
Among the local politicians present were Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan and Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, both of whom campaigned against the creation of the BARMM during the plebiscite elections in 2019.
Proponents of SB No. 2214 earlier hoped President Rodrigo Duterte would issue during the meeting his marching orders to pass the measure. No such instructions were made on Wednesday, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was present at the meeting.
“No agreement. Those who came were three governors and one city mayor. They came to air some governance issues they have with BARMM leadership,” Lorenzana told the PCIJ on Thursday, May 27.
Lorenzana said the local politicians were instructed “to put their complaints in writing and submit it for thorough study.”
Lorenzana supports the postponement of the elections. “I have always supported the extension because three years is not enough for the current interim leadership to do their jobs, and to acquire the expertise to do them. It’s up to Congress now to pass or not pass it,” he said.
The bill’s prospects are “still good,” he said.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go had advised the Senate on Wednesday to defer its plan to put the measure to a vote on second reading, and await further instructions from the president.
The proponents of the bill also want Duterte to certify the bill as urgent as soon as the Senate passes it on second reading. Senate leadership planned to pass it on third and final reading before Congress adjourns on June 4.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) earlier urged Congress to decide on the fate of the bill by July to give poll officials enough time to prepare if the BARMM elections would push through.
A long break follows next week’s sine die adjournment. Congress will resume session again on July 25 for Duterte’s last State of Nation Address.
Senate defers approval of BTA extension bill as Malacañang meets with BARMM governors
by JC GOTINGA
MAY 26, 2021
The Senate on Wednesday, May 26, suspended deliberations on a bill resetting the first regular elections in BARMM to give way to a meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and the region’s governors.
The Senate leadership earlier planned to finish deliberations on Senate Bill No. 2214 and put it to a vote on Wednesday.
Citing advice from Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, a former special assistant to the president, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said “it would be good to wait for the outcome of [the Malacañang] meeting to guide us more [on] how we can proceed with this measure.”
Senators Panfilo Lacson, Koko Pimentel, Franklin Drilon, Richard Gordon, Imee Marcos, and Joel Villanueva were lined up to interpellate bill sponsor Sen. Francis Tolentino.
Only Lacson, Pimentel, and Drilon were able to begin their interpellations before Zubiri moved to suspend deliberations on the bill. Zubiri said interpellations would continue on Thursday.
Lacson argued that postponing BARMM’s first regional elections would require ratification by a plebiscite because it would affect BARMM voters’ right to suffrage.
The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which created the autonomous region, specified the date of its first regular elections and could not be amended without a plebiscite, he said.
Bill sponsor Tolentino disagreed with Lacson. He said the bill does not rob BARMM residents their right to suffrage. It only delays their exercise of this right by three years.
Zubiri also presented minutes of the deliberations of the bicameral conference committee that finalized the BOL in the previous 17th Congress. He said lawmakers discussed that Congress would have the power to postpone the elections. He said this would not require a plebiscite.
Tolentino said the Covid-19 pandemic was a big challenge for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority. He said billions of pesos from the national budget initially committed to the BARMM were diverted to the pandemic response. The BTA was also unable to convene regularly because many places in the BARMM had poor internet connection, he said.
"We cannot hold the elections under the prevailing circumstances,” said Tolentino.
SB 2214 proposes to extend the tenure of the BTA as an institution by another three years or until 2025. If passed, the next president will appoint new members or reappoint current members of the BTA.
Like the BOL, SB 2214 sets the number of parliament seats allotted to different sectors in the BARMM, with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front getting the majority, or 41 seats. SB 2214 however proposes to change some of the allocations for other groups, and to allot seats to the Moro National Liberation Front.
Pimentel asked whether or not this, too, would require ratification by a plebiscite. He proposed a simpler wording of the measure.
Lacson, Pimentel, and Drilon all said they had other points to raise so they would continue their interpellations on Thursday, along with Gordon, Marcos, and Villanueva.
Senate races to pass bill resetting BARMM elections
By JC GOTINGA
MAY 25, 2021
Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri asked fellow senators to ask all of their interpellation questions on Wednesday, May 26, on a bill resetting the first regular elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
He wanted to put the measure to a vote on the same day.
Senators Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson were scheduled to interpellate bill sponsor Sen. Francis Tolentino on Tuesday, but deliberations on other bills, particularly the proposed creation of a boxing commission and increasing public hospitals’ capacities, took up much of the time.
The bill is expected to be tackled on plenary on Wednesday. “I just want to appeal to the others who [also] want to raise questions on the BARMM extension, if we can take it all up tomorrow,” Zubiri said.
“It’s a simple extension. I believe there shouldn’t be any problems” he said.
He hoped to pass the bill on second reading on the same day. “Because if we extend it to Thursday, we will have to pass it on third reading on Thursday next week, which will be alanganin na po (risky),” Zubiri said.
He cited the three-day rule between a bill’s second and third readings.
Zubiri apologized to BTA members who attended the session, including BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, for having dropped SB 2214 from the day’s agenda.
Senators review allocation of seats in Bangsamoro Transition Authority
By JC GOTINGA
MAY 24, 2021
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri proposed to allot seats for members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) if the proposed extension of the transition period of the peace process is approved.
He also echoed suggestions of local officials in BARMM provinces to reconfigure the composition of the BTA to be proportionate to the number of congressional districts of each constituent province. Provinces now have an equal number of seats regardless of population or size.
Senate Bill 2214 entered the period of interpellations on May 24 and was tackled briefly by the senators.
Sen. Francis Tolentino, head of the Senate local government panel and sponsor of the committee report, recognized the role of MNLF in the peace process in Mindanao and did not oppose the proposal.
Tolentino said the inclusion of the MNLF in the BTA would be “without prejudice” to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose leaders occupy the top positions in the BTA.
Sectoral groups such as indigenous peoples, women, the youth, traditional leaders, and settler communities will also retain their parliament seats under the proposal, he said.
The BARMM is the result of 17 years of negotiations between the MILF, a breakaway group of the MNLF, and the national government.
Zubiri said the MILF would retain its current allotment of 41 parliament seats. The same will be true for the national government, which has 39 seats.
The proposal to allot seats to each congressional district in BARMM would mean more representation for the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Sulu, which would have six representatives to the BTA. Basilan and Tawi-Tawi will each have three.
Zubiri said there were officials who also suggested allotting one seat each to the cities of Marawi, Cotabato, and Lamitan, and another to North Cotabato province. Even the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi have appealed for representation, he added.
Zubiri said some officials had suggested allotting one seat each to the cities of Marawi, Cotabato, and Lamitan, and another to North Cotabato province. Even the Sama people of Tawi-Tawi have appealed for representation, he added.BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, Members of Parliament Raissa Jajurie and Anna Tarhata Basman, BARMM Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Asnin Pendatun, and BARMM Attorney General Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba were present at the plenary during Monday’s session.
Senate bill postponing BARMM polls reaches plenary
May 21, 2021
Sen. Francis Tolentino delivered his sponsorship speech for a measure seeking to postpone the first regular elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Senate Bill 2214, or “An Act Resetting the First Regular Elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” amends Republic Act. No. 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The bill retains the BTA as the BARMM’s interim government beyond May 2022, when the region’s first elections were originally slated. The proposed measure allows the president to reappoint the 80 members of the BTA for the period of its extension.
Read the Senate bill here.
*TOP PHOTO: BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim shows the official logo of the autonomous region. File Photo by Carmela Fonbuena