UPDATED: Duterte leaves BTA extension issue to Congress to decide

By Ali G. Macabalang


Malacañang has announced that President Duterte had decided to stand neutral on the issue of Bangsamoro parliament election postponement and transition extension, indicating the need for Congress to take the cudgel of resolving the debate.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the President on Thursday, June 24 met for the second time the leaders of two camps – one calling extension and another resenting – led by Bangsamoro government interim Chief Minister Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim and Sulu Governor Sakur Tan, respectively. The President listened again to arguments of the camps, and reiterated later his option to stay neutral by tossing the issue to Congress to decide, he said.

The first meeting was held on June 16, during which the President sounded off neutrality after listening to narratives of the two camps, asked them instead to form a council of leaders to make a consensus, and return on June 24 to the Palace possibly to reach a compromise, Senator Juan Miguel Zuburi earlier said.

On June 23, Bangsamoro officials led by Ebrahim met in the morning, with political leaders like Gov. Tan meeting  in the afternoon as a council, and  “reached a consensus” to be conveyed to the President the next day, Bangsamoro spokesman Naguib Sinarimbo said in a Facebook post.

In both Presidential meetings, Gov. Tan invoked the need for the holding of the parliament election as set in 2022 for the people of the region to exercise the right of suffrage in choosing their leader. Tan’s stance was corroborated in the June 16 meeting by Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi.

On the contrary, the regional officials backed by the governors of Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi insisted for a poll postponement and transition extension because the interim government could not deliver its mandates under the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) and R.A. 11054 or Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in the current period ending 2022.

In the June 16 meeting, Senator Francis Tolentino, author of the Senate bill deferring the regional polls to 2025 and extending Bangsamoro transition period, pointed out again his opinion that the 2022 polls could not likely proceed in the absence of regional electoral code defining the parliament districts in the region, Zubiri said.

At the live press briefing today, Sec. Roque revealed that the President asked the opinions of the Presidential Chief Legal Counsel (Salvado Panelo) and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra as to whether or not postponing the 2022 election would require a plebiscite. Panelo believed there was going to be a need for a plebiscite, while Guevarra mentioned the contrary, he said.

“This could be another factor why the President decided to be neutral,” Roque said, referring to the contrasting legal opinions of the duo.

By neutrality, Roque said, the issue on poll postponement and transition extension will be “up to Congress to decide.”

Sec. Roque’s press briefing via zoom was joined by Chief Minister Ebrahim and Gov. Tan, who both reiterated their camps’ arguments.

Ebrahim and Tan were supposed to receive from the Malacañang Press Corps questions related to the issue, but the queries touched something else.

Roque’s announced Presidential neutrality has in effect drowned popular calls for Mr. Duterte to certify as urgent the enabling bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Senate was on the verge of passing on second reading the bill before it adjourned sine die on June 4, while the House version was reportedly still at the committee level.

Legal minds, mostly from the pro-extension camp, believe that in the absence of a Presidential push, Congress still has ample time to act on the bill either through special sessions or in a “natural process” that will start on resumption of regular sessions on July 24.

The “natural process” would cover July, August and September only since the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections is set on October 1 to 8.

Congress’ failure to act on the bill before the October 1-8 time frame is expected to bring further confusion accruing to the absence of a regional electoral code in the autonomous region. (AGM)

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