By Arjay L. Balinbin

THE SENATE will be “ready hopefully” with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by March next year, the chairman of the Senate sub-committee on BBL said at a briefing on Wednesday, Dec. 20, by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) on the proposed measure.

“I…guarantee you that we will try to come up with a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill that will be ready hopefully by March,” Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, who heads the committee, said, adding, “We will be doing marathon hearings all the way first quarter of 2018.”

Mr. Zubiri also announced that consultations and public hearings will be held in January in provinces that are expected to be part of the Bangsamoro government.

Senator Loren B. Legarda reminded her colleagues that the budget call takes place in the first quarter of the year and that the BBL must be passed before the deadline of the budget call for it to be included in the 2019 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

She said: “I realized the importance of the BBL passage. This is definitely so urgent and important that we have to fund it. We know that the budget call is in the first quarter, if not the first semester of the year. Meaning, January to March. Hence, (first) I am concerned about the passage of this measure, second is the timeline of the passage that might overshoot the deadline for the budget call, and third, perhaps we could schedule a finance-focused hearing for us to see the budgetary implications, and so that the cabinet members in charge of agencies will help implement the BBL if and when passed.”

“If we promise something to our people, which is not funded in the 2019 NEP, remember that this is what happened to the tertiary education where we passed the law which was not fully in the NEP and we had to augment it, so the timeline here is of utmost importance and urgency,” Ms. Legarda added.

Responding to Ms. Legarda, Mr. Zubiri said his committee “will try to pass (BBL) in the first quarter.”

“So by March, hopefully we will be able to finish the debates and procedures for second reading,” he said.

When sessions resume on Jan. 15, Mr. Zubiri said he will “ask the Majority Leader to make the Senate committee on finance headed by Senator Legarda as the secondary committee.”

“That (will have) benefits for all sides because we have a funding on this,” he said.

For his part, Senate President Aquilino L. Pimentel III told fellow lawmakers: “The passage (of the BBL) is no longer in debate. I think we all want this, but we all want to pass a constitutional version because lawmakers are not expected to pass an unconstitutional measure.”

And Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on local government, said: “It must be within bounds of the Constitution, and a product of national debate and consultations. We urge our colleagues to hear all concerns and balance the interests of various groups in the region to ensure a more inclusive BBL.”