WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE BLISTT?

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By May  20, 2019, the controversial and questionable Senate Bill (SB) 2169 which seeks to establish the powerful superbody, the Greater Baguio-Benguet Development Authority (GBBDA), will be calendared for third and final reading despite the vehement opposition from the affected local governments and various stakeholders. Local officials and stakeholders are aggressively clamouring for consultations for the lawmakers to listen to their say on the matter and to ensure their suggestions and recommendations will be included in the final version of the proposed law.

House Bill (HB) 6974, authored by Baguio Rep. Mark Go and Benguet Rep. Ronald M. Cosalan, is substituted by SB 2169. What must be emphasised here is that earlier, HB 6974 was critiqued by stakeholders for its lack of wide citizen consultation in its crafting, no mention of indigenous peoples and their rights, the vast powers of the development authority, its inclination for the elite capture of lands in the city, among others. In other words, the devil is in the lack of details.

If the bill is passed by the Senate, the bicameral conference committee meeting will follow where contingents from both chambers will harmonise the conflicting provisions of SB 2169 authored by Senator Richard Gordon and HB 6974. When the issue on the tremendous powers granted to the superbody cropped up, Go tried to distance himself by claiming that the Senate version was not authored by him, which is technically factual.  What he refuses to admit is that the content of the version of the upper chamber is similar to the one he authored.

Worst, Go never even exerted efforts to correct the wrong impression of Senator Gordon on the Igorots and allowed former La Trinidad mayor Edna Tabanda to be insulted during the purported Senate hearing. In fact, without the presence and insistence of former Mayor Tabanda, the Senate committee on government corporations could have railroaded the approval of the controversial measure instead of adhering to her assertions on the need to conduct public consultations in Baguio City which was only done once last January 4, 2019.

Barely 18 days after this consultation in Baguio city, the Senate committee on government corporations proceeded to work on the passage of the controversial measure totally ignoring the inputs from the concerned local governments and the stakeholders on how to deal with the questionable provisions of the measure. This is a total reversal of the spirit of public consultations. The spirit of the public hearing was to listen to the issues and concerns of the affected sectors and incorporate amendments to the proposed law to address matters affecting the targetted constituency of the bill. There were no other consultations done on SB 2169 after January. There will be no more consultations on this bill contrary to the claim of one politician that there will be consultations prior to the conduct of the bicameral conference committee meeting for the inputs of the sectors to be incorporated in the proposed law. In actual law making, no consultations are allowed in the bicameral conference committee because it is only the lawmakers working to iron out the conflicting provisions, thus, no other new ideas will be entertained except for what is contained in the two versions of the bills.

We cannot accept this super body being rammed down our throats. What we can do now is to closely work with the Office of the President for him to totally veto the proposed law once submitted for the signature of President Rodrigo R. Duterte. It is much easier to convince the President to say no to the creation of a superbody that infringes on the local autonomy of local governments as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and the rights of the indigenous peoples over their ancestral domain and their right to the conduct of free prior informed consent as stated in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), than to convince the Congress to abandon such a bill.

People could also aggressively campaign for the outright rejection of the proposed measure once the same is submitted to the citizens in the affected municipalities in a plebiscite. The last recourse of the people who are against the proposed law is to question its constitutionality before the Supreme Court so that its implementation will be stalled once the High Court will issue a temporary restraining order that is indefinite.

The recommendation of stakeholders to HB 6974 was for it to be returned to the drawing board. It was not done and now we have the worst in SB 2169. Let us be vigilant in protecting our rights already in the law and not allow it to slowly eroded by seemingly noble intentions. Let us exercise our right to voice our opposition on the issue so that the grand design of the business people in dictating upon the affairs of the BLISTT will be prevented.

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