A bill seeking to postpone the first regular elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is one step closer for the Senate’s final approval.

Voting 18-1 with two abstentions, Senators of Wednesday passed on second reading Senate Bill No. 2214 which seeks to amend Republic Act No. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) by postponing the 2022 elections in the region and extend the Bangsmoro Transition Authority (BTA) until 2025.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front-led BTA, serves as the interim parliament under the provisions of the BOL.

The lone objector was Sen. Panfilo Lacson while Sen. President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Imee Marcos abstained from voting.

Sen. Francis Tolentino, Chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government and the principal sponsor of SB 2214, welcomed its approval. He earlier said that the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly caused the delays in the programs of the BTA.

“The global pandemic we are facing has posed significant challenges on the accomplishment of the priority programs and projects of the BTA, as it has for the national government as a whole,” Tolentino said.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc earlier unanimously approved a resolution stating that it cannot conduct the BARMM polls since the BTA has not yet passed its regional electoral code and finalized the redistricting of the region’s parliamentary districts.

However, Lacson said it could set dangerous precedent to use the Covid-19 pandemic as the reason to postpone the BARMM elections.

“I hate to say this but, you know, we’re treading on a very dangerous ground or precedent here because of the COVID-19. If the pandemic is the reason for the postponement of the BARMM election next year, it could open the floodgates to a No-El (no elections) situation in the national and local elections next year,” Lacson said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Malacañang is expected to certify the bill as urgent which would give the Senate permission to pass the bill on third and final reading even without waiting for three days after the second reading approval. – Rommel F. Lopez