LAWMAKERS warned Thursday that railroading the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) might only cause it to be challenged before the Supreme Court.
The leader of the independent minority bloc, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, reminded his colleagues that the BBL must pass the test of constitutionality.
“This measure must be approved in consonance with the Constitution and existing law,” Romualdez said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. agreed with Romualdez, saying it would only be a waste of time and effort if Congress approves the measure that does not address constitutional issues hounding it.
Belmonte also maintained the BBL that will be approved in the House will be amended.
In fact, he said, the 75-man ad hoc panel on the BBL had already prepared a working draft of the measure that would be the subject of voting next week.
“The BBL as proposed by Malacanang as is will not be entertained in the House and so we have worked on the amendments,” Belmonte said.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr., a member of the ad hoc panel, said the failure of the committee to remove any unconstitutional provisions in the law would lead it to be questioned before the Supreme Court.
“Whether the BBL is half-baked, fully- baked or even over-baked, I anticipate that the BBL shall be questioned before the Supreme Court. At any rate, prudence dictates that all issues pertaining to the constitutionality of any provision should be carefully examined by the ad hoc committee as well as during the debates in the plenary,” Barzaga said.
Reps. Albee Benitez of Negros Occidental, Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela and Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list said the amended version of the BBL should not only be constitutional but also address the roots of armed conflict in Mindanao.
“A BBL that does not address the roots of the conflict is not what the Moro people deserve. It will be no different from an ARMM that also did not address the roots of the conflict,” Ridon said.
Benitez and Albano said input from legal and constitutional experts should be included in the amended version of the BBL.
“BBL in whatever form will be questioned in the Supreme Court. It is best that legal experts are part in the drafting of the bill,” Benitez said.
A staunch opponent of the BBL in the Senate, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, warned the passage of the BBL could worsen the energy crisis in Mindanao since the Bangsamoro government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would control Lake Lanao, a source of hydro-electric power.
The BBL, he added, gives the Bangsamoro the authority to regulate power generation and transmission.
“This might be detrimental to the rest of Mindanao,” he said.
Cayetano, along with Senator JV Ejercito, withdrew their support for the BBL in the Senate in the aftermath of the Mamasapano debacle, in which 67 Filipinos including 44 SAF troopers, were killed by fighters from the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Jan. 25.
Cayetano said he was not anti-Muslim, just opposed to the BBL and the MILF, which he branded as a terrorist group.
Cayetano, who attended the BBL hearing in Zamboanga City, told the crowd that “he is for peace, justice and determination.”
He cited the strong objections to the BBL and the MILF raised by representatives of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Sultanate of Sulu during the hearing in Patikul, Jolo.
“We cannot call them anti-Muslim because they are also Muslims,” Cayetano said.
The senator, who was not present during the Jolo BBL hearing, said he was against the BBL because “some people might use it as a stepping stone to secession.”
“Giving local governments in the proposed Bangsamoro bigger share of taxes might cause more troubles in Mindanao,” he also cautioned.
Under the Malacanang-proposed BBL, the Bangsamoro government will get 75 percent of revenue from taxes. Other local governments get only 60 percent of their taxes.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco declared Thursday that the city and all of its barangays and sitios “should never be included in the Bangsamoro, now or ever.”
Speaking in the BBL hearing being conducted by the Senate local government in Zamboanga City, Climaco expressed her strong objection to the inclusion of their city in the Bangsmoro entity.
She insisted before the panel chaired by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that the people of Zamboanga City have repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected moves to be included in proposed autonomous regions such as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 1989 and the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008.
Once passed into law, the BBL will create the Bangsamoro political entity to replace the present ARMM, which is composed of five provinces in Mindanao.
Climaco said the people of Zamboanga City have consistently voted against inclusion in special regions.
She said Zamboanga City was at the forefront in opposing the creation of the Bangsamoro Judicial Entity in 2008.
Consistent with their hard stance of not joining any autonomous regions, Climaco said the city and any of its parts “should never be included in the Bangsamoro now or ever.”
The mayor recalled that despite challenges faced by the city following the Zamboanga siege in 2013, they rose again, under one flag, one nation, one Zamboaga, united and undivided under one Philippines.”
Furthermore, she said Zamboanga City wants to retain control of the waters within its territory.
While the city supports the government’s efforts in achieving peace in Mindanao led by President Benigno Aquino III, she said that some provisions stipulated in the BBL could pose harm to the industries in the city.
Zamboanga City Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde said the BBL should have provisions for exclusion from the Bangsamoro core territory and not just inclusion by plebiscite.
He also aired his concerns on the some provisions in the BBL such as the deployment of Bangsamoro police force members who should only be assigned to areas under its territory.
Marcos said that with the public consultations in Sulu and Zamboanga City, he was able to get a wide perspective for an “all-inclusive” Senate version of the BBL.
He said his thrust is to listen to as many concerns as possible and not just to toe the deadline of Malacañang for passing the BBL.
Due to testimonies he heard, especially those clearly showing the exclusion of the MNLF and many other stakeholders in Mindanao, Marcos admitted it would be difficult for him to meet the June 11 deadline that Congress leaders had set for passing the BBL.
“There is no way around sifting through the details. That is why I have always felt uncomfortable that there were deadlines being put on the process. This is something that you should not hurry,” said Marcos.
Marcos said two prominent Muslim groups- the MNLF and the Sultanate of Sulu- aired their rejection of the BBL during the BBL hearing in Patikul, Sulu on May 13.
“This is the wisdom of reaching out to the people especially those who will be directly or indirectly affected by the BBL. Their testimonies in our public hearings will give me vast information and reference when I write the final BBL version of the Senate,” said Marcos.
During the hearing, both the MNLF and the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo detested their non-inclusion in the entire peace negotiations between the MILF and the government, which resulted in the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the Framework Agreement.
But more than the complaint of being left out in the peace talka, the MNLF expressed fear that the enactment of the BBL will abrogate the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the Jakarta Accord of 1996 which it signed with the government.
“That is one of the more complicated problems. It’s a good thing that I sought the opinion of the MNLF so that I will now try to find ways to make the BBL operate within the context of the Tripoli Agreement and the Jakarta Agreement,” said Marcos.
Habib Mujahab, the resource persons for the MNLF, said the framework agreement stipulated the creation of a Bangsamoro entity in the present core provinces of the ARMM.
He related that these areas are covered by the Tripoli agreement in 1976 and the 1996 peace agreement.
“The MNLF and MILF are representing the same areas. There is, therefore, a conflict of governance and conflict of territories. This is our problem now with the passage of the BBL,” said Mujahab.
“We stand by the Tripoli agreement…By abolishing ARMM, by legal implication, the two previous agreements will also be abolished,” he added.
Jolo Bishop Romero Villanueva, director of Justice, Peace Integrity of Creation (JPIC-Jolo) Ministry complained that the BBL territory that will be created once the BBL is passed has not been agreed upon by the MILF and the MNLF.
The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, on the other hand, wants a separate entity, instead of including them in the core territory of Bangsamoro under the BBL, recognizing the historical prerogatives that have been recognized by Spain, United States, and the Philippines.
Although the Sultanate is one with the people in finding a way for the lasting peace in Mindanao, Marcos said it disagrees “with the mode of the MILF.”
“We want to hear more from the MNLF and the Sultanate of Sulu that’s why I have scheduled a hearing on May 18 for the MNLF and May 25 for the Sultanate of Sulu,” he said.
A party-list lawmaker, meanwhile, cautioned the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from approving the application of United Bangsamoro for Justice Party (UBJP), the political party of the MILF, to join the electoral process while many of its members are still bearing firearms.
Rep. Samuel Pagdilao Jr. of Anti-Crime and Terrorism through Community Involvement and Support (ACT-CIS) party-list, said Comelec should be more circumspect in giving the green light to allow the MILF through the UBJP to participate in an election that should be free from intimidation and coercion of any partisan armed group.
Also on Thursday, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo said the BBL cannot ensure peace, but is an alternative for stakeholders who are fed up with the wars in Mindanao.