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Friday, February 13, 2015

ON THE BBL AND SENIOR DISCOUNTS


WHAT can we expect of the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). By the time it is passed by both chambers of Congress, will it still be the same as was expected before?

“I assure everyone, the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be watered down,” says Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a member of the ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives says.

“Because we need to satisfy two issues: One, the constitutionality issue, and two, reconciling the different interests of different groups. We need to do those. So, it will be watered down.”

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) called for the passage of a “good” BBL and asks the government to consider its options should the current peace process flounder.

The MILF says it can not accept a BBL that “may be constitutional but will not solve the Bangsamoro question.”

In act, the MILF threatens that passing the BBL “is the only option open to all of us now” and that “any hesitancy breeds more complications.”

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. says he can no longer guarantee that the draft BBL would be approved in the House due to fallout from the Mamasapano incident where 44 police commandos were killed by, among others, MILF gunmen.

“We are still trying, but it looks difficult. Right now, all we can do is to wait. They suspended the hearings because they are awaiting certain reports,” says Belmonte.

The ad hoc committee on the BBL has indefinitely shelved public hearings on the draft charter until the MILF has returned all firearms it took from the fallen members of the Special Action Force (SAF) and until all pending investigations of the Mamasapano debacle have been completed.

Following the Mamasapano incident, Belmonte says now that support for the BBL had been eroded.

Even before the Mamasapano clash, the BBL was far from assured of getting approved, as critics claimed that some of its provisions were unconstitutional.

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“That question of constitutionality will be raised in the Supreme Court,” says Biazon. “A good example is the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. It was signed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and everyone else, until somebody ran to the Supreme Court to challenge it. And the court said it is unconstitutional. “ says Biazon.

Biazon calls the BBL a “fragmenting” piece of legislation, as it seeks to devolve or share certain powers of the national government, including those for national security and territorial sovereignty, to a “Bangsamoro political entity.”

“There is a need for us to examine more closely the issue of territorial boundary definitions. There are many provinces not part of the current ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) that are vying to be part of the Bangsamoro.”

“As regards the coordination provision, do the Navy and Coast Guard have to coordinate whenever they move within what is our territorial waters? If the Air Force needs to fly over the Bangsamoro, do they need to coordinate? There are so many questions.”

Biazon said the powers of constitutional bodies, such as the Commission on Elections, Commission on Audit and Civil Service Commission, could also be subjected to fragmentation.

“The sharing of revenues between the Bangsamoro and the national government is another issue. Other provinces could question why the Bangsamoro gets to keep a bigger part of their revenues,” he said.

Aside from these legal issues, Biazon said lawmakers would need to take into account the opinions of the other peoples of Mindanao.

“What can’t happen is this: We enact the law and it will spawn other problem groups. We enacted the ARMM law in 1996, but it spawned the problem of the MILF. Now we are negotiating with the MILF, we have the problem of the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters),” he said.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the MILF, which in turn earlier split from the Moro National Liberation Front that signed a peace deal with the Ramos administration in 1996. That agreement led to the creation of the ARMM.

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Vice President Jejomar Binay, a member of the President’s cabinet, no longer supports the President. He makes this clear by criticizing the President, his calls for the President to be investigated and his support of those asking for the President’s resignation!

Stressing the need for the creation of an independent fact-finding commission, Binay said former PNP head Alan Purisima only denied his participation in the planning and implementation of the police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, only after 12 days.

“General Purisima’s pronouncements directly contradict the statements made by the former SAF commander and other sources who earlier claimed that Purisima was heavily involved in the planning and implementation of the bloody operation even though he was suspended,” said Binay.

“If he did not commit any transgression as he claims to be, then why did he resign from his post?” Binay asked.

He said the status of Purisima has also raised several questions because it was not clarified that Purisima cannot resign from the police force because of a pending corruption complaints against him.

“One of the penalties imposed by law on government employees is the forfeiture of their benefits from the government. Thus, it should be clarified and emphasized that as long as the investigation is ongoing, General Purisima should not be allowed to claim his benefits,’ the vice president said.

Binay said several investigations are set to be conducted and absence of an independent and impartial fact-finding commission should encourage Filipinos to monitor the proceedings to ensure that it will be transparent, fair and non-partisan even if the personality involved is a close friend of the President.

“It is also paramount that the families of the policemen who perished in Mamasapano are properly informed of the entirety of what really transpired in the said police operation,” he said.

“Those responsible for the sad fate of the Fallen 44 should be made accountable,” Binay said.

“I would like to reiterate my position that to achieve this end, the investigation must be transparent, fair, non-partisan and truly independent. It is only through such an investigation that we can assure our people that the Fallen 44 will be given justice that they deserved,” says Binay.

***

Watch out, you could go to jail if you don’t give the Seniors their due! The general manager of the Silliman University (SU) Cooperative was sentenced to up to three years in prison and fined P50,000 for refusing to give the mandatory 20-percent discount to a senior citizen who had bought a soft drink.

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Negros Oriental Branch 32 affirmed the decision of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 2 sentencing Roberto Estoconing to an “indeterminate penalty of two years as minimum to three years as maximum and a fine of P50,000.”

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Manuel Utzurrum Jr. against Estoconing for refusing to grant him the 20-percent discount when Utzurrum bought soft drinks at the cooperative eight times in 2011.

Utzurrum wrote Estoconing three letters but never got a reply. He decided to file his complaints to the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs and in the Barangay 5 office where the cooperative is located.

Estoconing countered that Utzurrum, as an SU Coop member, already enjoyed incentives higher than the 20-percent senior citizens discount, like the annual patronage fund, the annual interest on his capital deposit and a credit privilege to get goods from the cooperative.

He also said that since cooperatives had to pay tax, any discount given to customers would have to be absorbed as losses that could lead to bankruptcy.

MTCC Branch 2 Judge Maria Corazon Gadugdug, however, convicted Estoconing.

Estoconing appealed the ruling in the RTC, claiming that Utzurrum was covered by the no-double discount provision of the law and that cooperatives were exempt from the Senior Citizens Act.

RTC Branch 32 Judge Roderick Maxino upheld the MTCC and said Estoconing’s “intentional violation” of Republic Act No. 9994, or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act, was a “classic example of undermining the rights of a senior citizen.”

Maxino said Estoconing’s argument prohibiting double discounts was “misplaced.”

Maxino cited Article 9 as referring to instances of promotional discounts where the senior citizen could either avail themselves of the promo or the 20-percent mandatory discount, whichever is more favorable.

Maxino also wrote that the law did not make a distinction between a cooperative and a non-cooperative business establishment.

“What are exempt from the senior citizens discount are children’s meals,” the judge ruled.

Look out for the Seniors. You had better treat them right. Remember that most judges are either seniors or will soon be seniors!

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