Monday, March 9, 2015



MEMBERS of the House of Representatives have amended the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law at the committee level by removing potentially unconstitutional provisions, such as the one granting the proposed Bangsamoro region the right to have its own Commission on Elections.

The move came amid the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s vow to reject any amendment in the bill and President Aquino’s appeal for Congress not to dilute the measure in the wake of the Mamasapano incident that claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Force commandos last January.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the 75-man ad hoc panel tasked to review the measure, announced yesterday that the panel has removed the unconstitutional provision for another electoral body that would supervise election in the Bangsamoro region.

“That would be in violation of your (Comelec) constitutional mandate. We are upholding your exclusive jurisdiction on matters related to election,” Rodriguez told acting Commission on Election (Comelec) chairman Christian Robert Lim, who attended the hearing of the House committee on suffrage which was briefed on the poll body’s preparations for the 2016 national elections.

Lim welcomed the ad hoc committee’s decision, saying the lawmakers merely affirmed the Comelec’s constitutional mandate over all election-related matters in the country.

“We share the same view that it is unconstitutional,” he told Rodriguez, who said Congress has no business interfering with the Comelec’s functions.

Rodriguez said the panel has also removed provisions allowing the Bangsamoro to create its own internal audit body which could undermine the authority of the Commission on Audit; having the power to discipline its own officials and employees or a power which would weaken the powers of the Office of the Ombudsman; and establishment of its own civil service and human rights bodies and even its own police force.

The ad hoc panel chair, however, said changes will not dilute the measure because the most fundamental feature of the BBL “is the power sharing (of the national government to the Bangsamoro region), political autonomy and fiscal autonomy.”

“That’s the most important,” Rodriguez said, noting that lawmakers have yet to decide on another provision that would permit other areas outside the Bangsamoro territory to join upon a petition of at least 10 percent of the constituents.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said the constitutional infirmities of the proposed BBL could lead it to the Supreme Court.

“It is irrelevant what date the Senate will hold its debates on whether or not we should pass this law. Eventually, whether or not Congress passes the BBL, the matter will end up in the SC,” she said.

She said Malacañang should instead form a committee to review the BBL for its unconstitutional features, instead of letting other branches do it for them.

“The worst branch of government to review for this purpose is the judiciary because it has the power to enforce its position,” she said, adding that senators are merely expressing their opinions.

She said Malacañang should appoint in its review committee the luminaries who were invited to the Senate hearing on the constitutionality of the BBL.

Among those invited by Santiago ’s committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws is retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

Santiago also said government could scrap the BBL and start peace negotiations with the Moro people.

Earlier, House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II said Malacañang should be open to the possibility of going back to the negotiating table with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with which government signed a peace deal in March last year. The BBL will pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro region as provided in the peace agreement.

The MILF, along with forces of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, clashed with police commandos in Mamasapano town Maguindanao on January 25. Forty-four members of the PNP Special Action Force were killed in the police operation to get terrorists. Deliberations on the BBL were suspended following the Mamasapano clash.

Santiago said that before starting the process, the President should first seek authority from the Senate to negotiate a separate form of government.

“It will be best to start the process all over the again. First of all, let us find out from the Senate whether it is willing to grant the power to the President to negotiate a separate form of government, without specifying a sub-state and, if so, what form of government,” she told reporters.

She said the Executive branch did not bother to examine itself on whether it has the power to negotiate with the MILF. “It just presumed that it did,” she said.

“The President does not have sole power over the foreign policy of the Philippines ,” she said.

She said that under the Constitution, foreign policy power must be equally shared between the President and the Congress, specifically the Senate.

“Now where is the Senate authorization for the President to conduct these negotiations, sometimes the so-called peace process? He does not have an instrument of that nature. He just assumed that he had the power but he does not,” she said.

“Treaty pa lang kailangan na ng concurrence ng Senado, ‘yun pa kayang mag-gagawa ng sub-state?” she added.
Santiago also questioned the authority of the MILF to represent the Bangsamoro people in the peace negotiations.

“Who gave the MILF authority to represent the Bangsamoro? Among all those scions of the breakaway group, MNLF, MILF, BIFF and others, which one of them shall be validly allowed to claim that it represents the Bangsamoro or the entire Islamic people within the Philippine territory?” she asked.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reiterated that he would not be forced into passing the BBL, saying his action will be based on his intention to craft a good law and not driven by a “deadline” set by other people.

Marcos chairs the Senate committee on local government which his hearing the BBL.

“Haste could be a fatal waste. The BBL is not a magic pill to stop the war in Mindanao , although it’s an important element in the quest for lasting peace. I will try to meet the proposed deadline. But I will not sacrifice the necessity of getting it right,” he said.

Marcos said the need to remedy the constitutional infirmities of the present BBL draft is one of the main reasons prudence is the better course of action over meeting an obviously short timetable.

Marcos suspended public hearings after the Mamasapano incident.
Rodriguez said he is still hoping the measure would be enacted under the Aquino administration, saying its constitutional defects can be remedied in Congress if the MILF will be open to amendments.

Rodriguez refused to entertain the possibility that the next administration will be left with no choice but to renegotiate the Aquino administration’s deal with the MILF.

“ Sana hindi naman (umabot sa susunod na administrasyon) because gusto natin ng kapayapaan (ngayon),” Rodriguez said. “Puwede naman ‘yan magawa (amendments). So ang amin lang talaga dito, kung ang MILF ay ‘di sila gagawa ng hakbang na maibalik ‘yun tiwala sa kanila, mahirapang mapasa ang BBL.”
Rodriguez said the constitutional defects and apprehensions over the possibility that the P75-billion annual budget of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region could be misused can all be remedied in both houses of Congress.

He, however, admitted that the annual fund has the nature of a lump sum fund because the Bangsamoro government will have a free hand in spending it under the proposed law.

He said the huge budget was included in the proposed law because the government trusts that the Bangsamoro parliament will be able to appropriate funds “for the exercise of their powers and functions to achieve development in the Bangsamoro.”

Rodriguez said there will be a need for Congress to put safeguards on the provision to ensure that taxpayers’ money will not be spent elsewhere.

“Atin lang i-improve ito, kunin natin ‘yung mga unconstitutional provisions, lagyan natin ng safeguards like ‘yung P75 billion na pondo na gagamitin for education, especially, health and social welfare and infrastructure,” he said. – With JP Lopez, Ashzel Hachero and Jocelyn Montemayor
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