Tuesday, March 10, 2015


The whole thing was void from the start. This is Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s opinion of the process that has led us to the present state of affairs regarding the BBL.
If Santiago had her way, what the Aquino administration calls the “peace process” (or what is more precisely the talks between the executive branch and the MILF) must be reset. Everything should be brought to Square One. Renegotiation must be done.
The reason the process may be considered invalid, according to Santiago, is that the negotiations did not proceed with a clear mandate from the Senate. Although not explicitly written as law, the spirit of the tripartite system of government we have commands every branch of government to be in constant coordination with the other branches on every major political initiative.
We know that all international treaties we adhere to require ratification by the Senate. The upper chamber is considered to be an equal partner of the executive branch in shaping foreign policy (and, by extension, all policies that involve sovereignty issues).
Presumption of equality between the executive branch and the Senate why some are demanding that an executive agreement between Manila and Washington allowing extended deployment of US military personnel in the country be subject to Senate ratification. It does commit the country to hosting the practical equivalent of foreign military bases without a bases treaty.  The issue is submitted to the Highest Court for resolution.
A non-lawyer, I beg to be excused from making an expert appraisal of the tenability of Senator Santiago’s position. The issue is for constitutionalists to argue over.
I asked Rufus Rodriguez about it during a radio interview. He was adamant what we might call the Santiago Doctrine has no legal legs to stand on.
The congressman, who is also chairing the committee deliberating on the BBL, says the “comprehensive agreement” Malacañang signed with the MILF with much pomp and ceremony is, in the end, a mere “executive agreement.” The executive branch, says Rodriguez, is pretty much within its rights in negotiating a peace agreement.
The “comprehensive agreement” will be executed through the passage of the BBL. The negotiating panels, however, have been telling us over the past few weeks of intense public debate, that this mere executive agreement obligates the Republic to pass the BBL. How a sovereign state may be obligated by something that is not a treaty begets many questions.
The BBL, being a piece of legislation, is a matter entirely in the province of the Congress. Curiously, however, the Palace insists on imposing deadlines on the legislative process.
Those arguing to keep the provisions of the BBL as close to the original draft as possible seem to be saying that the Republic is obligated to do so by the “comprehensive agreement.” This seems to invest the “comprehensive agreement” with a status greater than a mere executive agreement.
I have it on good source that even before the Mamasapano incident, leaders at the House of Representatives were cajoling congressmen to immediately bring the BBL to plenary where the awesome pro-administration majority could easily overrun all objections to the bill. Congressmen were being told to just set aside their constitutional concerns since the law, if passed, will surely be brought before the Supreme Court.
The congressional leaders seemed more concerned about complying with marching orders from the executive branch than about crafting a good and viable piece of legislation. The integrity and independence of the legislative branch did not seem to matter to them.
Nor did a basic sense of responsibility even matter.
The party whips at the House of Representatives were basically goading their colleagues to pass an infirm law and then passing the chore of cleaning up the mess (and assuming the political costs) to the Supreme Court. They were not animated by any honorable conviction, only by political expediency.
This is the extent to which our institutions were degraded by this administration.
Never mind statesmanship or moral intelligence. Those are very high bars to set for many legislators. We simply want them to put whatever legislation they pass to the test of constitutional viability. This they would not even do.
Old habits die hard. We are sure the congressmen most anxious to do the Palace’s bidding expect to be rewarded adequately in time for the next elections.
The Aquino administration is in dire straits. The BBL is probably the last item available before electioneering begins for the crafty politicians to exact their pound of flesh from an administration so obsessed with getting this thing pass legislative muster.   
Only fat rewards could explain the enthusiasm of some legislators for something as indefensible as the BBL. The more indefensible the law, the higher the rewards expected. That is the law of the market.
Should the Santiago “ruling” on the need to renegotiate gain traction, this will quickly put the BBL out of its misery. That, however, will not be profitable for the transactional politicians.
Transactional politicians would rather see a bill given so much importance by a beleaguered administration hang by the balance, agonize in a state of suspended animation. This will give them leverage as they negotiate for more goodies for themselves and the constituencies they need to butter.
You can bet your priceless Pacquiao-Mayweather ticket that quiet negotiations are going on behind the scenes. The indication of concessions will be sudden realignment of government projects or early releases of funding for this or that pet project.
With their strengthened hand, the transactional politicians will cause someone up there to lose even more hair.

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