Which comes first—BBL or federalism?

Of the structural reforms being discussed today, the Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) and the shift to federalism are the most significant. Both will profoundly alter political structure and behavior when passed.

The BBL seeks to respond to the long-standing grievances of Muslim Mindanao against Manila’s neglect of the community. Along the same line, the clamor for federalism seeks to address the unequal development of the provinces.

The main debate is about timing—which one should go ahead of the other. Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, for instance, said that a BBL region could be seen as a way of gauging whether the country is prepared to make the full shift to federalism. Hence, the BBL should go first. Others suggest that federalism being a national plan should come first.

In my opinion, either one can get approved ahead of the other. That, of course, is not to say that the objections to each shouldn’t be addressed. Such issues as unconstitutional provisions in BBL, concerns over financial viability, political dynasties, and even the mode of change in the Constitution. I suggest enacting either proposal will resolve some issues in the process and others rendered moot.

We can expect some issues will be resolved, others will not. But that should not stop the process. The assembly may provide for a dispute-resolution if that stalemate is reached.

For instance, a three-member Constitutional Court can be constituted to arbitrate with finality any dispute or differences. If the decision is to move the BBL forward first, it can adopt the Malaysian model where the constitutional monarch or head of state is rotated among the nine rulers.

A ceremonial head of state will be elected by rotation among representatives of the Maranao, the Maguindanao, the Tausug, the Subanon and other tribes. The same rotation system can also be used for choosing the head of government, the Chief Minister. Both offices cannot be occupied by representatives from the same ethnic group, tribe or sultanate of the same geographic area as ceremonial head of state. That’s a precaution against conflict of interest.

Other changes can be carried out through legislation or administratively.

Having already discussed and debated the features of a federal system, then, federalism will no longer be an unfamiliar concept. Perhaps, the BBL exercise will enlighten the public.

The essential point is that the structural change—that is, the devolution of true autonomy to local communities—can begin in earnest.


E-mail: angara.ed@gmail.com| Facebook and Twitter: @edangara



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