THE leadership of the 17th Congress on Monday vowed to submit to President Duterte for signature a “constitutional” Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before the Chief Executive delivers his third State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 23.
This after members of the Senate and House of Representatives started their weeklong bicameral conference meetings to reconcile the differences between the two chambers’ versions of the proposed BBL.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas Sr. of Ilocos Norte assured the public that the members of bicameral committee are guided by the 1987 Constitution in resolving the contentious provisions of the measure.
“We have to ensure that everything we do and everything we do here will be compliant to the Constitution because surely this will be challenged,” he said.
“It is our task to see to it that whatever we agree on and come up [with] here will have to pass the test of constitutionality,” he added.
For his part, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said the Constitution should set both the latitude and delimitations of what can be incorporated in the proposed BBL.
“Within the limits sets by the Constitution and other laws, we will give the wider latitude in reconciling the two versions of the bill to achieve self-governance and real autonomy in the Bangsamoro,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri said the BBL should be acceptable not only to the whole nation but, more important, to the people of Bangsamoro.
“Our bicam today is beyond historical. Filipinos, not only in Bangsamoro or Muslim Mindanao but throughout the country, are watching us. They are waiting with bated breath as to the final outcome of this Bangsamoro Basic Law,” the senator said.
He said the long objective of the law is to bring lasting and dignified peace and development to Muslim Mindanao or the Bangsamoro, “thus it is also an instrument of peace and development in the Bangsamoro.”
Zubiri described the BBL as an enhanced version of the existing Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“We’ve reached a consensus that whatever was in the ARMM Law, Republic Act 9054, we will retain and hopefully enhance. In other words, we do not want an ARMM minus, what we want is an ARMM plus,” he added.
He said members of the panel have decided to finish and agree first on the acceptable provisions of BBL, and defer decisions on contentious provisions, such as territorial jurisdiction of the envisioned Bangsamoro region, wealth sharing, territorial waters and inland bodies of water at a later time of weeklong meetings.
No to watered-down version
Meanwhile, Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said that they will not accept a watered-down BBL.
“If their [version of BBL is] less than ARMM, we [will] consider it watered down,” Jaafar said.
Earlier, House Deputy Speaker Rolando G. Andaya Jr. of Camarines Sur urged the lower chamber to seriously look into constitutional issues on some provisions of its version of the BBL.
In particular, he noted that Section 1 of Article 12 of HB 6475, on Fiscal Autonomy of the Bangsamoro, is unconstitutional according to existing jurisprudence.
It states: “The Bangsamoro enjoys the maximum form of fiscal autonomy with the end view of attaining economic self-sufficiency and genuine development. It shall be entitled to all fund sources enumerated herein, and shall have the power to create its sources of revenues as provided in this law.”
It continues: “It shall prepare its budget and shall allocate funds in accordance with an annual appropriations law passed by the Bangsamoro Parliament. The form, content and manner of preparation of the budget shall be prescribed by law enacted by the Bangsamoro Parliament.”
According to Andaya, fiscal autonomy is granted by the Constitution and cannot be superseded by a law passed even by Congress.
Moreover, Fariñas has expressed confidence that the bicameral committee can produce the best version of the BBL which is acceptable to all.
He said the Senate and House can ratify the proposed law when Congress opens its third regular session on the morning of July 23, and immediately submit it to the President for his signature before his third Sona, afternoon of the same day.
“The agreement was, if we can…do away with all the disagreeing provisions and come up with a version acceptable to both panels…we will present it to our chambers for ratification when we open our third regular session on Monday, July 23,” Fariñas said.
“If we have the ratification, we submit it to the President so the President can sign it into law in the afternoon of that same day when he delivers his third State of the Nation Address,” he added.
Under House Bill 6475, the Bangsamoro territory shall remain a part of the Philippines. The bill seeks to abolish the ARMM and creates the Autonomous Region of Bangsamoro.
The HB 6475 is principally authored by Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez. It is the same as the BBL version submitted by the BTC to Congress.
The measure delineates the core territory of the Bangsamoro to be composed of: 1) the present geographical area of the ARMM; 2) the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagolan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte and all other barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; and 3) the cities of Cotabatao and Isabela.
The bill retains the central government’s power and control over defense and external security.
It also provides that the defense of the Bangsamoro shall be the responsibility of the Central Government. The Central Government shall create a Bangsamoro Military Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the Bangsamoro, which shall be organized, maintained and utilized in accordance with national laws.
The measure creates a Bangsamoro Police for law enforcement and maintenance of peace and order in the Bangsamoro, but it shall be part of the Philippine National Police.
Under the bill, only one plebiscite will be held between 90 and 120 days upon the effectivity of the BBL and the block grant to the region will be 5 percent of the national revenue.