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Peace council asks lawmakers to pass BBL

STAR/File photo

MANILA, Philippines - Members of the Malacañang-backed citizens’ peace council pleaded yesterday before the House of Representatives to approve the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), saying the country can no longer sustain the loss of lives and economic opportunity due to the continuing conflict in Mindanao.

The peace council, composed of several prominent civil society and business leaders, aired the appeal before the 75-member House ad hoc committee deliberating on the BBL chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

Manila Archbishop Antonio Cardinal Tagle appealed to congressmen to pass the proposed BBL, saying it would be “foolish” to scrap it and end the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In a statement read for him by Fr. Joel Tabora before the House ad hoc committee, Tagle said the proposed legislation is the product of years of peace talks between the government and the MILF, which led to the signing of a peace agreement.

Tagle is a member of the citizens’ peace council President Aquino has created to review the BBL and submit its recommendations to the Senate and the House.

“There is enough goodwill on both sides to bring this agreement to a fruitful conclusion. The BBL is overwhelmingly acceptable and deserves the support of all Filipinos,” he said.

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He added that the peace agreement “has prevented the conflict in Mindanao from getting out of hand.”

“The BBL places peace within our grasp,” he stressed.

He said approval of the proposed BBL would benefit not only Mindanao but the entire nation.

Former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. yesterday said the draft BBL complies with the Constitution.

“There is no creation of a separate kind of citizen, and no creation, virtual or otherwise, of a political territory that is greater than the national government that creates it, or beyond the reach of the Constitution that allows it,” he told the House ad hoc panel.

Before Davide’s testimony, the former chief justice and other members of the peace council turned over their report to Rodriguez, who said his panel would consider the council’s comments and recommendations.

Davide tackled several provisions that Rodriguez and many members of his committee consider as constitutionally questionable, including the creation of audit, civil service, human rights and electoral offices in the envisioned Bangsamoro region, and the regional government having a parliamentary set-up.

“The Supreme Court and the constitutional bodies continue to maintain the powers given them under the Constitution. There is neither substitution nor diminution of powers intended or effected by the creation of the Bangsamoro human rights, auditing, civil service and electoral offices,” Davide said.

He said the proposed regional bodies are intended to “supplement and not supplant their national counterparts.”

However, to leave no room for misinterpretation, he recommended the insertion of the phrase “without prejudice to the powers, authorities and duties” of the national audit, civil service, human rights and electoral commissions.

Rodriguez said he wants the provision affecting these commissions and the ombudsman to clearly declare that the regional bodies are just extensions or offices in the Bangsamoro region of such commissions and the ombudsman’s office.

Davide said even the proposed creation of Shari’ah or Muslim courts jibes with the constitutional provision empowering Congress to define, prescribe and apportion the jurisdiction of various courts, including those in autonomous regions.

“In order to avert any confusion, the provision may be amended to include the clause, ‘subject to the review powers of the Supreme Court,’” he said.

“In any case, under the Constitution, all government actions can be brought to the Supreme Court for settlement of actual controversies, or where there is grave abuse of discretion,” he added.

As for the parliamentary setup in the Bangsamoro regional government, Davide said, “Our Constitution permits a parliamentary form of government in local government units. The prescribed unitary and presidential form of government established in the Constitution refers to the national government.”

He said the term “asymmetric relationship” contained in the draft BBL should be clarified to refer “to the relationship between the central government and the Bangsamoro government as an autonomous region.”

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, one of the critics of the draft BBL, said the term actually means that the planned new Muslim autonomous region would have more powers than other regions.

The term was lifted from the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) signed during the Arroyo administration between the government and the MILF, which the Supreme Court had declared as unconstitutional, he said.

The peace negotiators just changed the word “associative” in the MOA-AD to “asymmetric” in the BBL, he said.

Davide said the words “people,” “territory” and “self-determination” in the draft BBL “do not imply the creation of a separate state, but are consistent with the constitutionally mandated creation of autonomous regions.”

There is one provision in the draft the former chief justice agrees with Rodriguez and his colleagues should be removed: the expansion of the Bangsamoro region by petition of 10 percent of residents of neighboring areas, which would lead to the conduct of a plebiscite in these communities.

Davide said the power to expand the territory of a region or local government unit belongs to Congress.

Rodriguez said this provision, if not removed, would result in a “creeping expansion” of the planned Bangsamoro region.

Another peace council member, businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, failed to make it to yesterday’s hearing. He was in charge of the council’s economic cluster.

Zobel asked former economic planning secretary Cielito Habito to represent him.

Habito said the business community is closely watching the final shape of the proposed BBL and how it would impact on the investment environment in Muslim Mindanao.

He said there are several provisions in the draft that the economic cluster wants clarified, including those on inland waters, exploitation of natural resources, taxation, transportation and communications, and peace and order.

He said the cluster recommends that powers of the national government and the envisioned Bangsamoro region in these areas be clearly defined and delineated.

Bangsamoro police

Habito said “perhaps, the only contentious issue the group identified had to do primarily with the management of peace and order in the Bangsamoro region. This is an important economic issue because the level of business activity in the Bangsamoro is linked to the security in the area.” – With Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica


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