80% of House to back BBL amendments

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - At least 80 percent of 290 members of the House of Representatives want changes in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and would reject the measure in its current form if it were put to a vote, two Mindanao congressmen said yesterday.


“I would say 80 percent to 90 percent want changes in the draft. If the proposed legislation is put to a vote in its present form, I would say the same 80 percent to 90 percent will reject it,” Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said.

Lobregat is a member of the ad hoc committee on the draft BBL, which Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez chairs.

“I will reiterate – we are for peace, we are not anti-peace, but we want the BBL to be fair, just, acceptable, feasible and, more importantly, consistent with the Constitution and the law,” he said.

He said the draft would undergo scrutiny and rewriting in the committee and in plenary “provision by provision, section by section.”

“We have so many concerns that we want addressed in the final product,” he said.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles agreed with Lobregat that most House members would vote for changes and would not accept the BBL draft.

“I think all of us congressmen and congresswomen are for peace. All of us want a law, a Bangsamoro law that we imagine will usher in a new era of peace for Mindanao. So there is really no one blocking passage of such law. No one, except that we have our different concerns with the present version of the proposed law,” he said.

“Of course there are some congressmen who are giving certain conditions, but those conditions, like the surrender of those involved in the killing of our 44 policemen in Mamasapano and the return of the remaining firearms, those are just a way for us to gain confidence (in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front). Those are just confidence building measures. But I think no one in Congress – both in the Senate and the House – is against passing a just, constitutional and legal Bangsamoro law,” he said.

Lobregat said aside from several provisions Rodriguez has declared as constitutionally questionable, many Mindanao congressmen want the issue on the decommissioning of MILF forces addressed in the law itself, rather than in an executive agreement.

“It should be included in the law, so that when there is a violation, it is a violation of law, instead of an executive agreement,” he said.

Timeline worries

Lobregat said they have another concern on decommissioning – timeline. He said that with only 30 percent of MILF armed forces set for decommissioning by the time a plebiscite and election of new regional officers are held, the rebels would have 70 percent of their arms during the plebiscite and election.

Nograles cited unresolved issues regarding the justice system in the envisioned Bangsamoro region.

“So if a Muslim commits a crime in the Bangsamoro region, would he be under the jurisdiction of a regular court or a Shariah or Muslim court? Will they have their own judicial process?” he asked.

For his part, Rep. Lito Atienza of party-list group Buhay said, “Everyone in Congress is for peace, but peace that is right, just, legal and constitutional.”

“We don’t want peace at all cost. But while peace is a common goal all of us are striving for, we cannot ignore the inherent constitutional infirmities of the proposed BBL, such as the establishment of a parliamentary form of government in the Bangsamoro within our presidential system, as well as having its own police force,” he said.

Timetable irrelevant

At the Senate, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said setting a timetable for the passage of the BBL is irrelevant, as the measure would inevitably land in the Supreme Court if it gets approved.

Emerging from a hearing of the Senate committee on foreign relations, Santiago told reporters that BBL, in its present form, contains several provisions that are unconstitutional.

Santiago also argued that the President, through his alter egos in the government peace panel, does not have the sole authority to negotiate for an arrangement that in effect would create a sub-state.

“What is the constitutional basis for the authority to negotiate on the part of the Philippine government? The President simply assumed that he had the power. That is not so,” Santiago said.

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

Santiago, who also heads the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, pointed out that under the Constitution, the President cannot act on foreign relations without the concurrence of the Senate.

“If the Constitution requires that the President cannot move in foreign relations unless he has the concurrence of the Senate, how much more does the spirit of the Constitution require that there should be Senate concurrence when the President authorizes a so-called peace process through a so-called peace panel,” she said.

She cited an “abundance of unconstitutional features” in the BBL as government negotiators “thought they can negotiate away certain parts of the Constitution.”

She added the BBL would even infringe on the country’s sovereignty because the parliament in the proposed Bangsamoro would be granted exclusive powers.

“If their powers are exclusive, that means that they exclude even the powers of our own state. So this is really much more complicated than what the negotiators think,” Santiago said.

She advised the administration to consider the option of renegotiating the process all over again to avoid the scenario of the BBL getting declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

In a statement, the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association Inc. is calling on the administration to take lessons from the Mamasapano incident and have the BBL undergo closer review.


But for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, there is nothing unconstitutional in the proposed BBL. At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also reiterated President Aquino’s message to lawmakers that the Mamasapano incident should underpin the need for the passage of the BBL.

De Lima said the BBL had gone through careful scrutiny by the Department of Justice and other concerned agencies.

“As part of the executive, I support the BBL. They consulted with me the justice system portion, and we support that,” she said.

“The draft has been approved for presentation in Congress,” she pointed out.

De Lima’s pronouncement was in response to Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez’s request that she come up with a legal opinion on the matter.

A member of the government peace panel, for her part, rejected claims by some lawmakers that the BBL would allow pork allocation for the Bangsamoro.

“There is no provision in the BBL stating that the Bangsamoro will receive P75 billion. That is clear if we read the proposed BBL,” National Commission for Muslim Filipinos Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao said. She also quipped “pork” is forbidden among Muslims.

Lao said the BBL simply aims to alleviate poverty in areas being proposed to be part of the Bangsamoro.

She also belied claims by BBL detractors that Bangsamoro spending would be exempted from Commission on Audit (COA) scrutiny.

“If they’ve read the BBL at all, they’ll know that the auditing system in the proposed Bangsamoro will be conducted on two levels. The internal auditing to be conducted by the Bangsamoro will be subject to the auditing of the national COA,” she said. “Because of this, it will be really hard to commit corruption in the Bangsamoro.”

Former ambassador Macabangkit Lanto bewailed what he called a disinformation campaign being waged against the BBL.

In a statement, Lanto said nothing in the BBL provides for an independent and separate Commission on Elections, Commission on Human Rights, Civil Service Commission, ombudsman and police force.

Non-government organizations (NGO) advocating for the rights of children called on lawmakers yesterday to continue pursuing peace through the crafting of BBL.

Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 20 child-focused organizations called Bata Muna urged Congress to strengthen the proposed BBL by including a specific provision for the protection of children in situations of armed conflict.

Close to 40,000 children have been displaced by fighting in Maguindanao and North Cotabato between government forces and rebels. – Marvin Sy, Edu Punay, Jose Rodel Clapano, Roel Pareño, Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude, Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores

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