Senate on BBL: No need to extend session days

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Franklin Drilon yesterday gave assurance that the Senate would be working double time to pass the basic law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region by month’s end.

Drilon said the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would be placed on top of the agenda during session days from Monday to Wednesday.

“The BBL will always be first in the agenda, so that we will have a quorum, rather than put it in the end. We don’t have plans to have hearings on Thursdays and Fridays, but we will prioritize the BBL,” Drilon said.

“We will exert effort to finish this by end of September,” he said.

Drilon said the Senate does not need to follow the House of Representatives, which is planning to conduct hearings on Thursdays and Fridays to be able to allow them to wrap up discussions on the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) in the Senate.

According to Drilon, the leadership of the Senate and the House agreed to prioritize approval of the BBL and the 2016 budget during their meeting the other day.

With just about five weeks before Congress adjourns on Oct. 10, Drilon vowed to work on important measures. Apart from the BBL and the 2016 budget, Congress will also look into the approval of the Sanggunian Kabataan Reform law, Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act (now in bicameral conference), amendments of the Built-Operate-Transfer-Law, Customs and Tariff Modernization Act, and the creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

“There are measures which have been passed in the House or the Senate, and are now in various committees of both houses. What we have identified are measures that both houses have agreed to work on,” Drilon said.


Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, however, questioned the deletion of vital provisions of the BBL, such as the preamble, in the BLBAR.

During Wednesday's Senate plenary hearing on the BLBAR, the amended version of the BBL authored by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as Senate committee on local government chair, Guingona questioned the deletions from the original draft, which he believed were vital to the identity and operation of the autonomous region.

“My review of the BBL takes off from the following objectives: first, to highlight the primacy of the Constitution as basis and framework for the mandate of government in peace negotiations and creations of autonomous regions. Second is to acknowledge the nature, context, and significance of the draft BBL both as a legislative measure and a peace process instrument,” Guingona said.

Guingona began his interpellation by questioning the deletion of the preamble in the Senate BLBAR filed as Senate Bill No. 2894.

Guingona argued that Republic Act No. 9054, the bill’s predecessor and the implementing law of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), also carried a preamble that had not been found as “constitutionally repugnant.”

Republic Act 6734, which preceded RA 9054 and established the ARMM, also included a preamble or prefatory statement, Guingona pointed out.

To remove suspicions

Marcos, on the other hand, explained, “constitutionality did not really come into the reasoning that led to the removal of the preamble.”

Marcos said the deletion was done to “remove any suspicion or fear that we are writing a constitution for a separate state.”

Guingona however countered a preamble is simply an “introductory statement” that “usually states the reasons or/and the intent of a law.”

“It would be helpful to have preamble because it will prevent confusion. A preamble is a statement of intent. If you are saying there are fears that (the Bangsamoro) might not be part of the Philippines, that this might be a first step (toward secession), then let us state ‘it is not so’ in the preamble,” Guingona said.

“Inland waters jurisdiction has already been given over to the ARMM under RA 9054. This has been taken away in (the BLBAR),” Guingona said.

He said the 1987 Philippine Constitution also guarantees autonomous regions to have jurisdiction over natural resources such as inland waters.

Natural resources as well as economic development are among the legislative powers listed under Article X Section 20 of the 1987 Constitution that can be vested by organic acts, such as the BBL and the BLBAR, to autonomous regions.

Marcos commented that his committee only intended to preserve the powers of local government units over inland waters as guided by the Local Government Code of 1991.

He added the Bangsamoro parliament, once established, could always pass laws that would enhance the regional government’s administration and management over inland waters.

Drilon, however, pointed out the authority was not given to the Bangsamoro government to amend the code.

“The Bangsamoro cannot transgress national laws. Therefore, I think we should already give them the jurisdiction over the preservation and management of inland waters,” Guingona said.

Guingona directed his next questions on the deletion of provisions referring to the Shari’ah High Court.

“From my review, I do not see anything unconstitutional in retaining the Shari’ah High Court,” Guingona said.

Guingona explained the Constitution states, “judicial powers shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.”

Despite the name, the original draft of the BBL clearly stated that the decisions of the Shari’ah High Court are subject to judicial review of the Supreme Court.

Marcos said that the deletion was motivated by an attempt to streamline operations and cut cost, citing the low number of cases shari’ah courts established under Presidential Decree No. 1083 have been receiving.

“There is no legal principle we are trying to impose in the deletion of those provisions,” Marcos said.

Guingona contradicted Marcos’ statements by highlighting the establishment of the Shari’ah Courts was not a simple matter of case load.

“The closest analogy is the Court of Tax Appeals because taxation, being a complex matter, Congress saw it fit to create a Court of Tax Appeals when we could have done without it with the presence of the Court of Appeals,” he said.

“Shari’ah law is not just complex in terms of being technical, but there are cultural and religious aspects on this matter which the Court of Appeals justice may not be predisposed to handle,” Guingona added.

Moving on to the provision on the Special Development Fund (SDF), a P17-billion cash fund which will be disbursed to the Bangsamoro government by the national government for purposes of rehabilitation and development, Marcos admitted that he did not see the purpose for establishing such a fund.

Guingona disputed the argument saying there was an actual and immediate need for the SDF.

“I see a need and I see an opportunity: the need is that the would-be Bangsamoro is one of the poorest, if not the poorest areas in the country. The poverty is stark, illiteracy is high, and health conditions are below par. Clearly, there is a need,” Guingona said.

“Secondly, here we are creating a Bangsamoro autonomous region, a new entity. This is an opportunity. We do not want it to fail like ARMM. Therefore, if we just give them political autonomy without giving them the financial wherewithal, then we are just dooming them to failure,” Guingona added.

“Their success in the Bangsamoro will be our success. Their success will be the success of this country.”

Guingona also asked Marcos why provisions on the creation of government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) had been deleted.

“We shall say that whatever the Bangsamoro government passes, whatever they create shall be consistent with the Constitution, pertinent laws and Republic Act No. 10149, the GOCC Governance Act of 2011,” Guingona said.

Marcos admitted the Bangsamoro, similar to local government units, could create economic enterprises.

“What a local government does is create what we referred to as an economic enterprise. It is a financial operation where the local government makes money. Tourism, for example, a resort, a restaurant, whatever it is, development of a mall – that is an economic enterprise. And there is nothing that holds an LGU,” Guingona said. –Jose Rodel Clapano



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