Members of the bicameral conference committee and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission together with MILF leaders pose with the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region at the Senate last night.
Miguel De Guzman
Senate, House OK Bangsamoro Law
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 19, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — After more than a week of debates, the Senate and the House of Representatives finally came up last night with a consolidated version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that lawmakers say will stand the test of constitutionality.

The approval came a year after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which drafted the BBL, submitted the measure to President Duterte, the Senate and the House.

The measure is now called the “Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao” – the name of the political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

President Duterte is expected to sign the consolidated bill into law in the afternoon of July 23 when he delivers his third State of the Nation Address (SONA).

“It’s a very emotional day for everyone. I’m just overwhelmed,” said Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, co-chair of the bicameral conference committee on the BBL.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who is co-chair of the panel, noted that the past two administrations failed to craft a basic law for the Bangsamoro.

He thanked the members of the BTC, chaired by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar, for their support and patience.

“Your smiles wiped away our exhaustion,” Fariñas told Jaafar and other BTC members present. The BTC is composed of leaders of the MILF, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and other representatives of various sectors in Mindanao.

 The bicameral committee held its final meeting yesterday at the Senate to go over the landmark document one last time after writing several amendments on contentious provisions on security, territory, wealth-sharing and governance, among others.

 ‘100% satisfied’

The BTC leadership is “100 percent satisfied” at how the bicameral conference committee resolved the issues on the BBL.

“We thank the bicam for respecting our concerns,” Jaafar said in a statement.

Among the concerns is the assurance that all laws that will be passed in the Bangsamoro parliament will be compliant with national laws.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said it was agreed during the caucus on Tuesday that there would be “one general provision within the context of the Constitution so that it wouldn’t have to be repeated that it is subject to national laws.”

Jaafar promised that when the Bangsamoro parliament creates laws, the measures would be in accordance with the Philippine Constitution.

The BTC also agrees that the organic law on the Bangsamoro should fully comply with the charter.

Fariñas reiterated that the plan is for both chambers of Congress to ratify their respective versions on the third regular session on July 23, the same day that President Duterte will deliver his SONA.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the approval of the BBL showed there is no need to revise the Constitution to shift to a federal form of government to achieve autonomy or self-governance for local government units (LGUs).

Drilon said the proposed BBL showed that empowering local governments can be done without having to amend the Constitution.

“The principle of self-government can be achieved without overhauling the Constitution or shifting to a federal form of government as evidenced in the BBL that we are set to pass within the week,” he added.

The senator said in crafting the BBL, it has been proven that it is entirely doable to give LGUs more powers, which are crucial in the exercise of their autonomy.

In the draft BBL, there are about 56 specific powers and responsibilities that are transferred and devolved to the Bangsamoro region, which will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Among these powers are fiscal autonomy, devolution of health, urban and land reform, administration of justice system, control over free ports and economic zones, the power for administrative reorganization, and creation of government-owned and controlled corporations. 

“In the BBL, we have maximized the principle of decentralization enshrined in the Constitution and the local government code in order to guarantee its autonomy. The same can be done to all other regions in the country,” Drilon said. 

Drilon noted that five percent of the taxes collected, estimated to be around P60 billion to P70 billion, will be automatically appropriated to the Bangsamoro region as block grant. That is on top of its share in the taxes collected within the region, which will also get its share from the Internal Revenue Allotment.

Federalism is giving more powers to the LGUs and less intervention from the national government. “We can achieve that goal by way of a legislation or by strengthening the Local Government Code of 1991, which is a better, faster and less controversial way than amending the Constitution,” Drilon said. 

“Unless they have ulterior motives like a term extension or ‘no-el’ (no-election), I don’t see any reason why they would not attempt to explore that route rather than forcing Cha-cha (Charter change) upon the Filipino people,” he added.

AFP commits to support Bangsamoro

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. has reaffirmed the military’s commitment to the peaceful resolution of all conflicts and achievement of lasting peace and development in Bangsamoro.

He made the assurance as the AFP’s top brass met with the BTC on July 12 at Camp Aguinaldo. 

 “The cooperation and solidarity among us is necessary now more than ever, as we are only a few steps closer to achieving the objectives of the transition process,” Galvez said in a statement yesterday.

 “I trust that we shall see better days ahead for our brothers and sisters in Mindanao,” he added.

Also present in last week’s meeting were AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Mison Jr., deputy chief of staff Vice Admiral Gaudencio Collado Jr., Western Mindanao Commander Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, 1st Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Roseller Murillo, 6th Infantry Division Commander Brig. Gen. Cirilio Sobejana, and the chiefs of the AFP’s Joint and Personal Staff. 

Jaafar was joined by BTC commissioners Abdularaof Macacua, Ibrahim Ali, Haron Abas, Said Shiek, Hussein Muñoz, Melanio Ulama, Gafur Kainan, Ammal Solaiman, Dr. Susana Anayatin and Romeo Saliga.

Jaafar thanked the AFP and all the agencies involved for their collective effort in pushing for peace and development in Mindanao.  “We pray to Allah and to your God that they will finally give peace to us,” Jaafar said.  – With Michael Punongbayan

BANGSAMORO BASIC LAW GHAZALI JAAFAR
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