In session yesterday, the SC justices decided to hear next month the arguments on the petitions filed by the provincial government of Sulu, led by Gov. Abdusakur Tan II, and the Philippine Constitutional Association (Philconsa).
Edd Gumban
SC sets Bangsamoro Organic Law oral arguments after the fact
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - January 16, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has set the oral arguments on a case questioning the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Organic Law – but only after the first part of the BOL plebiscite is over.

In session yesterday, the SC justices decided to hear next month the arguments on the petitions filed by the provincial government of Sulu, led by Gov. Abdusakur Tan II, and the Philippine Constitutional Association (Philconsa).

Both petitioners seek to stop the BOL implementation as provided under Republic Act 11054.

An insider, who requested anonymity due to lack of authority to speak in behalf of the high tribunal, told The STAR that the SC agreed to hear the arguments in February, after the holding of the first phase of the plebiscite on Jan. 21.

However, the magistrates have yet to decide on the exact date. The second phase of the plebiscite is on Feb. 6.

The SC’s schedule for the month is full and the magistrates will hold oral arguments on Jan. 22 and 23, on petitions questioning the third extension of martial law in Mindanao.

“The court does not see the need to immediately hear the Bangsamoro case even with the plebiscite set on Jan. 21,” the source said.

The high court earlier said the plebiscite on BOL could proceed in the absence of a restraining order from the court. 

It opted to first seek the comments of the respondents – Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, members of the Senate and House of Representatives headed by Senate President Vicente Sotto and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, respectively – before deciding on a plea for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) as well as on the merits of the case.

“The Court may still issue a TRO on the implementation of the law as sought in the petitions even after the plebiscite, if warranted,” the source clarified.

The two petitions raised the same arguments against the BOL.

Solicitor General Jose Calida has filed his comment on the petition of Tan and is expected to file comment on the Philconsa petition this week.

The BOL seeks to expand the political territory of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which will be known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). 

Duterte to rally BOL support

President Duterte is expected to rally support for the BOL in a public assembly in Cotabato on Friday. 

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo is optimistic that Duterte would be able to persuade Cotabato residents to support the BOL. 

“The President’s voice is a powerful influencing voice,” Panelo said at a press briefing yesterday.

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani earlier said her constituents would likely reject the city’s inclusion in the BARMM, citing the supposed “abuses” by some groups pushing for the BOL.

Guiani said a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) warned people opposing Cotabato’s inclusion in the BOL of consequences.  

Panelo said Duterte would respect the will of those who would vote in the plebiscite for the BOL. 

“The President cannot do anything but to comply with the sovereign voice of the people in Mindanao,” Panelo said.

DBM: BOL plebiscite has funding

The DBM yesterday refuted House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya’s claims that there is no funding for the BOL plebiscite under the 2019 national budget.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the BOL plebiscite has adequate funding and would push through as planned.

“In the 2018 General Appropriations Act and the 2019 National Expenditure Program, P111.8 million and P95.8 million are allocated, respectively, under the maintenance and other operating expenses for the conduct and supervision of elections, referenda, recall votes and plebiscites in the budget of the Commission on Elections,” Diokno said.

“The Comelec has prior years’ continuing appropriations – from 2015 to 2017 – amounting to P409.5 million as of September 2018, which they can tap to cover the funding requirements of the plebiscite,” Diokno added.

He said the poll body, as a constitutional office with fiscal autonomy, could utilize its unobligated allotments amounting to P10.4 billion for preparatory activities in the national and local elections.

“To appease concerns that there is not enough money for the Bangsamoro plebiscite, the Comelec may request for more funding through the Contingent Fund subject to approval of the Office of the President in case the above cited sources are fully utilized,” Diokno said.

He said the DBM is prepared and willing to fund this exercise to the fullest.

Palace: Andaya claims baseless

Malacañang disputed Andaya’s claim that Diokno failed to allot budget for the BOL plebiscite. 

“The funds would not be affected; I saw the report of Secretary Ben. It won’t be affected. There is budget for the plebiscite,” Panelo said. 

He described as “misplaced” and “without basis” Andaya’s claim that Diokno wasted Duterte’s efforts to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao. 

Pressed if he thought Andaya was peddling false information, Panelo replied: “Perhaps he was just misinformed... Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to everyone…”

 Appeal for support

The MILF has appealed to non-Muslims and indigenous peoples living in the ARMM to support the BOL.     

Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the MILF, said the BOL is not only for the Muslims, but also for Christians and indigenous peoples residing in various parts of the autonomous region.

Jaafar, who chaired the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the proposed enabling law, said the BOL is for peace and progress.

“Let us stop the bickerings. Bickerings between the pros and cons of BOL create disunity. Let us stand all in a common ground. After all, we live in one place,” Jaafar said.

He thanked government officials and members of the Senate and the House who supported the BOL.

Local executives assured non-Muslims of religious freedom under the BARMM.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu explained the importance of the BOL to at least 40,000 people who attended a forum in Buluan town yesterday.

Mangudadatu said there is no basis for apprehensions that non-Muslims would be subjected to Sharia laws under the BARMM.

“It is very clear that the BOL has provisions assuring Christians and indigenous non-Muslim communities of representation in the BARMM government. So what is there to fear? Let’s vote for its ratification,” Mangudadatu said.

Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim of the MILF also spoke during the forum, saying the BOL will put closure to the 50-year-old Mindanao conflict.

Muslim lawmakers led by House Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema expressed optimism about the chances of the BOL in bringing lasting peace to Mindanao.

“We are not only positive, optimistic. We are also very happy the BOL is being welcomed and embraced by our people on the ground,” Sema told journalists covering the House yesterday. 

Sema said people who usually do not vote are now coming out to exercise their democratic rights. She thanked President Duterte for the legacy that is the BOL.

Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan of party-list Anak Mindanao shared Sema’s view, saying the Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 plebiscite will push through as scheduled despite reports that the Department of Budget and Management failed to allocate funds for the BOL in the 2019 budget. – With Alexis Romero, Delon Porcalla, Mary Grace Padin, John Unson, Ramil Bajo

BANGSAMORO ORGANIC LAW SUPREME COURT
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