Bangsamoro Basic Law OK before Duterte’s next SONA
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 9, 2018 - 12:00am

Sen. Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, whose family originally hailed from Negros and migrated to Bukidnon, counts himself and the rest of their clan as Mindanaoans by heart. Taking up the cudgels of fellow Mindanaoans in pursuit of enduring peace and development in Southern Philippines, Zubiri spearheads the drafting of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would pass the test of constitutionality once they in the 17th Congress pass this into law.

Zubiri chairs the Senate sub-committee on local government that is now shepherding the passage into law of the BBL under Senate Bill (SB) 1646. This is a substituted bill based from the inputs of the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) created by President Rodrigo Duterte last year to precisely come up with a new BBL. The Chief Executive tasked the BTC to come up with a new BBL version that would be more legally acceptable not only to Congress but also to the Supreme Court in being more compliant with the country’s 1987 Constitution.

Sen. Zubiri discussed with us at length the controversial arguments for and against the BBL during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay held every Wednesday at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate. A day after attending our weekly Kapihan news forum, Zubiri and members of the Senate sub-committee on local governments flew to Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi – or BaSulTa for short – to resume their public hearings on the BBL. The BaSulTa along with Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur comprised the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

As one of the original authors of the BBL, Zubiri withdrew his own proposed BBL that was crafted by the previous Congress and contained many of the contentious provisions, if not unconstitutional at worst. According to him, the Duterte-created BTC addressed and remedied these constitutional and legal infirmities in the new version of the BBL under SB 1646. 

Also at the same time, Zubiri added, the BTC tried its best to meet the aspirations of our Muslim brothers and sisters for a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR). After all, he pointed out, the BTC is comprised not only of the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) but also of multi-sectoral representatives of the Christian communities and indigenous peoples (IPs) in Mindanao.

The BAR would be the new body created by the BBL to replace the existing ARMM. This is because the BBL will repeal Republic Act (RA) 6734 that created the ARMM and RA 9054 that expanded the ARMM.

At the outset, Zubiri clarified, the BBL does not contain any provisions that could be misconstrued as creating a Bangsamoro “sub-state” that led to the rejection of the previous BBL version of the past administration. This is clearly stated, Zubiri stressed, in the “Preamble” or the declaratory statement in the BBL.

“SB 1646 presents a very novel solution to the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people to finally live in peace with the Christians, lumads, and other indigenous people,” Zubiri cited.

The BAR will be headed by a Chief Minister (Governor) who will be elected from among the 80-member legislature called as the Bangsamoro Parliament. Under this federal set-up, Zubiri said, a “vote of no confidence” can remove the Chief Minister and a new election takes place.

A “waleeh” will become a ceremonial head of the BAR that would come from the ranks of Maranaos, Tausugs, Badjaos, and other ethnic Muslim groups. Among other duties, the “waleeh” will serve as unifying leader to settle disputes and differences. Each ethnic Muslim group will be given a chance to name their own “waleeh” to serve for a term limit in round-robin basis. This is to discourage emergence of a new political dynasty clan, he quipped.

Speaking of political dynasties, Zubiri admitted it would be difficult to impose this prohibition among the Moros. This is because their religion and culture allow Muslim men to marry up to four women for as long as he could support each family. Personally, Zubiri swore he would vote in favor of a law to ban political dynasties even as he belongs to one. Three other Zubiri family members are currently local elected officials in their home province.

Politics-wise, Zubiri also swears he has no agenda to push BBL because his six-year term ends in 2022 yet.

One of the best features of the BBL, Zubiri told us, is the provision of at least P72 billion “blocked budget” for the new BAR. This provision of “blocked” account will ensure development funds are available and released on time as required in the annual budget of the BAR, he pointed out.

It will be sourced from the share of the Bangsamoro in the internal revenue allotment from the national government.

Safeguard provisions like pre-audit and post-audit of funds were included in the BBL, he assured, to ensure such automatic appropriation of these public funds will not be lost to corruption and poor governance.

As far as the Senate is concerned, Zubiri said, they prefer the speedy approval of the BBL ahead of the much controversial shift to federal system of government being pushed by proponents of Charter change (Cha-cha) at the 17th Congress.

Zubiri reiterated the Senate targets to approve the BBL not later than March before the 17th Congress starts their one-month recess. As one of the priority bills under their common legislative agenda, he cited, the Senate expects President Duterte to certify this as urgent administration bill that they can pass on second and third reading all in one day.

Zubiri welcomed the commitments of the Senators who crossed party lines to support the speedy passage into law of the BBL. Zubiri appeals to their House counterparts to do the same and prioritize BBL instead of pursuing federalism as a whole through Cha-cha.

Zubiri believes the approval of BBL could help boost public acceptance of the proposed shift to federal system of government in our country.

Hopefully, Zubiri sees the approval of the BBL by the time President Duterte delivers his next state of the nation address (SONA) this July.

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