CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 25 May) – Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman has asked the Senate to follow the example of the House of Representatives and act soonest on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“We urge our lawmakers in the Senate to take their cue from the Lower House, and take the BBL into the homestretch,” Hataman said in a statement.
Last week, the House ad hoc committee on the BBL approved a substitute version to House Bill No. 4994 which contained the original draft of the measure.
The Senate and House leaderships have earlier committed to have the measure passed soonest to give ample time to prepare for a plebiscite in affected localities in Mindanao.
The measure, as amended at the committee level, is now dubbed the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. It is set for transmittal to the House plenary with Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez expressing confidence they will be able to muster a House version by June 11.
“This is a race of hope, a race for peace. When the finish line is crossed, we, not just the Bangsamoro but the entire country, will all be winners,” Hataman explained.
“The BBL – much debated, reviled by some, discussed heatedly even by those who have not even read it – is much closer to becoming the law by which we Moros will build the foundations of peace, security and progress,” he added.
When enacted and ratified by voters in affected localities, the Basic Law will lead to the abolition of the ARMM. When that happens, Hataman will become the last chief executive of the ARMM, an institution created in 1989.
“There may be more discussions, and debates, perhaps even more amendments. We welcome these, because it is through discussion and debate that the BBL can be more widely known and understood,” Hataman clarified.
“As the discussion is raised to the Upper House, we renew our hope that more of our leaders can realize how much we need the BBL,” he added.
Doubts are raised whether the Senate can live up to the same expectation of the House. Its lead panel considering the BBL, the committee on local government chaired by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, is still in the stage of conducting public hearings.
On May 18, when the House ad hoc committee was already voting on the measure, Marcos’ committee was conducting hearing among several factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Another is scheduled on May 25 for sultanates and indigenous peoples, and on June 3 for local government officials.
Marcos said that if these hearings are done, his panel could buckle down to the task of writing its report.
Marcos has said that if the entire country has waited for more than 40 years for peace to dawn in Mindanao, it is justified to wait for a few more months to have the BBL passed.
In a news release on May 20, Marcos said that the expected Senate amendments on the BBL will focus on “provisions on constitutional bodies, the so-called ‘opt-in provision,’ and the provision on Bangsamoro police.”
But Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago on May 21 raised more serious issues.
Santiago, in a news release, said that changing the name of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) “will not make it any less objectionable unless Congress also revamps the bill to address numerous constitutional infirmities.”
Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, was commenting on the House of Representatives’ approval of its amended version of the bill now called the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”
“The words ‘basic law’ are attached to the name. ‘Basic law,’ in legal construction, is a synonym for ‘constitutional law’ and ‘organic law,'” the senator said, citing her committee report on the BBL draft, pending as Senate Bill No. 2408.
“It goes without saying that two different constitutional instruments cannot have legal effect at the same time and in the same territory. The proposed BBL must be consistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Philippines,” she added.
The Santiago report is based on two public hearings on the draft BBL, where resource persons included former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban; Associate Justices Florentino Feliciano and Vicente Mendoza; and former UP law dean Merlin Magallona.
But Candido Aparece Jr., of the Mindanao Civil Society Organizations Platform for Peace (MCSOPP), noted that Santiago’s draft report “only considered the voices of personalities opposing the BBL.”
“Sen. Santiago should have considered the perspective of the Citizens Peace Council, especially former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and former Commission on Elections Chair Christian Monsod who said the BBL is generally compliant with the 1987 Constitution,” said Aparece.
Both Davide and Monsod are framers of the 1987 Constitution.
Davide is a member of the Peace Council created by President Aquino to do an independent study of the BBL while Monsod belongs to the civil society formation Friends of Peace which is headed by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato.