Mind da News BBL Draft: Well Refined

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, October 1, 2014 – At the opening of the committee hearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill at the Lower House last September 24 (Luwaran, September 29: Heated exchange on Bangsamoro law debates), Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat moved – and he was sustained by the committee – that the “earlier drafts of the BBL” be submitted to the Congress.

It is not clear from the Luwaran report what for Lobregat has asked for the original and revised copies of the BBL drafts. Luwaran quoted him as saying, “I would also like to say we are for peace. Just, long and lasting peace. We are not anti-peace. We want BBL to be fair, just, acceptable, feasible, and consistent with the Constitution and existing laws.”

Luwaran further quoted him as clarifying his position, “If ever and whenever we raise certain issues or concerns, or question certain provisions, we want to clarify any and all ambiguities as these will affect not only areas under Bangsamoro but entire Mindanao and Philippines as well.”

While Lobregat is known not only as a critic but, foremost, as an opponent of the peace negotiation between Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front – as his late mother, Rep. Maria Clara Lobregat, had been against Government and Moro National Liberation Front peace agreement – he sounds reasonable. He avows his positive intentions.

The Philippine Star also said that Lobregat declared his intention “to propose changes in the BBL that he believes would go against the Constitution and existing laws” – feeling “that the House and the Senate might introduce changes in the proposed law”.

Forget that Lobregat is known for his opposition to the GHP-MILF Agreement that will dismember Zamboanga City – giving the impression he is “anti-Moro” and “anti-peace”. Grant that he is a constructive opposition. Then believe that his manifestations are in the minds of many members of the Congress.

The BBL draft now in the Congress – that in the House referred to as House Bill 4994 – is well refined. On first scanning the 99 pages, we believe the negotiating GPH and MILF panels, the BTC, the OP and the OPAPP (hereafter referred to as “drafters”) did their homework very well. Yet, no matter how refined the language is, how inclusive it appears, and how constitutional it may be the BBL when further scrutinized will show room for improvement.

We believe that the drafters have drafted a BBL bill that is easy to deliberate upon. We hope that the members of the Congress will weigh any question on constitutionality against the flexibility of the 1987 Constitution and laws. The language of the bill should as much as possible be preserved. That will help expedite the passage of the BBL.

The drafters have evidently studied the 1987 Constitution well. There are constitutionally sensitive provisions – those that are constitutional but which are challengeable from the viewpoints of validity and technicality.

One example is the provision of the BBL on core territory (Art. III, Section 2), Sections 2a and 2b are provided in Paragraph 2 of Art. X, Sec. 18 of the 1987 Constitution. The validity of Section 2b of the BBL may be challenged since they were not annexed to the ARMM in 2001 right after the plebiscite ratifying RA 9054. The drafters must show that Sections 2c and 2d are within the flexibility of the Constitution.

We suggest the Congress should scrutinize Section 12 of Article XVI on “Regular Elections – The election of the first regular for the Bangsamoro Government …” in close consultation with the drafters. The election, synchronized with May 1916 election, is the limit of the transition period which will most probably be shorter than one year. The task imposed on the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (Section 4), even if finished within the short period, may be impossible to implement properly.

The drafters have refined the BBL draft or HB 4994 to make it easy to be deliberated upon. The House is expected to scrutinize it, make the necessary amendments, pass it and transmit it to the Senate with enough time for the latter to reconcile it with its own version and for the 16th Congress to pass the BBL well within its Third Session.

The 16th Congress should not let history repeat. The Working Groups of the GRP-MNLF Peace Negotiation had made the 1996 Final Peace Agreement easy for the Third Session of the 10th Congress to use for amending RA 6734 but the amendatory Act, RA 9054, was not passed until the later part of the Third Session of the 11th Congress.

(Author’s Note: Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is a comment on current news. The author may be contacted at [email protected].)