COMMENT: BBL: Don’t Miss the Key

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/08 December) — The House Ad Hoc Committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL) will end by December 17 its consultations and hearings on the proposed BBL. These have been concentrated in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and in Western, Northern, Southeastern and Western Mindanao with supplemental forums in the Visayas and Northern Luzon.

Gauged from media reports, the establishment of Bangsamoro and the BBL has drawn wide support. However, on top of its endorsements and issues on constitutionality, the Draft BBL has been questioned from two positions: “What is for us?” and “What is against us?” For most individuals or groups, self-interest is top in the order of priorities. Rep. Rodolfo Biazon revealed that as of the last week of November the Committee had received 600 or more position papers.


It is certain that the Committee will amend the Draft to address constitutionality and matters concerning the “What is for us?” and “What is against us?” within and outside of Bangsamoro. They are sensitive issues — for instance, the anxieties of the Indigenous Peoples over their ancestral domain; the rights of Moro geographical areas contiguous to Bangsamoro to join Bangsamoro against the rights of their mother municipalities or provinces to keep them; and many more.

If the Congress can enact BBL acceptable to all – Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moros and non-Moros in Mindanao, and the rest of the Filipinos – it is certain that Bangsamoro will be established to bring peace and prosperity in Bangsamoro areas and to its people shared by the other regions in Mindanao and the entire country. This is foreseen not only by MILF and Government but by international communities.

The BBL is a formula of peace and progress. IF properly followed, peace and prosperity in the Bangsamoro shared by the rest of Mindanao and the entire country is certain. This is by the simple operation of the law of cause and effect. Is the certainty as simple as that? What in the big “IF” can thwart the simple operation ?


Many questions of constitutionality in many provisions of Draft BBL have been raised. Some believe that BBL even before it can be signed will be questioned in the Supreme Court on that ground besides others.

One of the latest to question constitutionality in Draft BBL and at the same time issuing what sounds like a warning was Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales (The Philippine Star, November 19, 2014: BBL can’t be above Constitution – Ombudsman) In a letter to AHCBBL Chair Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, she said: “The Bangsamoro Basic Law should not be allowed to rise above the Constitution as the fundamental law of the land.” She cited provisions she deemed unconstitutional.

[1] A provision apparently grants the Bangsamoro government the primary authority to discipline its officials and employees. This “diminishes” the Ombudsman’s constitutional power to investigate elective and appointive officials of the Bangsamoro government.

[2] A provision that would allow the Bangsamoro parliament to pass a law amending the three-year term for members of parliament and determine their salaries conflicts with the law fixing the terms and salary grade levels of officials in the central government which should also apply in the Bangsamoro government.

Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S.J., in his column, “Sounding Board” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 8, 2014: How may Congress handle the Bangsamoro  bill?) suggested tthatthe Congress use its constituent power- “the power to formulate constitutional amendments or proposals – to amend  provisions in Draft BBL as constitutional amendments.”

He said that “the Constitution does not prohibit Congress from making the plebiscite a constituent exercise at least with respect to the provisions challenged as unconstitutional. All that is needed is for Congress to specify and explain the scope of the plebiscite. This can result in new constitutional provisions.”

If the Congress does this, the BBL “can be beyond the reach of the review powers of the Supreme Court” since “the new law will contain constitutional amendments, it will affect not only a limited number of provinces but the entire nation.” However, there is a damper for MILF and the Moros. “This should require a nationwide plebiscite.” IF this happens, can President Aquino rally the nation to ratify the BBL?

The Ultimate Key

For the Congress to do as Father Bernas has suggested is a long shot. The ratification of the BBL will be in grave doubt.

What is expected and the real goal is for the Congress to revise provisions questioned as unconstitutional to conform to the 1987 Constitution within its flexibility and existing laws and be acceptable to MILF, Government and other concerned sectors. This is the BBL acceptable to all. Of course, the “all” is really “most” since the possibility of the “acceptable to all” BBL to be questioned in the Supreme Court cannot be ruled out.

Granting that the Congress will be on schedule according to its timetable in enacting the BBL acceptable to all, will Bangsamoro bring peace and prosperity that can be shared by non-Bangsamoro regions of Mindanao and the entire country?

As a cause, will BBL effect the establishment of the Bangsamoro that in turn will cause the ultimate effect that is peace and prosperity?

To use another analogy of man – different but related to that in our last COMMENT on BBL — that will depend on how normal, healthy and strong is the Bangsamoro at the outset, a condition at birth vital to the future of man. Man will be born normal, healthy and strong if during his transition in his mother’s womb he is well nourished and born full-term. The same is necessary for Bangsamoro during its transition.

Poorly nourished and/or born pre-mature, man may die in infancy or will encounter great difficulties in growing up. What is in prospect for Bangsamoro?

The House will pass the BBL by February 27, 2015. As the approved HB 4994 will be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence during the latter’s deliberations on SB 2408, on the best cast scenario, the BBL will be passed by the Congress and signed into law just in time for the sine die adjournment of the Second Regular Session of the 16th Congress in June 2015. The earliest the BBL can be ratified is the second half of September 2015.

By this timeline, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be constituted in October 2015 and will most probably start to function in November. Since the elections will start in January 2016, can the BTA properly transition the Bangsamoro? What Bangsamoro will await the ill-prepared elected regular Bangsamoro officials?

The ultimate key to preparing (1) Bangsamoro for its ministerial form of government and asymmetric relation with the Central Government; (2) its leaders to run this form of government; and, (3) the people to choose right the Bangsamoro leaders is the transition period. It has to run its full-term three years as pregnancy has to run the full-term nine months for the baby to be born normal, healthy and strong.

In our last BBL COMMENT we suggested that the Congress revise Draft BBL Article XVI on Bangsamoro Transition Authority to extend the Bangsamoro transition period to 2019. But this matter is not within “What is for us?” or “What is against us?”– if seen from the fact that in media reports on the AHCBBL hearings, no one has raised the issue. And, from another latest report from the Palace, the real target of Government is the election of the regular Bangsamoro officials in May 2016.

We are certain of this: MILF will not object if the Congress, on its own, extends the transition period to the full-term three years – to the May 2019 midterm election. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected].)