Miriam and Miriam meet on Bangsamoro peace pact after Lent

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 April) —  Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Senator Miriam Santiago will meet to discuss the Bangsamoro peace pact “after Lent,” Ferrer told a gathering of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal  Commission on Interreligious Dialogue (CBCP-ECID) and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines. 

“We’re now friends. We were able to get over that hump,” Ferrer told an audience of about 70, including eight bishops and archbishops, officials of Catholic universities and representatives of seminaries and peace centers gathered for the CBCP-ECID’s “Conversations on Peacebuilding in Mindanao” on Wednesda.

Ferrer was responding to Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz, now Archbishop-elect of Zamboanga, who stood up in the open forum to express that he was “bothered by this (news on) Miriam versus Miriam.”

On April 2, six days after the March 27 signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in Malacanang,  Santiago, Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, declared that  “after my preliminary studies, I have concluded that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is unconstitutional.”

Santiago made the announcement before delivering her commencement speech at the Gordon College in Olongapo City.

Hours after Santiago made that declaration, GPH peace panel chair Ferrer issued a four-paragraph statement describing Santiago as a “brilliant professor and an expert in Constitutional Law,” adding she appreciates her “insights and opinions” on the CAB but assured her “and the public that through every stage of the negotiations, we remained ever mindful of the President’s instructions that any agreement we must conclude must be within the framework of the 1987 Constitution, and accordingly, the roadmap set by the CAB leads to Congress as the established lawmaking institution.”

“We will be seeking a meeting with the Honorable Senator and other legislators to extensively discuss the different provisions in the CAB and to allow for a deeper understanding of the context and substance of the documents,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said they are waiting for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to finish drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law which the President will certify as urgent when submitted to Congress.

“The Bangsamoro Basic Law, as enacted by Congress, shall serve as the organic act for the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao provided for in the 1987 Constitution,” Ferrer said.

“Not to scuttle the FAB”

On April 4, Santiago wrote a letter to Ferrer thanking her for her “courtesy and civility in dealing with media questions over the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” adding that a meeting between them “would be productive for the public interest.”

“I take this matter seriously and I shall work on a brief legal memorandum for you, fleshing out my press statements,” Santiago said.

The Senator also stressed that her interest was “not to scuttle the FAB, but to ensure that it will be able to stand scrutiny in the Supreme Court.”

“In a modest way, I am also engaged in forward thinking about the eventual consequences of the FAB,” she said.

Santiago ended her letter by saying she will be in touch with Ferrer “sometime next week, to send you my brief legal memo.”

In her speech in Olongapo and in her letter to Ferrer, Santiago specified the FAB as “unconstitutional.”

The FAB was signed on October 15, 2012 and its four annexes were signed between February 2013 and January 2014.  The CAB is a five-page document that “consolidates and affirms the understanding and commitments” between the GPH and MILF.

The CAB appends 12 agreements, including the FAB and its annexes.  Available online from the websites of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Official Gazette, the CAB signed in Malacanang on March 27, 2014 consists of 80 pages, including cover pages, of the CAB and the 12 agreements.

In her Olongapo  speech, Santiago said the FAB “apparently contains provisions very similar to those contained in the (GPH-MILF’s) Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional.”

“Both the MOA-AD and the Bangsamoro Agreement appear to facilitate the secession of the Bangsamoro from our country, in a manner similar to the secession of Kosovo and Crimea,” she said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the already initialed MOA-AD in 2008 acknowledged that that the MOA-AD is  “a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001.”

“Hence, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original,” the Supreme Court ruled.

Santiago, a former judge and law professor at the University of the Philippines said she could be removed as chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments but stressed that “while I am chair, it will be extremely difficult to convince me, as a student of constitutional law, that the Bangsamoro Agreement respects the Philippine Constitution. On the contrary: The Agreement violates the principle of constitutional supremacy.”

In implementing the FAB, President Aquino issued EO 120 creating the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that would draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law on December 17, 2012.

The EO  provides the following tasks of the Commission, in accordance with the FAB: “draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law with provisions consistent with the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro; whenever necessary, to recommend to Congress or the people, proposed amendments  to the 1987 Philippine Constitution…”

The Senate and House of Representatives issued resolutions in support of the EO. Senate Resolution 922 expressed “support to the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its Implementation, Including the Creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission through Executive Order (120).”

Records posted on the Senate website show that Resolution 922 was introduced by Senator Teofisto Guingona III with all senators present as co-authors, including Santiago.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte attended the signing rites of the CAB on March 27.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)