A month later, draft B’moro Basic Law still under review by PNoy’s office

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 May) — One month.

The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to the Office of the President (OP) on April 21 has not been sent to Congress as it is still being reviewed by the OP as of May 23.

Mohager Iqbal, BTC chair and concurrent peace panel chair of the Moro Islamie Liberation Front (MILF) told MindaNews Friday that the draft is still with the OP.

Congress resumed session on May 5, will go on sine die adjournment on June 13, and will return to work on July 28, with President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivering his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

In his SONA last year, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III urged Congress to pass the BBL before 2014 ends to give enough time for the transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro.

The ARMM will be deemed abolished once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified, and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority takes over in a ministerial form of governance.

Iqbal told MindaNews on May 3 that the 97-page 18-Article draft Basic Law (excluding attachments) was still being reviewed by the OP and that they would “engage” his office until President Aquino certifies the draft as urgent and sends it to Congress.
He said the draft BBL, copies of which have yet to be distributed to the public, will definitely not be submitted to Congress by May 5 but most likely “middle of May” or even beyond, as the OP was still reviewing it.

He said the decision to release copies of the draft should come from the OP and the BTC.

The 15-member BTC submitted a partial draft – containing only the provisions on Basic Rights – on April 14, and the complete draft on April 21.

Simultaneous rallies in Cotabato City, Pikit, Basilan, Jolo, Balo-i in Lanao del Norte, General Santos and Davao cities — organized by the Mindanao Alliance for Peace (MAP) — were held on May 4, a day before Congress resumed sessions — pushing Congress to pass the Basic Law immediately.

Rally organizers apparently anticipated that the draft Law had been transmitted by the OP to Congress with the President’s “urgent” certification.

The government and MILF peace panels signed on October 15, 2012 the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) where both parties agreed that the status quo was unacceptable and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro” to replace the now 24-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Four annexes to the FAB — power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization and transitional arrangements and modalities — were signed between July 2013 and January 2014, paving the way for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27 this year.

Constitutional basis, Constitutional objective

Early this week, Anna Tarhata Basman, chief of the legal team of the government peace panel reiterated in a press release issued by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) that while they welcome criticisms against the CAB, “the CAB is legal” and they are “open to engaging and informing everyone on the different provisions on the CAB.”

She said the basis for agreeing to a ministerial form of government for the future Bangsamoro is Article X of the Philippine Constitution. “The general guideline it provided for the structure of government of an autonomous region is that the executive and legislative branch of the autonomous government must be elective and representative of the constituent political units.”

On the devolution of powers to the Bangsamoro, Basman said that “Section 20 of Article X is the constitutional basis for the listing of devolved powers.”

She also noted that the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law has yet to pass through legislation by Congress. “It is therefore up to Congress to determine the extent of the legislative powers to be granted to the Bangsamoro legislative body and the relationship of this power vis-à-vis existing and future national legislations,” Basman was quoted as saying,.

The Constitution “provides the justification for the asymmetry and reserved a separate set of provisions for two particular areas in the country – Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras,” she explained.

“This progressive and enlightened section recognizes the uniqueness of the peoples belonging to these areas and provides for their rightful exercise of self-governance. The Bangsamoro Basic Law as the enabling law for the establishment of the Bangsamoro precisely aims to operationalize this constitutional objective,” she said.

Exchange of notes

On April 2, six days after the March 27 signing of the CAB, Senator Miriam Santiago, chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said that after her preliminary studies, 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.

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.

Ferrer told MindaNews on May 23 that there was no longer a need for a meeting with Santiago since they already had an “exchange of notes.”

President Aquino in his SONA on July 22 last year urged Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014. He appealed to them again during the signing of the CAB on March 27 in Malacanang. Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte were among those present during the signing. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)