Framers of 1987 Constitution: Bangsamoro is “about people, not about constitutionality of words”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 January) — “Bangsamoro is about the development of people, not about the constitutionality of words,” surviving members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (ConCom) that drafted the 1987 Constitution, said in a statement.

The seven-page statement and two-page Executive Summary dated January 9 but released on January 12, was signed by 14 of 18 surviving members of the ConCom, who also expressed they “fully support the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” as its importance to the future of the country is “unprecedented both as an unfulfilled promise and as a model of equitable autonomy.”

“The core principle of the 1987 Constitution in mandating a special status for the autonomous regions is the human development of the people of Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. Hence, the public conversation should not be about semantics but about people – their needs, their aspirations, their choices – and about empowering them with the environment and institutional framework for social justice,” the framers, among them a former Supreme Court justice, an Associate Justice, two Commission on Election chairs and a commissioner, legal luminaries and a bishop, said.

“Reason tells us that a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region can close the centuries- old gap between law and justice and that we are on the cusp of a historic opportunity to make it happen,” the framers said as they noted that the central theme of the 1987 Constitution was “social justice that calls for genuine social change,” that this is broader in scope and intent than the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, and that “an interpretation of any relevant provision of the Constitution that results in war and abject poverty would be contrary to its intention,” they said.

The framers believe that a new organic law – in this case the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) — “is necessary to fulfill the vision and spirit that guided the constitutional provisions on autonomous regions since RA 6734 and RA 9054 (the Organic Acts creating and amending the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) have clearly not gone far enough to give life to the concept of autonomy for Muslim Mindanao as envisioned by the Constitution.”

“We were aware in 1986 that we were imperfect instruments of the sovereign will of our people But however imperfect our perceptions then or our fading memories today, recurring questions on the ‘constitutionality’ of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) lead us to offer our insights,” the statement said.

The statement comes barely a week before Congress, which is deliberating the BBL, resumes sessions. The House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law is about to complete its public hearings, expecting to finish the Committee report by February 11 for the plenary debates that would start on February 16.

Two Senate Committees under Senators Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, are still completing their hearings.

The issue on alleged unconstitutionality of some provisions in the BBL has been repeatedly cited during the public hearings and will be the subject of Senator Santiago’s hearings.

Real issue

But the framers of the 1987 Constitution said the Bangsamoro “is about the development of people, not about the constitutionality of words.”

The framers quoted a testimony of an old man from the Cordilleras, which they said is “instructive on the real issue that should be considered” as he said they asked for a teacher, a person to repair their road, a doctor but government sent none, and that government men came with a project to build a dam and sent in the Philippine Constabulary and ARMM … which “we did not ask for.”

“It is a simple statement but one that has far-reaching implications on public policy – the people of the Cordilleras and of Muslim Mindanao do not want war. They want human development and they want to be heard. And the government needs to listen. This is mandated by a new provision in the 1987 Constitution on the right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision- making,” the framers’ Executive Summary said.

The framers said the “larger context” of the CAB and BBL “is our failure to effectively address the longest running insurgency and the development of our peoples, especially those of Muslim Mindanao.”

It cited excerpts from a paper sent to the ConCom in 1986 that autonomy “is an expression of the Bangsa Moro’s conviction of its being a viable alternative to separation….The Bangsa Moro is historically and culturally a distinct and separate nation ….. and the political fusion with the Christian majority is workable only under a framework of political autonomy which shall allow the full flowering of the genius of Bangsa Moro in the context of his Islamic culture.”

The 1987 Constitution provides for the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was set up in March 1990 after four provinces voted for inclusion in the region in the November 1989 plebiscite. The autonomous region in Cordillera has yet to be set up because only one province voted for autonomy and the Supreme Court declared there cannot be an autonomous region consisting only of one province.

48 members, 18 surviving

Forty-eight persons were appointed in 1986 by the then newly-installed President, Corazon Aquino (mother of incumbent President Benigno Simeon Aquino III) to the 1986 ConCom.

Of the 48, only 18 are surviving members but only 14 managed to attend their “first formal meeting since the drafting of the 1987 Charter” with the remaining four “either bed-ridden or could not be reached.”

“This Statement on the Bangsamoro deals with the vision, spirit and the core principles behind the provisions on autonomous regions which to our mind constitute the essential constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law,” the statement read.

The signatories to the statement are Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo, Adolfo S. Azcuna,
 Teodoro C. Bacani, Joaquin G. Bernas, Florangel Rosario Braid, Hilario G. Davide Jr. , Edmundo G. Garcia, Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon, Christian S. Monsod, Ricardo J. Romulo, Rene V. Sarmiento,
 Jaime S.L. Tadeo, Wilfrido V. Villacorta, Bernardo M. Villegas.

The statement noted that four other surviving members of the ConCom who were unable to attend the meeting were Ponciano L. Bennagen, Teresa F. Nieva, Florenz D. Regalado, and Napoleon G. Rama.

Reflex reaction rather than reasoned response

The framers appealed the public to “set aside partisan politics and stop the urge to exhibit our ability to find nuances of legalism that can delay, or worse, derail the process, feeding on the cynicism and playing on the fears in the national psyche that are more reflex reaction than reasoned response.”

The framers said it has been 27 years (28 by February) since the Constitution was ratified by the Filipino people “but we are still living in the mass poverty, gross inequalities and cultural inequities of the past, and the promise of genuine social change has not unfolded.”

The framers said there is “no better way to demonstrate our commitment to peace and development than by giving the Bangsamoro people the opportunity to create a higher and better future for themselves than what they have. This calls for courageous statesmanship from our leaders and the generosity of spirit of a united nation.”

The framers also challenged the Bangsamoro people to “demonstrate the same commitment by treating other indigenous peoples and uniting all Muslim communities with magnanimity and statesmanship.”

“In this manner, Bangsamoro can be a model for us to do the same for the rest of the country and thereby build together a more just and peaceful nation,” the framers said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)