TWELVE of the 14 members of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes chaired by Senator Miriam Defensor Santago support the panel’s findings that the Palace-drafted Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is unconstitutional and should be substantially revised to withstand legal scrutiny before the Supreme Court.
The two members who have yet to sign Santiago’s committee report are Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Juan Ponce Enrile.
Trillanes is out of the country and has had no chance to review the report.
Enrile, who is detained on corruption charges, did not sign the report because he has not studied the matter, a member of his Senate staff said.
“By affixing their signatures in the committee report, senators are agreeing with the conclusion that the present BBL draft is essentially unconstitutional. I expect that more of my colleagues will adopt the same view on the Senate floor,” Santiago said.
Aside from Santiago, senators who signed the report were committee vice chair Aquilino Pimentel III, acting Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, and committee members Juan Edgardo Angara, Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto Guingona III, Gringo Honasan, Lito Lapid, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Cynthia Villar, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.
The report has been transmitted to Marcos, chairman of the committee on local governments, which has been tasked o study the BBL.
Santiagno’s report is one of three committee reports that will form the Senate’s position on the BBL. The two others will come from the committee on local government chaired by Marcos, and the committee on peace, unification and reconciliation headed by Guingona.
Santiago said in her committee report that the BBL, in its present state, raises many insidious doubts on constitutionality. She cited the need for Congress to address numerous “constitutional infirmities.”
She warned that if approved in its present form the draft BBL will be challenged in the Supreme Court over doubts about its constitutionality, particularly on issues of sovereignty, autonomy, the creation of a sub-state, and territorial integrity.
“The Bangsamoro Basic Law has much merit, but its promulgation requires constitutional amendment or revision; mere legislation will not suffice, and will spark Supreme Court litigation,” said the report.
Marcos admitted that it was inevitable that any version of BBL Congress will be challenged before the Supreme Court.
This is why his panel is doing its best to ensure that the BBL version they recommend will withstand any constitutional challenge, Marcos added.
Due to this, his panel is doing its best to ensure the BBL version they will recommend will stand any constitutional challenge.
“What we are doing and it’s not an easy process. So, why are we being rushed? There is no deadline in the law, there is no deadline in the Framework Agreement, there was no deadline anywhere but suddenly there was this June 11deadline,” Marcos said.
He noted that BBL is important and complicated as it involves the lives of the people of Muslim Mindanao and the threat of war hanging over them so it is the duty of lawmakers to ensure they would pass the best version possible.
Santiago’s committee conducted two public hearings before coming out with its report.
The resource persons included presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos Deles, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders.
Santiago, considered the foremost constitutional expert in the Senate, also sought the opinion of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban; former Justices Florentino Feliciano and Vicente Mendoza; former UP Law Dean Merlin Magallona; and other experts.
The Santiago committee findings will either be consolidated with the reports of the committee on local government and the committee on peace, unification, and reconciliation, or adopted as an individual report. Either way, it is expected to form the basis of plenary debates.
The Palace hopes to pass the measure before Congress adjourns sine die on June 10. At the House of Representatives, a BBL draft perceived to be the Malacañang version has hurdled the ad hoc committee and committee on ways and means.
But Santiago said the Senate is not as keen to rush approval of the BBL.
Marcos has scheduled another hearing on June 3 in which local government officials within the proposed Bangsamoro territory will be invited.
After committee deliberations, the bill will enter a potentially gruelling period of amendments, before being subjected to a plenary vote.
“Newspapers have predicted that the report of my committee will slow down Senate proceedings on the BBL draft. If so, then the report would have served its purpose. We need to consider the BBL with caution, not with haste,” Santiago said.
Guingona called for revisions in the BBL that will ensure the consistency of its provisions with the Constitution and the protection of minority communities living in the areas covered by the planned autonomous region.
He wanted to amend part of the preamble of the draft BBL which currently refers to the aspiration of “the Bangsamoro People.”
He said this should instead read “the inhabitants of the Bangsamoro,”a phrase which ensures inclusiveness and the “clear and unequivocal protection of the rights of non-Muslim Filipinos” in that region.
“There are communities of indigenous and non-Muslim peoples in the areas proposed under the Bangsamoro,” he said.
“The BBL in its final form must ensure that they are treated equally and that their right to life, liberty and property are respected even if they are a minority,” he added.
Guingona said this is also the reason he is proposing the deletion of the third paragraph of the preamble of the draft BBL which proclaimed the concept of “self-determination.”
He said the Constitution guarantees territorial autonomy, not ethnic autonomy.
“Besides, the right of self-determination is already recognized under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act which applies to all people who live in the planned autonomous region whether or not they are Muslims,” he said.
He is also suggesting the use of the words “within the framework of the Constitution” in the preamble of the draft BBL. The phrase replaces the words “in consonance with the Constitution” in the current draft.
“This emphasizes that the BBL is clearly intended to be consistent with the Constitution of the republic,” said Guingona.
He had earlier warned that an unconstitutional BBL can delay the plebiscite and may result in more instability in the region.
“We cannot allow the further erosion of the people’s trust in the peace process by letting the BBL fail the challenges and test of constitutionality. The Constitution remains the foundation of the peace process and the aspiration for an autonomous Bangsamoro,” he said.
In an intervew over radio dzRH, Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Senate’s version of the BBL would not contravene the Constitution.
Drilon said they would try to hit the Palace target of approval by June 11, but said he could not guarantee it.
In the House, where the BBL has been rapidly pushed through the legislative mill, plenary discussions and debates were postponed.
Majority Floor Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II and Deputy Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal said the House does not yet have the committee report on the measure.
“It could be that the sponsors haven’t filed it yet. This afternoon (Wednesday) is still an option, but Monday seems more realistic,” Banal said.
Aside from the 75-member ad hoc panel to study the BBL, the committees on ways and means and appropriations approved the bill.
The leftist Makabayan bloc, however, said the postponement was a sign that the majority was having a difficult time mustering a quorum to vote on the BBL.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said it would be understandable that the majority bloc would want the discussion on the measure deferred to give lawmakers enough time to study it.
But the worst thing that they would do it to railroad it again once it is up for debates in the plenary, he added.
“It is only but proper for Congress to subject this measure to a thorough scrutiny. But they should not ram it through merely to beat the SONA deadline,” Colmenares said in reference to criticisms that the Palace allies are railroading the passage of the BBL so as to have it ready before the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno Aquino III in July.
The House aims to approve the bill on third and final reading on or before June 11.
But Colmenares said there was no reason to rush the BBL’s passage.
“Unlike the House, the Senate is taking its sweet time to go through the measure without being pressured for its passage,” Colmenares said.
ACT Teachers party-list Antonio Tinio and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the postponement of the BBL discussion in the plenary was a sign that the majority does not have a quorum.
Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, on the other hand, said some of her colleagues from the Mindanao bloc were asked not to attend during the voting on the BBL as a way of reducing opposition to the Palace-drafted bill.
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