Renegotiate BBL—Santiago

SENATOR Miriam Defensor Santiago urged the government Thursday to scrap the Bangsamoro Basic Law and restart negotiations for peace in Mindanao, saying President Benigno Aquino III had no authority to enter into such talks without the concurrence of the Senate.

In a media briefing, Santiago said the President simply assumed he had the authority to negotiate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) with Malaysia as a go-between.

“That is not so. The President does not have the sole power over the foreign policy,” Santiago said, noting that in the Constitution, the power is shared between the President and the Senate.

“Now, where is the Senate authorization for the President to conduct these negotiations, sometimes called the peace process? He does not have an instrument of such nature. He just assumed he has that power,  but he does not,” Santiago said.

“If the Constitution requires that the President cannot move in foreign relations unless he has the concurrence of the Senate, how much more does the spirit of the Constitution require that there should be Senate concurrence when the President authorizes a so-called peace process through a peace panel? That is the very first question that tends to be overlooked,” she said.

She also questioned where the MILF got the authority to represent Muslims in the country, when there are other groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

“Which one shall be validly allowed to claim that it represents the Bangsamoro or the entire Islamic peoples within the Philippine territory?” Santiago said.

Santiago warned that a struggle would ensue among those claiming to be Moro leaders once the BBL is enacted into law.

She also said debates on the BBL in Congress were irrelevant because the law will end up in the Supreme Court, which she said would declare it unconstitutional.

The BBL, she said, creates a substate, which divides sovereignty and reserves some powers only for the Bangsamoro.

“If their powers are exclusive, that means that they exclude the powers even of our own state,” she said.

Santiago said that when senators begin debating the BBL, she would produce a list of all its unconstitutional provisions.

These, she added, were the result of government negotiators who believed they could negotiate away certain parts of the Constitution.

“We have to stop talking of negotiating the Constitution. That is heresy! The Constitution is supreme. It is a violation of principle of constitutional supremacy to say that we should negotiate the Constitution. What are we supposed to negotiate about the Constitution? The Constitution is non-negotiable, period,” he said.

The Palace rejected Santiago’s view, saying the BBL has undergone at least 37 consultations among experts and stakeholders.

“If you will refer to the speech of President Aquino on EDSA Day, it was clear in his statement that he would like the peace process to move forward and the most significant step would be to go on with the process of enacting the draft BBL,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma.

He also disputed Santiago’s characterization of the draft law as unconstitutional, noting that 14 members of the Constitutional Commission who drafted the 1987 Charter supported the BBL.

The 14 framers of the Constitution, he said, stated that the BBL adhered to the supreme law of the land in two aspects, human development and social justice.

“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. Social justice that calls for genuine social change is the central theme of the 1987 Constitution,” Coloma said, quoting the 14 members of the Constitutional Commission.

On Tuesday, Coloma said that the Palace is open to amending the BBL, noting that this was part of the legislative process.

At the same time, however, he appealed to the lawmakers to read the whole draft law and not to dilute the final version.

A Muslim leader on Thursday said claims that the BBL would create a separate Commission on Elections and Commission on Audit in the Bangsamoro region was part of a disinformation campaign.

Former Ambassador Macabangkit Lanto said these agencies would act much like the regional offices of the Comelec and the COA, exercising powers derived from them along the principles of autonomy and devolution of powers.

He also said the BBL is explicit in stating that the region’s police force will be part of the Philippine National Police, and that the Bangsamoro Police Board will be part of the National Police Commission.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Thursday he would not be stampeded into rushing public hearings on the BBL, regardless of the Palace’s June target.

Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local government, said his actions would be based on his intention to craft a good law, and not be driven by a deadline set by other people.

Marcos added that the BBL is not a magic pill to stop the war in Mindanao, but an important element.

“I will try to meet the deadline, but I will not sacrifice the necessity of getting it right,” he said.

He noted that during a hearing conducted by the Senate committee on constitutional amendments chaired by Santiago, many legal experts said they believed several provisions of the BBL were unconstitutional.

Marcos suspended public hearings on the BBL after the Jan. 25 Mamasapano clash in which 44 police commandos were killed by fighters belonging to the MILF and BIFF.

Marcos said he would wait for the results of several inquiries into the Mamasapano incident, including the Senate’s own probe, before resuming the hearings.

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