House, peace panel squabble

SPEAKER Feliciano Belmonte Jr. took strong exception Friday to remarks by government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, who told a public forum she would rather have no Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) than have Congress pass a watered down version with some provisions removed.

“No BBL is better than a mangled BBL, because that is repeating history, and it is stupid to repeat history. That’s not the kind of difference that we wanted to make here,” Ferrer said at a forum in Makati City Thursday.

Belmonte, however, insisted that the House of Representatives will not be a party to a constitutionally flawed BBL being pushed by the government peace panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Our obligation is to the Constitution. As long as we have a Constitution we have to abide by it,” Belmonte said.

He said congressmen were carefully considering the BBL and were also studying similar situations in other countries where autonomous regions were created.

“They are not dummies who can be led around,” Belmonte said of his colleagues in the House.

Later Friday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles issued a statement saying the Executive branch fully respects Congress’ powers on deciding the final version  of the proposed BBL.

Belmonte said the proposed peace agreement submitted by the Palace to Congress cannot be passed as it is due to some provisions that were deemed unconstitutional.

“We want to accommodate [them] but not at the cost of violating our Constitution,” Belmonte said.

Belmonte also played down the pronouncement by Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF negotiator, that Congress should not set conditions for the passage of the BBL.

Earlier, the chairman of the 75-man ad hoc committee on the BBL, said Congress would not vote on the law until the MILF had surrendered its fighters who were involved in the killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25, returned weapons and personal effects of the slain policemen, and surrendered Abdul Basit Usman, a wanted Filipino bomber who has taken refuge in MILF-controlled areas.

Congressen said problematic provisions of the BBL include those on national defense and security, the police force, foreign relations, revenue sharing, the justice system and the legislature.

Rodriguez said his panel would remove provisions that it deemed unconstitutional.

He said these included the creation of the Bangsamoro’s own internal audit body similar to the Commission on Audit; disciplining public officials, which is the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman, the establishment of another civil service, and human rights body, and the creation of a Bangsamoro police force.

Belmonte said the BBL would certainly face rough sailing.

He also said a June target date for the passage of the law did not mean it would be rammed through Congress.

“We have to put a target.  We cannot have a floating target.  That’s the most generous target we can think of this moment,” Belmonte said.

He said any attempt to pass an unconstitutional law on the Bangsamoro would reignite public ourage over the Mamasapano massacre.

“It looked like a good working target.  But nobody can guarantee anything because people’s emotion over the SAF 44 has not settled down,” Belmonte said.

In her statement, Deles also denied that the Palace was trying to railroad the BBL’s passage.

“As I have always been saying, the fate of the passage of the proposed BBL is in the hands of our lawmakers. The proposed Bangsamoro law was submitted to them in recognition of their legislative power. They have the power to improve and strengthen the BBL in accordance with the Constitution that provides for the grant of meaningful autonomy to Muslim Mindanao,” Deles said.

In the Senate, the BBL also faced rough sailing over provisions that some senators felt violated the Constitution.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said it is mind boggling that MILF members who took part in the Mamasapano massacre could later become policemen themselves.

Marcos, chairman of the Senate local government committee, said this is a possibility under Article 10 of the BBL, which provides for two police forces, one regional force to protect the Bangsamoro territory, and the Philippine National Police.

Marcos added that it was strange that the chief of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority, who has the power to choose the head of the Bangsamoro police force, is also the MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who said the SAF was to blame for the Mamasapano massacre.

“Where will Iqbal get his police force? Obviously, he will do so from the ranks of the MILF. Members of this rebel group will now be policemen under the Bangsamoro police. And being members of the PNP, these former MILF fighters will be trained, possibly even by the SAF,” Marcos said.

Another constitutionally flawed  provision, Marcos said, is Article 11, Section 15 which deals with the Bangsamoro Command. The provision mandates that the command will defend only the  Bangsamoro since its members are not required to take an oath or affirmation to uphold and defend the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.

He also said Articles 16, section 5 and 11 of Section 17 of the BBL contains coordination protocols with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which are actually restrictions on the movement and deployment of military personnel.

Senator Grace Poe also considered this to be constitutionally infirm.

“If our AFP will go to their territory, they need prior coordination. It would seem that we have a different country here that you still need to talk [to them],” she said.

Senator Francis Escudero said the provision in the draft law that declares as final and executory the decision of the Shari’a High Court as unconstitutional.

“This is totally in violation of the Constitution which provides that the country’s Supreme Court has the final say and has the sole right to review all cases,” Escdero said.

Escudero also scored a provision that says that the Judicial Bar Council created under the BBL has the authority to discipline a Shari’a judge.

“The rule of judicial procedure solely lies within the power of Supreme Court, as provided by the Constitution. Not even Congress can pass a law to interfere with the Constitution,” he said.

Senators have also questioned the creation of a Bangsamoro commission on audit and the automatic appropriation of the Bangsamoro’s yearly budget, which would come to about P75 billion in the first year, without passing congressional scrutiny.

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