Charter change next peace step—Santiago
Proposal of lawmakers not necessary, says PalaceBy Cathy C. Yamsuan, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Constitution must be amended to make a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) work, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Monday.
Other lawmakers, including the Speaker of the House, also said there may be a need for Charter change (Cha-cha) to implement the peace agreement.
But chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen said the creation of Bangsamoro would not entail amendments to the Constitution.
President Benigno Aquino on Sunday announced the framework agreement that would lead to the creation of an autonomous Moro homeland.
The Moro homeland, Bangsamoro, will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It will have a “ministerial” form of government.
Santiago, chairperson of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, said those objectives of the agreement would require the amendment of the constitutional provision on the presidential form of government and a change that would allow the federal system if the government were to treat Bangsamoro as a substate.
“It appears to me as explicitly mentioned, this agreement depends upon the amendment of our Constitution… One is that in the Bangsamoro area or region, there will be not a presidential form of government but a parliamentary form that will require an amendment,” Santiago said.
“The second amendment that seems to be necessitated by this framework agreement is the creation of a federalized system with respect only to the Bangsamoro area because it is treated as a so-called substate, as in a federal state,” she said.
Speaking at a briefing for reporters in Malacañang Monday, Leonen explained the ramifications of the agreement’s provisions for a transition from the ARMM to Bangsamoro by 2016.
“Insofar as the major political commitments are made by this administration in that framework agreement, we see no necessity for now to amend the Constitution,” Leonen said.
“We think that the commitments made there by the government are indeed within the parameters of the Constitution, or within the flexibilities of the existing Constitution,” he added.
In the agreement, part of the powers of the 15-member Transition Commission will be “to work on proposals to amend the Philippine Constitution for the purpose of accommodating and entrenching in the Constitution the agreements of the parties whenever necessary without derogating from any prior peace agreement.”
“But there is no commitment there that such a proposal is going to be acted upon by Congress,” Leonen said, adding that it was the MILF that asked for the inclusion of the provision.
It’s up to Congress
Every citizen or any group of citizens could lobby Congress to amend the Constitution, he said.
“The MILF has requested, and so we said, ‘Why not?’ The Transition Commission may tackle that, may discuss that, may even propose it, but it is up to Congress to amend the Constitution,” he added.
Reminded by the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the agreement mentioned a “ministerial form of government,” indicating a need to amend the Constitution, Leonen said: “No, it does not. If you read Article 10, which contains the provisions on autonomy—the provisions of autonomy are found in Sections 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21—there is nothing there which says that a ministerial form of government in an autonomous area is prohibited.”
In fact, Leonen said the discussion in the Constitutional Commission “points to the idea that there should be accommodated certain kinds of forms of government within the area within a national structure. And therefore I beg to disagree.”
There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents Bangsamoro from having a ministerial form of government, Leonen said.
The Inquirer asked Leonen on what the negotiating panels meant by ministerial form of government.
He explained that ministerial means political parties will try to capture the most seats allocated to various geographical areas or representing certain sectors.
Then the winning political parties will elect the chief minister—the head of the autonomous government—among themselves.
Leonen eventually admitted that the setup would be “similar to a parliamentary form of government.”
“The Constitution says that whatever government is in the autonomous region, it shall always be under the supervision of the President,” Leonen said. “So therefore even that will be under the supervision of the President.”
The Aquino administration has resisted amending the Constitution because of the difficulties in securing support from the majority Catholic public and politicians who represent them.
Even without constitutional change, Congress will have to approve a “basic law” for the proposed Bangsamoro.
The government hopes Congress will approve this in 2015, to allow enough time for implementation before President Aquino steps down.
Senate defense committee vice chairman Gregorio Honasan said his colleagues wanted to take a closer look at the framework agreement. The senators, he said, should “not be misled by the terminology.”
“We want to look at the substance of the agreement,” Honasan said.
Santiago said proposals to alter economic provisions of the Constitution had already been met with much fanfare. What more if the provision on the presidential form of government is altered, she asked.
“We cannot even pass amendments to economic provisions of our Constitution because of the cacophony of discordant voices… but here comes another amendment which is in effect virtually imposed on us so I’m very, very surprised and very concerned,” Santiago told reporters.
Santiago also questioned the apparent involvement of foreign entities in the crafting of the agreement.
Malaysia, the broker of the peace talks between the government and the MILF, assigned representatives to act as mediator between the two parties during the discussions.
“This is a threshold problem for me,” Santiago said. “Since when did an entity outside the area of sovereignty dictate what terms should be included in a proposed constitutional amendment?” Santiago asked.
No frequent changes
“As a constitutional law scholar, I always stand firm that our Constitution must remain as it is. As much as possible we should not amend it for trivial reasons or even for important reasons if we can still function under the old Constitution because amending it frequently violates the very principle of constitutional law,” she explained.
“If you go to the dictionary, there is no word such as a substate. Was this term invented for us? What we know in constitutional law is that there are so-called dependent states which is what the Bangsamoro area will become. [Do] not call it a substate, it will become a dependent state or a nonsovereign state, that is what it actually is,” she said.
After pointing out these issues, Santiago said the country would have to pass amendments first if only to accommodate the Bangsamoro region.
“There is a transition commission that is supposed to draft the Bangsamoro basic law or the constitution of the Bangsamoro area, but that will have to include these two constitutional amendments,” she said.
If it comes to that, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the lawmakers who would write the law that would create Bangsamoro would do their part to ensure that the initiative would bring about lasting peace in Mindanao.
Belmonte said the creation of Bangsamoro may require changes in the Constitution, but if it would the effort would not go the way of the Arroyo administration’s botched memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD).
The lessons from that failure are still fresh in the minds of officials, he said.
The MOA-AD would create a separate Moro state in Mindanao and the Supreme Court struck it down for being unconstitutional.
“I think all the negotiators have learned a lesson from that attempt to alter, in effect, the integrity of the country. Hopefully, having learned from that, I’m very confident we’re not going to enter into a situation like that,” he said. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and AFP