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Chiz urges Aquino to alter draft BBL

Help of peace council needed, says senator
/ 04:10 AM March 30, 2015
Sen. Francis Escudero. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Sen. Francis Escudero. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

President Aquino has formed a peace council that he believes can convince Congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). But Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero expects it will be the other way around: Congress can enlighten the council on the constitutional defects of the draft BBL.

Understanding those flaws, the council could then help Congress convince the President, his peace negotiating team and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) about the need to amend the draft BBL to make it conform to the Constitution, Escudero said in an interview on dzBB radio yesterday.

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“I believe in the independence and integrity of the members [of the peace council] and that they will not allow themselves to be dictated on what to do, especially if [the provisions are] obviously  wrong and unconstitutional,” Escudero said.

“I look forward to engaging them to hear their opinion and how they defend in another way the provisions that we have long been questioning. In the end, we might be able to convince them and help convince the President and the MILF that we really need to change these provisions,” he added.

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On Friday, President Aquino named Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Ambassador to the Holy See and Malta Howard Dee and youth leader Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman as leaders of a National Peace Summit that would “deliberate on and discuss the BBL.”

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, said the peace council should submit its recommendations by April 20 so that the members of his committee could read them before they vote on the proposed BBL on May 11 and 12.

Rodriguez said the council  could still submit recommendations as the House voted on the draft BBL at the plenary level.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon have committed to pass the proposed BBL by June, before the adjournment of the 16th Congress.

Both Escudero and Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that the peace council should be made aware of the massive funds that would be earmarked to the prospective Bangsamoro parliament and its members—roughly P75 billion, a big chunk of which would be “lump-sum funds” not unlike the pork barrel that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.

‘Trending lie’

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government’s chief peace negotiator, has claimed that the

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P75-billion annual budget for proposed Bangsamoro government was a “trending lie” being peddled by anti-BBL advocates.

She claimed that only P35 billion of the amount would go to the prospective Bangsamoro government—P27 billion in block grant, P7 billion in development fund and P1 billion in transition fund.

Escudero, however, pointed out that Ferrer conveniently left out from her computation the internal revenue allotment (IRA) for local governments and the department agencies (such as the Department of Education and the Department of Public Works and Highways) operating in the proposed Bangsamoro territory, which would push the total allocation for Bangsamoro to at least P75 billion.

Conservative figure

“It’s a conservative amount, considering that the Bangsamoro can also impose fees and penalties for their own use and it will get a substantial share of royalties from natural resources extracted from its area,” Escudero said.

“I thought they will be autonomous or operating on their own but they are actually getting double the amount,” he added.

With so much of the Bangsamoro budget in lump sum or not itemized, Escudero said the region’s chief minister might end up having a bigger intelligence fund than the President of the Philippines.

Marcos said that the P75 billion for Bangsamoro was bigger than the budget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

“This is alarming because these funds could be used to buy arms for MILF troops. There are reports of continuous recruitment by the MILF, establishment of camps and manufacturing of arms,” he said.

Marcos pointed out that the funds going to Bangsamoro would not pass through Congress.

He said there was no assurance that the funds would not end up in the pockets of the region’s leaders, just like in the current situation in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) where local governments complain that very little of the massive funds for the region have trickled down to their level.

Hard to justify

Escudero said his main concern was that the Bangsamoro bonanza would be hard to justify to other regions that also needed funds.

He also said that the P75-billion annual budget would send the message that “if you threaten the government, we will reward you with P75 billion a year.”

Aside from the funds, Escudero said the government should explain why it would allow the Bangsamoro to form equivalents of the Civil Service Commission, Commission on Elections and Commission on Audit and adhere to its own kind of justice system, which is not allowed in the Constitution.

He also said the government should explain why the disarmament of the MILF was not included in the draft BBL.

“They promised to surrender one-third of their arms upon signing of the agreement and the remaining two-thirds after the election. What would they need two-thirds of their arms for in an election?” Escudero asked.

Other parties excluded

He said the proposed BBL was flawed from the start because the government chose to speak with only one group—the MILF—and excluded other interested parties, such as the Moro National Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the indigenous peoples of Mindanao.

‘Honor IPs’ rights’

Escudero noted that the draft BBL did not state if it would honor the indigenous peoples’ rights.

The BBL, he said, has an opt-in provision (where as little as 10 percent of the population of a barangay can petition for inclusion in the Bangsamoro) but it has no opt-out provision, which means membership in the Bangsamoro will be permanent.

“The government drafted the bill without consulting anybody except the MILF and they want us to approve it on an as-is-where-is basis. Do they have a monopoly of talent, intelligence and good intentions of what is good for Mindanao?” Escudero said.

“It’s not my goal to water it down, I just want to make sure it follows the Constitution,” he added.

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TAGS: "alleged P75-B pork barrel", Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., Francis Chiz Escudero, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, peace council
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