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Anti-BBL told: Run to SC

Santiago’s findings slow down Senate work
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.: Let’s wait for the final version. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.: Let’s wait for the final version. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–Critics of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may challenge it in the Supreme Court if they are convinced that it is unconstitutional, Malacañang said on Thursday.

Even if in the Senate, the committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes has found that Congress cannot just pass the BBL because the establishment of a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao requires the amendment or revision of the Constitution, the Palace is confident that it will pass a version of the BBL that can withstand scrutiny by the Supreme Court, according to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

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The House BBL committee passed the proposed basic law for a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao on Wednesday.

Coloma has no comment on the finding of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s committee, but he expressed optimism that the BBL that Congress would pass would conform to the Constitution.

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“It’s important that all provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law conform to the Constitution,” Coloma told reporters, noting that those who drafted the proposed law considered its constitutionality “from the start.”

Critics of the BBL, however, will “have the opportunity to file a petition” questioning its constitutionality in the Supreme Court once the legislative process is completed by both houses of Congress, Coloma said.

A provision injected at the last minute into the version of the BBL passed by the House panel would allow the new Bangsamoro region to expand to at least 10 other provinces.

The new provision reads: “Any local government unit (LGU) or geographical area outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro, but which [is] contiguous to any of the component units of the Bangsamoro and within the area of autonomy identified in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, may opt to be part of the Bangsamoro by filing a petition of at least 10 percent of the registered voters of the interested LGU or geographical area.”

Creeping expansion

Coloma’s response was vague when asked about concerns that this “opt-in” provision could lead to a “creeping expansion” of the Bangsamoro region.

“We should not deviate from our ultimate objective of achieving lasting peace that would lead to progress and stability in the Bangsamoro region and in the whole of Mindanao,” he said.

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Asked if the BBL could do without the opt-in provision to achieve “peace and stability” in the region, Coloma said the public should wait for the final version to be passed by the Senate and the House.

“Perhaps it’s better to wait for the final decision of the House and the Senate because whatever they will pass and if this withstands legal challenges at the Supreme Court, this will be presented to the people and according to our Constitution, they have the sovereign will,” he said.

“They’re the ones who will decide if [the BBL] would help achieve peace [in the Bangsamoro region]. We have faith that their decision is for lasting peace and development in the Bangsamoro and Mindanao.”

9 senators

In the Senate, Santiago urged the other senators “not to approve the BBL with haste,” cautioning that Congress, “acting only by [itself], cannot approve the BBL in its present form.”

Santiago has submitted a 27-page draft report on the result of two hearings conducted by her committee on the BBL. She concluded in her committee report that Congress cannot just pass the BBL because the establishment of a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao requires the amendment or revision of the 1987 Constitution.

According to Santiago, nine senators have either signed or signified their intention to sign her draft committee report.

Aside from Santiago, the other senators who have signed the report are committee vice chair Juan Edgardo Angara, and members Vicente Sotto III, Jinggoy Estrada, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Aquilino Pimentel III, Cynthia Villar, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Lito Lapid.

A staff member from the office of Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, meanwhile, clarified that the senator has not yet signed Santiago’s report as the Inquirer reported on Wednesday. Guingona was still studying the committee report, according to the staff member.

With Santiago’s committee done with its work, only the committee on local government headed by Marcos and the committee on unification and reconciliation headed by Guingona are left to complete the Senate’s BBL study.

Sotto, who said he signed Santiago’s report because he agreed with her that the BBL has “constitutional problems,” believed that the BBL discussions in the Senate now “will further the deliberations on the constitutionality” of the proposed law.

This was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who said the Senate could not ignore the constitutional issues raised in Santiago’s report. He stressed that the “best solution is to remove provisions that are unconstitutional.”

Asked about the effect of Santiago’s report on the BBL discussions in the Senate, Cayetano said Santiago’s report, first of all, would slow down the discussions in the chamber.

“Secondly, I don’t know if the Palace and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front would accept the Senate version, but we won’t pass a version that could be stricken down by the Supreme Court,” he said.

Three hurdles

There are three hurdles to be cleared in passing the BBL, he said.

First, he said, is reconciling the amendments proposed by the senators.

Second, he said, is the floor deliberation on the report of Marcos’ committee.

And the third, he said, is the reconciliation of the Senate and House versions of the bill.

“I doubt that the version of the Senate will be very close to [that of] the House,” Cayetano said.

‘Warning flags’

Santiago, in her statement, said the renaming of the BBL would not make the proposed law “any less objectionable unless Congress also revamps the bill to address numerous constitutional infirmities.”

The House BBL committee renamed the bill Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Marcos said his committee would seriously consider the “warning flags” raised in Santiago’s report, noting that the report was based on “views expressed by the country’s foremost legal experts who took part in the Senate hearings.”

“That report practically vindicates the meticulous scrutiny to which I am subjecting the draft BBL. We don’t want to pass the BBL only to have it declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court later, then we’d be back to square one and all our efforts would be for nothing,” he said.

This is the reason, he said, why the June 11 deadline set by Malacañang for the passage of the BBL is “irresponsible.” He stressed that his priority is to “get it right.”

Malacañang wants the draft BBL passed by June to allow enough time for a plebiscite on the proposed Bangsamoro autonomy law.

Comelec needs 6 months

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday said that it needs at least six months to prepare for the plebiscite.

James Jimenez, spokesman for the Comelec, said the election watchdog had no position yet on when the plebiscite should be held. He said the date would depend on when Congress would pass the proposed autonomy law.

“It will also depend on the determination by the [full] commission of when is the best date to conduct the plebiscite,” Jimenez said.

“Remember, it’s not only the Comelec that would decide on that… the law should state when the plebiscite will be held, what are the required preparations, among other things,” Jimenez said.

He gave an assurance that whether the Bangsamoro plebiscite is held this year or early next year, it will not get in the way of the Comelec’s preparations for the 2016 presidential election.–With a report from Tina G. Santos

 

 

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Basic Law, BBL, constitutionality, Herminio Coloma Jr., Malacañang, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, peace process, Senate
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