MANILA, Philippines – Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Thursday, June 11, revealed the provisions of the Bangsamoro bill that he is set to amend, prioritizing constitutionally questionable ones.
On top of his priorities are constitutional issues surrounding the measure, Marcos said.
Marcos said he will look into the creation of special autonomous branches of constitutional bodies, such as the Commission on Audit, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections, and the Commission on Human Rights in the Bangsamoro.
The ad hoc committee in the House of Representatives reduced these bodies into regional branches of its national counterparts.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago earlier concluded that the bill is unconstitutional for creating a state within a state. Other legal luminaries, however, believe the Constitution can accommodate the unique features of the Bangsamoro.
Marcos will also look into whether the proposed system of ownership of natural resources in the Bangsamoro area is consistent with the regalian doctrine – a legal principle which means that all natural resources belong to the state.
The draft Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) proposes a sharing scheme on revenues from natural resources between the autonomous regional government and the central government.
The senator said he will also examine provisions allowing the Bangsamoro parliament to create its own local government code and change the powers and function of local governments within its jurisdiction “in the interest of good governance.”
Marcos said this is “essentially is an amendment to a national law and that puts Bangsamoro parliament equal to Congress.”
An improvement that the senator wants to introduce is to include a system of checks and balances on the block grant – a funding scheme similar to the internal revenue allotment for local government units – and other funds in the BBL.
Under the proposed law, the Bangsamoro government will get 4% of the 60% shares of the national government in taxes. The amount will become part of its annual budget. Unlike in the present system, the Bangsamoro government would be allowed to pass its own budget law and would not have to go to Congress for approval every year.
Estimates from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) show the block grant will amount to about P35 billion in the Bangsamoro’s first year of operation.
Senator Ralph Recto earlier said the current scheme in the BBL hands over the amount as a “blank check.”
Marcos said he is also set to change the provision allowing the Bangsamoro to retain taxes collected within its jurisdiction for 10 years. DBM estimates show taxes collected in the Bangsamoro will amount to P2 billion in 2016.
In his statement, the senator said the Bangsamoro must also contribute something to the national government like other local government units.
Aside from Marcos’ proposed amendments, the Senate and the House of Representatives are also set to delete the opt-in provision in the bill which allows areas outside the core territory to join the plebiscite for possible inclusion.
In his media release, Marcos did not mention any amendments to the proposed parliamentary form of the Bangsamoro government – one of the key features of the bill. This set up, if approved, would be unique to the Philippines, which has a unitary presidential system.
Marcos earlier said he is considering just amending the current organic act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in lieu of the Bangsamoro bill – a move that his counterpart in the House, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, opposed.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has called on Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr to adopt the original version of the BBL. The MILF has been of the position that it prefers the BBL as passed in Congress but it welcomes improvements. (MILF: 2 House BBL amendments violate peace accord)
Marcos, however, argued that criticisms on the bill are premature since there is no actual substitute measure yet. The substitute bill will be submitted when Congress adjourns session in July, he said.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers failed to finish the period of interpellation as scheduled. Debates will continue in July with the bill targeted to be approved in September.
Appeal from Mindanao
Even as the substitute bill has yet to be filed, civil society groups from Mindanao criticized the way Marcos is handling the proposed BBL.
Mindanao People’s Caucus Secretary General Mary Ann Arnado said Thursday that Marcos’ move to reject the BBL and draft an alternative bill is “condescending” and undermines the 17 years of negotiations that went into the proposed law.
“It’s a very big insult to the framers of the Bangsamoro basic law that he will be the one to create a BBL for the Bangsamoro,” Arnado said in a press conference in Quezon City.
A statement signed by at least 34 organizations from Mindanao called on Marcos to atone for the sins of his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. (Cardinal to Bongbong: Correct your father’s sins vs Muslim)
It was during his father’s regime when the armed conflict in Mindanao began. Thousands of soldiers, rebels and civilians died.
“If Bongbong is really for peace what he has to do is first to give a public apology not only to the Bangsamoro people but to all victims of human rights violations during his father’s dictatorship,” the group’s statement said.
It added: “If Bongbong really wants to help bring peace in Mindanao then what he must do is to stop his shameless use of the issue of the BBL for his political campaign ads and work towards the passage of a genuine BBL that is reflective of the spirit and letter of the (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro).” (WATCH: Marcos releases video on Bangsamoro bill)
‘Voice out support for BBL’
In a news briefing in Iloilo City, President Benigno Aquino III declined to comment on Marcos’ plan to file a substitute Bangsamoro bill as he has yet to see it. But he did not rule out supporting it if it’s better than the existing proposed measure.
On the opt-in provision in the proposed BBL, Aquino said there are mechanisms in place to allow provinces to join a particular region, and cited Executive Order 183 creating the Negros Island Region, among others.
“So that in itself is not a difficult process. If the people will be able to demonstrate that they want to join in, not having it in the law at this point in time doesn’t say that it’s an impossibility,” he said.
Responding to questions, Aquino reiterated that all he can do for now is to “try and convince the leaders of both chambers and their members of the importance of this particular bill and that it turns into a law.”
Aquino urged all those in favor of the proposed BBL to voice out their support for the bill so it can be heard by lawmakers, who are expected to listen to them more as the elections near.
“Kapag ‘yung taumbayan na ang nagsabi na mismo, ‘Puwede ba madaliin niyo ang pagpapasa ng batas na ‘yan.’ Iyon siguro ang pinakagarantiya, lalo na napipinto ang eleksyon na lahat makikinig sa mga boss. So sana ‘yung mga boss natin ay lalong magpadinig ng kanilang boses na gusto nilang magkaroon nitong BBL sa lalong madaling panahon,” he said.
(If the people say, ‘Can you speed up the passage of that law,’ that would be the best guarantee, especially as elections near and they would all listen to the bosses. So I hope the bosses would let their voices be heard, that they want the BBL at the soonest possible time.) – Rappler.com