Governor Tan of Sulu runs to Supreme Court to block Bangsamoro law

Lian Buan

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Governor Tan of Sulu runs to Supreme Court to block Bangsamoro law

LeAnne Jazul

This is the first petition filed to challenge the constitutionality of the landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law. Legislators behind the law have been expecting it.

MANILA, Philippines – Governor Abdusakur Tan II of Sulu filed the first Supreme Court (SC) petition to block the landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), citing questions on constitutionality.

Tan filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition with a request for temporary restraining order (TRO) before the SC. 

Lawmakers who crafted the BOL expected this petition, and welcomed the move as it would settle questions on legality and allow them to move forward without constraints.

“I truly believe though that the Organic Law that we passed can stand the test of constitutionality after careful scrutiny done by the Senate’s best legal minds and with consultations done with eminent constitutionalists and former chief justices and justices of the Supreme Court,” said Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the subcommittee on Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Opt-out provision. Under Section 3, Article XV of the BOL, the provinces and cities of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) – including Sulu – “shall vote as one geographical area.” The same provision says that ARMM will form part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) if there is majority vote from the ARMM itself.

As expected, Tan raised their issue of an opt-out provision. For them, the votes of Sulu should be recognized as being separate from the majority vote of the ARMM, meaning that if majority of the votes from Sulu say no to BOL, then the province should not be part of the Bangsamoro.

Tan said the BOL violates Sections 15 and 18, Article X of the Constitution, which said that only provinces and cities voting favorably for an autonomous region shall be part of it.

Obviously, the manner of voting in the plebiscite as one geographical area provided in the Article XV of the BOL is but a scheme to ‘short-cut’ ratification and undermine the Constitution, all for the sole gain and benefit of respondent MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front),” said the petition.

Zubiri earlier said leaving out provinces will make them “the largest hotbed of military extremism in the region.”

Tan also added that ARMM cannot be abolished without first amending the 1987 Constitution.

Since ARMM is created by Constitutional fiat, Congress, by itself, has absolutely no authority to abolish ARMM. Only through an amendment of the Constitution may ARMM be abolished.  This is so, because only the Constitution may create or abolish an autonomous region,” said the petition.

Parliamentary form. Also expected was the question on whether the BAR’s parliamentary form of government adheres to the Constitution.

Under Section 2, Article VII of the BOL, the parliament shall be the seat of power which will have the authority to enact laws. Its executive authority will be exercised by the Cabinet led by a chief minister who shall be elected by a majority vote of all the members of parliament.

This violates separation of powers guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution, Tan said in the petition.

Under this parliamentary set-up, the powers of Parliament (legislative branch), and those of the Cabinet (executive branch), are not separate but, in fact, fused. This is contrary to the requirement under the Constitution that the structure of the government for each of the autonomous regions should consist of the executive department and the legislative assembly, compliant with the doctrine of separation of powers embodied in the Constitution,” said the petition.

Tan also questioned the manner of voting the Chief Minister, who will not be directly voted by the people.

The Chief Minister, who heads the executive department, is merely chosen by members of the parliament among themselves. As a result, the right of the people to elect the head of the executive branch of the Bangsamoro Government is not recognized,” Tan said.

Political and legal analyst Tony La Viña said a parliamentary government would end decades of “political dynasties, warlordism, and patronage.”

“With political parties in the parliament, no single family can run the region. Well, they may need to have alliances, but not one family can do it,” he said.

Zubiri said: “I will adhere to the wisdom of the High Court as the final arbiter on whether the BOL will pass the test of constitutionality once and for all so we can proceed to a just and lasting peace for Mindanao and the Philippines.” –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.