Congress: We can’t afford mistakes in Bangsamoro law

Lawmakers say their challenge is to craft a bill that is constitutional and promotes economic growth in the Bangsamoro

NEXT PHASE. With the signing of the Bangsamoro agreement, congressional leaders anticipate the challenges in crafting a Bangsamoro law that is constitutional and promotes economic development. Screenshot from RTVM

MANILA, Philippines – Congress vowed to scrutinize the bill creating the Bangsamoro region, stressing that it must overcome legal and economic challenges to ensure peace in Mindanao.

The Senate and the House of Representatives marked the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by acknowledging the work that lies ahead as the peace process shifts to Congress.

Over a month before Congress is set to tackle the Bangsamoro basic law, lawmakers said their challenge is to craft a bill that is constitutional, promotes growth and development, and protects the rights of the Bangsamoro people.

“We cannot afford to err on this most-sought piece of legislation, if we truly want to secure this peace in Mindanao, which we have now realized after decades of hostilities,” said Senate President Franklin Drilon on Thursday, March 27.

Observers have expressed concern that components of the deal like the addendum on Bangsamoro waters, and the creation of the Bangsamoro police force may violate the charter.

“It is incumbent upon us to make sure that the efforts exerted by both panels will not be put in vain by ensuring that the Bangsamoro Law falls within the 4 corners of the Constitution, and that it can withstand judicial scrutiny,” Drilon said.

The Bangsamoro basic law will create the Bangsamoro, a new political entity with greater powers and wider fiscal autonomy than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Congressional leaders vowed to pass the bill this year, in line with the Aquino administration’s target to finish the transition by 2016. (INFOGRAPHIC: The Bangsamoro peace deal at a glance)

Drilon called on members of Congress to study the bill closely. “This measure should resolve social tensions, poor infrastructure, and lack of economic development in the region. It will demand from our lawmakers their utmost prudence, practicality and political acumen.”

In crafting the bill, Senator Loren Legarda said the goal is “not to find fault but to find ways by which [the agreement and its annexes] may become instruments to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao.”

While Congress is deliberating on the measure, Legarda said government must ensure that ordinary Filipinos also understand the peace process. 

Vice President Jejomar Binay urged Filipinos to support the peace process. “May this pact also remind us that we are all Filipinos, regardless of color or religion – one nation, one people – working together to build a better nation and a better life for everyone.”

Administration ally Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said the deal was “one of the greatest accomplishments that President Aquino will leave behind.”

Yet Deputy Minority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III refused to comment on the agreement, saying Congress must first get a copy to scrutinize its provisions. This is the same stand that Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile earlier took.

Livelihood, development for Mindanao

Senator Bam Aquino and Valenzuela Representative Sherwin Gatchalian stressed the need for the law to foster economic growth in one of the poorest regions in the Philippines.

“If there is peace and security, Mindanao will become a magnet for business and investments that will provide jobs and other livelihood to our brothers and sisters in Mindanao. With the help of this agreement, the government’s quest for inclusive growth will be easier to achieve,” Aquino said.

Gatchalian said the deal will make it easier for the region to attract foreign direct investments (FDIs). The congressman said poverty incidence among families in ARMM in 2012 was 48.7%, up from 39.9% in 2009.

“The FDIs will increase the region’s current employment figure. They will stimulate job creation, boosting the number of employed persons at a faster pace,” said Gatchalian.

Under the agreement, the Bangsamoro will get its funding primarily through “automatic block grants,” similar but separate from the Internal Revenue Allotment of local government units, doing away with the need for Congress’ approval. The calculation of the appropriations will be included in the Bangsamoro law. (READ: Bangsamoro Agreement: A great day for the country)

‘Be cautious of admin commitment’

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate warned the MILF to be cautious of the Aquino administration’s sincerity in seeing the deal through, saying it must “learn from the past.”

“The signing comes at a time when the sincerity of the Aquino administration to honor and implement past agreements with revolutionary organizations is in question. Cases in point are its disregard of previous signed agreements like the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the 10 joint declarations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), including the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG),” Zarate said.

The remark was in reference to the NDF’s statement that the government violated the JASIG when it arrested Communist Party of the Philippines’ top leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma on Saturday.

The NDF said they are protected under JASIG but the government said the two were not granted immunity because the “verification process scheduled in July 2012 failed” over a supposed computer glitch.

Zarate also said continuing violations of human rights in the Moro communities were “sidelined,” including the displacement of civilians due to military operations, and the warrantless arrest of Moros accused of being terrorists.

“The celebration in Malacañang cannot just gloss over the numerous human rights violations committed against the Moro people,” Zarate said. –


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