Mindanao senators propose charter change for BBL

Ayee Macaraig
Mindanao senators propose charter change for BBL
'Better have a second look now at the Constitution in case the Bangsamoro Basic Law cannot be accommodated in the current one'

MANILA, Philippines – Two senators hailing from Mindanao proposed changing the Constitution for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and federalism, but stressed that the people must have a say through a constitutional convention. 

Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Aquilino Pimentel III filed on May 5, Tuesday, a resolution urging lawmakers to “submit to the electorate” whether or not to call for a constitutional convention to change the 1987 Constitution.

If the public wants to change the charter, they say the election for delegates must be held along with the May 9, 2016, presidential polls.

Pimentel said that Senate Resolution 1308 aims to address issues of the proposed BBL’s constitutionality. The proposed law aims to create an expanded region in Muslim Mindanao. The bill is a product of the final peace agreement between the government and the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. 

“Better have a second look now at the Constitution in case the BBL cannot be accommodated in the current one,” Pimentel told Rappler on Thursday, May 7. 

The BBL aims to create the Bangsamoro region, and give it greater powers and resources than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Initially set to be passed by March, the measure was delayed following a January 25 police operation to arrest terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that left 67 people dead. 

Yet even before the Mamasapano tragedy, constitutionality issues already posed a challenge to the bill, with critics saying it creates a substate. 

Guingona said he and Pimentel want charter change as a means to push the peace process forward. Guingona is from Bukidnon while Pimentel is from Cagayan de Oro City, both in Mindanao.

“The BBL mimics but is not exactly like a federal state. It’s close to mimicking a federal system of government,” Guingona told Rappler in a phone interview. 

He added: “If that’s what we will do, then let’s change the Constitution, and make the whole system of government federal so that each region can be federal. Why limit these powers to the Bangsamoro, and not give it to the rest of Mindanao?”

The Philippines has a unitary presidential form of government. 

Guingona said he thought of charter change when he read the bill.

“It says the sharing of minerals from mining is 75-25 in favor of the Bangsamoro so I said how come only they get that share, and not the entire Mindanao? Let’s just make the system federal so everybody will benefit, and not just one region,” the senator said. 

Guingona explained that federalism is a long-running advocacy he shares with his father, former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr, and with Pimentel, and his colleague’s father, former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr, known as the father of the Local Government Code. 

“It’s a long-time advocacy we have because, especially for the people of Mindanao, they feel far away from the government in Manila,” the younger Guingona said. 

Federalism is also an issue that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is pushing for as he is rumored to be eyeing higher office in the 2016 election. The Pimentels hosted one of Duterte’s stops in his so-called “listening tour,” where he pushes for federalism.

‘Con-con most transparent way’ 

The resolution cited the various calls to change the economic and political provisions of the constitution coming from business organizations and research groups “to address expanding global demands.” 

Pimentel and Guingona argued that a constitutional convention is the better mode of changing the charter instead of a constituent assembly, composed of members of Congress. In contrast, a constitutional convention is made up of elected delegates.

“The calling of a constitutional convention to propose amendments or revisions of the Constitution is the least divisive and the most transparent, exhaustive, and [democratic] way of achieving much-needed constitutional reforms,” the resolution stated.  

The resolution said that while Congress can directly call for a constitutional convention through a vote of two-thirds of all members, the authors prefer that the public decide on the issue. 

“This is better so that it won’t be construed as the lawmakers want to change the Constitution to favor themselves. If it’s a constituent assembly, congressmen and senators will be the ones deciding and can put in everything favorable. So that there is no doubt that the changes are tailor-fit for the elite, elect delegates to the convention,” Guingona said. 

The senators said the election of the delegates can coincide with the 2016 polls “to avoid incurring the added cost of a separate election.” 

‘No return to square one’ 

Guingona is a co-author of the proposed Bangsamoro law, and chairman of the Senate committee on peace, unification and reconciliation, one of the panels tackling the bill. 

The senator said that he remains supportive of the bill, but cautions against passing the measure for the sake of meeting the June 30 deadline of Malacañang.

Guingona would not say which provisions he finds unconstitutional, but said the issue of legality is crucial. 

“We are clarifying certain provisions so that it will pass, not just the Congress and the Senate but also the Supreme Court. If you look back in history, the [2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain] was struck down by the Supreme Court, and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Guingona said. 

When the High Court nullified the so-called MOA-AD, armed clashes broke out in parts of Mindanao. 

Guingona said stakeholders must be patient with Congress in ensuring the bill passes legal muster. 

“Not everyone will be pleased by the changes but we need that to make the bill conform with the Constitution, otherwise the Supreme Court will strike it down. If that’s done, we’re back to square one, and all the years go down the drain,” he said. 

The senator reiterated that the bill will be revised. “The question is how drastic will the changes be when you compare it with the original.” 

The Senate local government committee of Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr will hold hearings on the BBL in Jolo, Sulu, and Zamboanga next week. – Rappler.com

 

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