Lawmakers contest opt-in clause, fiscal autonomy, autonomous uniformed services in BBL

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Lawmakers are seeking to make at least 3 major amendments to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Antipolo 2nd District Representative Romeo Acop, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, and Camarines Sur 1st District Representative Rolando Andaya outlined 3 provisions legislators want to amend under House Bill (HB) No. 6475 or the proposed BBL on Tuesday, May 22. 

Alejano said the opt-in clause remains one of the "very contentious provisions."

Section 4 of HB 6475 allows cities and provinces sharing a common border with the Bangsamoro to join the plebiscite through a petition signed by at least 10% of registered voters. The bill allows this to be done every 5 years for a period of 25 years after the creation of the Bangsamoro. 

"Ang nakita lang namin doon na very contentious provisions, una, 'yung opt-in provision. Hindi puwedeng magkaroon ng creeping expansion ang Bangsamoro region," said Alejano.

(First, one of the very contentious provisions is the opt-in provision. The Bangsamoro region cannot have creeping expansion powers.)

He said most of the legislators who contested the opt-in clause represented districts in Mindanao.

Second, HB 6475's granting of fiscal autonomy to the Bangsamoro is unconstitutional, said Andaya. The House deputy speaker said fiscal autonomy is granted by the Constitution and cannot be superseded by a law.

"Congress cannot, by law, grant such power. Congress' own power of fiscal autonomy is merely implied by a resolution, while only those which are expressly granted by the Constitution like the judiciary and the Ombudsman enjoy full benefits of autonomy," said Andaya. 

"The spring cannot rise above the source. Even the President does not have the same powers," he added. 

He hopes lawmakers and members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) will find a compromise over this "unconstitutional" provision in the BBL. 

"There should refinements in language that will give the Bangsamoro wide latitude in the use of funds in a way that will be upheld as constitutionally compliant," he said. 

Lastly, Acop said he and several of his colleagues also do not agree with the BBL's provision mandating the creation of the Bangsamoro's own uniformed services, which will still be part of the national government.

HB 6475 gives the Bangsamoro Government primary power over its own military and police forces, police commission, jail management and penology bureau, fire protection bureau, and coast guard. 

"As far as we are concerned [in the] security and public safety cluster, we proposed that the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), PNP (Philippine National Police), Napolcom (National Police Commission), BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology), BFP (Bureau of Fire Protection), Coast Guard, the uniformed services, must all be under the national government," said Acop in a phone interview.

Lawmakers meet with BTC 

On Tuesday, Acop joined Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and other House leaders in a meeting with the BTC to discuss the amendments lawmakers want for the BBL.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde, Department of the Interior and Local Government officer-in-charge Eduardo Año, and other government officials were also present during the meeting.

Fariñas said the BTC will bring the proposed amendments to its "principals" and will meet with lawmakers again on Monday, May 28, to bring feedback. The House leadership will then organize another all-members caucus.

Fariñas refused to disclose other amendments they discussed, but he shared photos taken during the meeting. One picture showed all officials shaking hands at the end of their discussions.

"The HOR, GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines), and BTC leaders after the meeting! Let's pray for peace," he said.

HANDSHAKE. Lawmakers, government officials, and Bangsamoro Transition Commission members shake hands after their meeting.

HANDSHAKE. Lawmakers, government officials, and Bangsamoro Transition Commission members shake hands after their meeting.

The Senate already formally asked President Rodrigo Duterte to certify the bill as urgent to meet the June 2 deadline for the BBL's signing. Alvarez said he plans to do the same in the House. (READ: BBL needs a push from Duterte to become law before SONA

Congress, however, is running out of time to pass the BBL before Duterte's 3rd State of the Nation Address. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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