Former Senators in Cory Govt Discussed Ways to Push BBL Passage

Written by Amina Rasul-Bernardo, PCID.

Last Oct 27, we had a small dinner dialogue with former senators who won with the late President Cory. Organized by PCID, Sen Nene chaired the dialogue. The positive outcome: the Cory senators (Rasul, Pimentel, Guingona, Shahani, Alvarez) agreed to help with our lobby in Congress. Boy Herrera couldn't attend because he had to go for an MRI. Sadly, he passed away the day after. Boy had committed to help as well. We also expect that Senators Saguisag, Lina, Mercado and Tanada will help. Sen Nene will meet with them.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel chaired the dialogue. In his remarks, he said that the BBL has very good intentions even if he believes that there are problematic issues about it. However, the solution should be to amend the BBL and to facilitate the legislative process. He is supportive of sharing powers with our Muslim brothers and sisters promote peace and development in especially in the areas of conflict in Mindanao.

OPAPP Secretary Ging Deles, for her part, highlighted that the BBL is a product of 17 years of negotiations between the Government and the MILF, which resulted in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the draft BBL. Despite the narrow window of opportunity (the BBL must be passed before the December recess and the plebiscite by the first week of February), she has not given up on the BBL. In fact, she is encouraged by statements coming from different groups that there is nothing unconstitutional about the draft BBL.

GPH Peace Panel member Senen Bacani spoke to respond to the concern of Sen. Pimentel regarding the inclusiveness of the consultations. Around 500 consultations were done by OPAPP and the GPH alone plus also the MILF conducted consultations also. The MNLF and the Sultans were also consulted and their suggestions were incorporated in the draft bill.

Professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer gave a presentation on the claims regarding the BBL and the peacepProcess. In it, she debunked some of the incorrect notions about the BBL (substate, separate constitutional bodies and police force, different system of government, the amount of money given).

Professor Abhoud Linga said that while the MILF has no direct hand in the lawmaking process, they are supportive of government initiatives to pass the BBL. In the end, he said that the BBL is not an ordinary legislation; it is an extraordinary solution to end the decades old conflict in Mindanao and to fulfill the constitutional promise of genuine autonomy for Muslim Mindanao.

Atty. Christian Monsod situated the BBL in the context of the social justice thrust of the 1987 Constitution. To rectify the injustices against the indigenous peoples, Article X, Section 20 of the Constitution gave them autonomy over such matters as enumerated therein. The BBL is the fulfillment of this promise. He said that it is constitutional as it just unbundled the powers as enumerated in the Constitution. Further, it is the Supreme Court’s function to declare a law or part of the law as constitutional or not. Therefore the legislative body should not pre-empt the Supreme Court. 

Vice President Guingona raised the problem regarding the asymmetric relationship between the National Government and the Bangsamoro, especially as regards the making of laws, what if it is conflicting? Atty. Monsod said that the law provides the answer: that they are subject to the power of judicial review of the Supreme Court. Professor Ferrer adds that in the law itself, there are plenty of checks and balances between the National Government and the Bangsamoro.

Rep. Rodolfo Biazon clarified that there is, as of yet, no House or Senate version of the bill as they are still deliberating on it. He said that he wants to pass a BBL: however, it must be constitutional and it must be acceptable to all, not only with the MILF. He also expressed concern about the normalization process: that there will still be arms with the MILF in time of the election gun ban.

Sen. Leticia Ramos Shahani’s concern is with regards the legal framework of the EEZ and the UNCLOS, does the BBL follow them? Professor Ferrer answered that foreign affairs is still with the National Government, so the BBL will not alter our treaty obligations.

Senator Heherson Alvarez and other senators share the concern that the OPAPP and the Peace Panels has not communicated fully to the people the benefits of the BBL, in native languages preferably, since it is obvious that the Filipino people need to be educated fully in the BBL.

With this concern in mind, the Senators recommended that:

(1) For the OPAPP to form a committee to talk to the Senators and the Congressmen while the deliberations are in progress in order to facilitate the process and deal with attempts to delay the process.
(2) For talking heads to explain the BBL and to debunk the misconceptions
(3) For the former Senators to organize among themselves a committee to talk to their colleagues.