COMMENTARY: BBL, impounded for alterations PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 28 July 2014 13:26

BY Vicente R. Solis, Lawyer


Last Monday in this daily, I wrote “that recently the MILF and government peace panels had to resume their meetings to deal with and resolve on certain issues raised by the President’s legal staff on the draft Basic Law, a clear indication that nothing is final and conclusive insofar as the framework agreement contents are concerned and that the executive department has  adopted caution as compass to avoid the kind of painful legal thrashing suffered by the so-called ‘Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain’ (MOA-AD) in 2008.”

Now we are told that last Thursday President Aquino himself met for four hours with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) wherein he laid out his “concerns” (euphemism for desired alterations or changes) over the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which was earlier crafted by the BTC and submitted to him last April for certification to Congress. The transmittal of the BBL was earlier targeted to reach Congress on time for the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) today.  Evidently, President Aquino wants some alterations of the proposed enactment on the Bangsamoro based on the study, findings, and recommendations of  his legal staff in Malacañang (officially referred to in government press releases as the “review team”) and does not want to posthaste transmit the bill to Congress, his scheduled SONA today notwithstanding. The restraint shown by the President is understandable considering that when he stamps his imprimatur or certification on the BBL, the bill practically becomes his own.

Of course, we expect the President to touch on the Bangsamoro framework agreement and its four annexes (power sharing, revenue generation and wealth sharing, transitional arrangements, and normalization) in his address before the two legislative chambers today, the peace deal being considered as one of the signal achievements of his four-year administration, although the BBL remains temporarily impounded in Malacañang for alterations.

What are these “concerns” (spell that as changes or alterations) of the President we don’t know. We can only surmise that these touch on and include the legal aspects of the BBL, its constitutionality, or, more particularly, with the specifics of the bill which may not be defensible when measured against the 1987 Constitution, adopted and ratified twenty-seven years ago during the term of the President’s mother.

On the heels of his judicial debacle over the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) issue last July 1 and the spectre of the MOA-AD drubbing in 2008 during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, it is understandable that President Aquino has adopted a stringent legal position calibrated to avoid a repeat defeat before the Supreme Court on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Obviously, the Palace’s review team (mostly, if not all lawyers, I assume) has been able to sway the President to adopt caution as a guiding principle before he certifies the BBL to Congress.

The crucial question, however, is whether the MILF negotiating panel, led by Mohagher Iqbal, who is also Chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, will readily accede to the proposed legal “make-over” of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, based on the recommendations of the review team as adopted by the President, and the extent or magnitude of the alterations in the BBL the said panel is willing to accept which do not conform to the framework agreement and its annexes.  Based on media accounts, it appears that the MILF panel chief and BTC chairman is not all too happy with the impoundment of the BBL in Malacañang. According to reports, he was not even present during the meeting conducted by the President. In its Friday issue, the Philippine Daily Inquirer informed that, “Earlier, Iqbal said the Palace review team had ‘diluted’ the draft BBL, turning the proposed measure that would give the Bangsamoro people autonomy into a lesser law than Republic Act No. 9054 which created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”

Although the President’s men have denied any “stalemate” following the review of the BBL, such condition looms large in the horizon that, unless finally resolved by President Aquino and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, may eventually lead to a major disruption of the timelines in the implementation of the peace accord between the government and the MILF. Hopefully, it will not give rise to more unpleasant consequences.

What puzzles most is why were these concerns not raised and resolved during the long period of negotiations and before the framework agreement was signed in Kuala Lumpur on October 15, 2012, which is almost two years ago. Why were the Palace’s legal eagles not brought on board early so they could have seasonably raised the issues which now confront both the government and MILF panels as well as the Bangsamoro Transition Commission? Why is this virtual vetting done only now?  Was this not anticipated by both negotiating panels and the transition commission, the former when they agreed on the framework agreement and the latter when it prepared the Bangsamoro Basic Law?

Art. VII, Sec. 7 of the framework agreement provides that, “The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law submitted by the Transition Commission shall be certified as an urgent bill by the President.”  Perhaps, it was the understanding of the negotiating parties, particularly the MILF panel, that coursing the BBL through the President would speed up legislation (as it is intended to be under the Constitution) for the creation of the Bangsamoro and that the Presidential certification of the BBL as an urgent measure is purely a ministerial function of the chief executive. Or was the MILF panel outmaneuvered in the negotiations, thereby allowing the national government, through the chief executive, to have the last say on the BBL?

Let’s wait and find out how the situation will unravel in the days ahead while remaining unswerving in our position to support the peace agreement with the MILF and to exclude Zamboanga City from the territorial coverage of the Bangsamoro.