Celso: Zambo backs BBL, but ‘NO’ to Bangsamoro inclusion PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 17 November 2014 11:39

District 1 Rep. Celso Lobregat has clarified that ?amboanga City or the local officials, himself included, and majority of its people are not opposed to House Bill 4994 or the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which was the subject of a congressional public hearing Friday at Centro Latino, this city.

“We are for peace and we want peace. We support the BBL provided it should be constitutionally binding. What we are against is the inclusion of ?amboanga City in the Bangsamoro territory,” Lobregat stressed, to a thunderous applause from the majority of the people who attended the public hearing conducted by the House of Representatives’ Adhoc Committee on the draft BBL.

While the bill does not expressly include Zamboanga City in the Bangsamoro territory, Lobregat said there are provisions in the proposed law that have to be clarified, defined and explained. He specifically cited the issue on “contiguity” or “contiguous” areas of the Bangsamoro territory.

Under the draft BBL, the Bangsamoro Territory (Article III) includes “all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10% of the registered voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the process of delimitation of the Bangsamoro.”

“This provision is an issue of great concern to us. This is what concerns me, this is what concerns Mayor Beng (Climaco) and other city officials,” Lobregat said, explaining that the proposed law on the Bangsamoro is not so clear and is very ambiguous on the issue of territorial jurisdiction because of the issues on “contiguous areas” and the “10% of the registered voters asking to join”.

He said Zamboanga City is not part of the existing Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and that “by land, Zamboanga City is not contiguous to any of the ARMM areas, but by water (sea) it is.”

Hence, the Zamboanga solon stressed the need for the BBL to clearly and expressly define the word “contiguous” whether by land mass, air or sea. And more anomalous, he lamented, is the issue on 10%, which means a barangay may be part of the Bangsamoro by a mere petition of at least q0% of its registered voters.

Following the said contention, many ?amboanguenos have been apprehensive that the city’s Muslim-dominated barangays will eventually become part of the Bangsamoro.

To preclude such apprehension from happening, Lobregat suggested that inclusion in the Bangsamoro should be delimited to a province and city voting in favor as a constituent unit (as a whole), and not just by a mere petition of the 10% of the registered voters of any part, barangay or municipality of a province or city.

“These are major issues and concerns that the BBL should make clear. The law should identify which areas are really part of the Bangsamoro, without hiding in ambiguity, aside from those provinces and cities already part of the existing ARMM. We should call a spade a spade,” Lobregat further argued.

He also questioned other provisions of the draft BBL he thinks are contrary to the constitution like giving to the Bangsamoro the powers that traditionally, constitutionally and legally belong to the national government.

These powers include national defense and security, foreign relations, customs and tariff, quarantine, banking and quasi banking and external borrowing, importation and exportation, naturalization and general auditing, among others.

This, giving away so much powers of the central government to the Bangsamoro, is not only the concern of ?amboanga City but also of other provinces and cities, according to Lobregat.

He bewailed the Bangsamoro Government is so powerful that with just one law (the BBL in its present form) can amend all existing national laws like those concerning environmental protection, civil service, the Local Government Code, fisheries code and even the Philippine National Police (PNP) law, wherein supervision of the police is under the chief minister of the Bangsamoro and no longer under the local chief executives.

He said if the proponents of the BBL and those in favor of inclusion in the Bangsamoro want the draft law to pass congressional scrutiny and people’s approval through a plebiscite, then it must withstand the constitutional test.

“It (BBL) must only give what the Constitution can give or allows,” Lobregat said. Otherwise, he warned, the draft law is doomed to fail and will most likely suffer the same fate as that of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court had declared contrary to law and unconstitutional.

Former military general turned senator and now Congressman Rodolfo Bia?on, who was supportive of intent of the draft BBL as a step closer to achieving a lasting peace in Mindanao, however, shared with Lobregat’s arguments on the constitutionality issue of HB 4994.

Biazon said although there are certain issues in the Bangsamoro that those opposed to it can probably compromise with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“We can compromise other issues in the Bangsamoro. What we cannot compromise is the issue on constitutionality because what happened to the MOA-AD should not happen to the Bangsamoro,” Bia?on declared to a rousing applause of approval by the participants.

To recall, in 2008 the national government then under President Gloria Arroyo and MILF signed the MOA-AD that would have established the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

Zamboanga City, then with Lobregat as mayor, Iligan City and North Cotabato were among the areas that would have formed part of the BJE if they would opt to join through a plebiscite that will be called for the purpose.

This prompted Lobregat along with the mayor of Iligan and the vice governor of North Cotabato to question the legality and constitutionality of the MOA-AD before the High Tribunal, which eventually ruled to their favor.

For his part, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who presided over the public hearing as chairman of the ad hoc committee, said the draft BBL is an affirmation of the national government’s sincerity in trying to achieve peace in Mindanao by giving the Bangsamoro so much powers and full political and fiscal autonomy.

He said the BBL gives 58 full powers of the national government to the Bangsamoro Government, 14 powers are consensus or shared with the central government. “Only 9 powers are retained with the central government.” He did not elaborate.

Notwithstanding, Rodriguez assured the Zamboangueños that Zamboanga City will not and will never be part of the Bangsamoro.

“We came here to hear and listen to your sentiments about the Bangsamoro bill and listening to all your views as articulated by your leaders like Congressman Lobregat, Mayor Climaco and the City Council, I cannot see how ?amboanga City will be included in the Bangsamoro,” Rodriguez told the participants of the public hearing that lasted for seven hours, from 10 am to 5 pm without lunch break.

“Zamboanga, do not worry,” he added, and went on to say that ?amboanga City even out of it  stands to benefit from the Bangsamoro once it is established.

Meanwhile, the adhoc committee chairman said the public hearing in Zamboanga City was the most-attended not only in terms of participation by the people from various sectors but also in terms of attendance by members of the Lower House with 20 of them present despite the distance.

A day earlier, the committee conducted similar public hearing in Bongao, the capital town of Tawi-Tawi. This week the committee will go to Isabela City, Basilan. Like Zamboanga, Isabela is also not part the ARMM,

Just the same, Isabela City Mayor Cherry Akbar appeared at the public hearing here Friday and briefly manifested the stand of her constituents on HB 4994.

“I am here not really as a participant but as an observer. And I would like to inform the Body that majority of the people of Isabela City are also against to inclusion in the Bangsamoro,” she said. The city’s official stand on the issue will be submitted to the committee  when it goes to Isabela this week.

It was learned that Mayor Akbar might not be able to attend the scheduled public hearing in her city because she was due for an official trip abroad by then, hence her brief appearance at the ?amboanga public hearing.

The public hearing started with Mayor Climaco (Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde and members of the City Council stood behind her as a show of support) speaking for and on behalf of Zamboanga City and its people against the inclusion of ?amboanga or any part of the city including its municipal waters in the Bangsamoro even as she declared support to the Pres. Aquino’s peace initiatives with the MILF.

After her, Iturralde read for the committee members and the public a resolution of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, expressing its strong opposition to the inclusion of Zmboanga City in the Bangsamoro.

Both Climaco and Iturralde enumerated several issues and provisions of the Bangsamoro bill they considered unjust and unconstitutional.— Vic Larato