QUESTIONS regarding the powers and responsibilities of the envisioned Bangsamoro government marked the last day of the Senate's public hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said the responsibilities and functions of the Bangsamoro government remained unclear.
"What is the relationship, in terms of power sharing and wealth sharing, between the national government and the Bangsamoro government?” said Marcos, chairman of the Senate committee on local government.
Recto said the responsibilities of the Bangsamoro government in terms of poverty reduction, health, education, and the creation of competitive infrastructure have yet to be explained.
“How do we envision this Bangsamoro (government) to work? What are its responsibilities? What we are pinpointing here are responsibilities especially that you are talking of certain national government’s functions that are to be devolved with the creation of the BBL,” he said.
The Bangsamoro region will receive an estimated P75 billion subsidy on its first year alone and will get a block grant of around P27 billion in 2016.
But Recto said there are no clear performance targets laid down in the proposed law.
Recto then requested government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer to submit a detailed list of responsibilities of Bangsamoro government to Marcos’ committee.
Marcos backed Recto’s suggestion.
Ferrer said she would also submit suggestions that would clarify the powers of the proposed regional government.
Meanwhile, Marcos said the committee report on the draft law is expected to be completed after the State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Benigno Aquino III on July 27.
"We still have to sit down and write it. I have ideas in my head, I have written and made some notes but the language still have to be hammered down," Marcos said.
"We have to remember that the substitute bill that will be presented in the plenary will not be a product of my own ideas but it will be a product of ideas proposed during the committee deliberations or the committee report on the substitute bill," he added.
In crafting a substitute bill, Marcos said one of the options he is considering is amending the law that created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).
He said the proposal began to "gain traction over the last couple of weeks."
"It was not talked before but these past two weeks, it seemed that many of the senators were saying that (amending Armm law) is the good thing to do. In fact, those who generally opposed the draft BBL said it is a big thing to help pass the BBL if we will just make an amendment (to the Armm law)," Marcos said.
Marcos said amending the Armm law would address the constitutional dilemma of creating a new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao that is allegedly not allowed according to some legal experts.
“And so a solution around that will be to say this is merely an amendment of the existing law. That dispenses with that argument questioning the constitutionality of the law,” he said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, for his part, said the proposed law would be "more inclusive, sensitive, and widely" acceptable if the opt-in provision under the law, which allows the expansion of the Bangsamoro area, will be removed.
"The opt-in provision is a polarizing provision that only invites opposition, instead of support to the BBL," Drilon said, noting that the provision will only create mistrust between Muslims, Christians, and other sectors in Mindanao.
"It will just enflame suspicions against the BBL, however, unwarranted. It is certainly not conducive to have provisions like that at this stage when we are trying to overcome the many prejudices, misconceptions and apprehensions the public holds about the BBL," he added.
Malacañang acknowledged that the BBL's passage may no longer be feasible before Congress ends its session this week.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. expressed hope, however, that the bill will be passed shortly after Aquino's last Sona.
"Through continuing dialogue, differing viewpoints may be harmonized in crafting the law that, we hope, may be enacted shortly after Congress re-convenes in July," he said in a statement.
He said the decision of congressional leaders to continue working on the enactment of the BBL beyond the current session provides an opportunity to gain broader support for achieving long-term peace, stability and progress in Mindanao.
"We will intensify efforts at creating heightened citizen awareness that is essential in engaging their active participation in the peace process," Coloma said.
Marcos, however, said the bill may be passed into law only in September. (SDR/Sunnex)