THE 1987 Constitution mandates the passage of an organic act for Muslim Mindanao providing it genuine autonomy within 18 months of the first Congress (Sec. 19, Art. X).

Now in the 16th Congress, 27 years after the passage of the Constitution, the legislators have yet to pass the necessary legislation.

“The creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras, which is peculiar to the 1987 Constitution, contemplates the grant of political autonomy, not just administrative authority over these regions.” (Cordillera Broad Coalition vs. COA, GR. 79956 January 25, 1996 and Lilia Yaranon vs. COA,, G.R. 82217 January 29, 1990.)

Despite the passage of organic acts creating the ARMM, the political autonomy contemplated by the 1987 Constitution in its detailed specification under Sec. 20, Article X thereof was not achieved.

Such would have allowed Muslim Mindanao the power to determine what is best for their development without undue interference or control by the national government.

This, after all, is the essence of autonomy: a devolution of responsibilities and resources with the objective of “permitting determined groups, with a common tradition and shared socio-cultural characteristics, to develop freely their ways of life and heritage, exercise their rights and be in charge of their business.

This is achieved through the establishment of a special governance regime for certain member communities who choose their own authorities from the within the community and exercise the jurisdictional authority legally accorded to them to decide internal community affairs. In the Philippine setting, regional autonomy implies the cultivation of more positive means for national integration.”

(Disomangcop and Dimalotang vs. The Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways, G.R. 149848, November 25, 2004)

The powers granted to autonomous regions are clearly laid out in Section 20, Article X. Any curtailment by the Legislature of what has been mandated by the Constitution, does not confer authentic political autonomy.

This considered, the proposed versions of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Area of Responsibility [BLBAR, for brevity], are UNCONSTITUTIONAL, insofar as they fail to provide what the Constitution mandates in Sec. 20 Art. X. They even take away powers and functions already granted to the existing ARMM.

They reduce the Bangsamoro Government to an entity akin to an ordinary local government unit. Section 20 guarantees that the organic act of autonomous regions shall provide for legislative powers not only over administrative organization, but also for (a) the creation of sources of revenue, (b) ancestral domain and natural resources, (c) personal, family and property relations, (d) regional urban and rural planning development, (e) economic social and tourism development, (f) educational policies, (g) preservation and development of the cultural heritage and (h) such other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.

The BLBAR, however, fails the constitutional mandate by insisting that control still be exercised by the National government over: the power to contract loans, credits and other forms of indebtedness with any government or private bank and other lending institutions, rendering inutile the Bangsamoro Government’s power to look for other sources of funds to sustain its programs and policies and not merely relying on the National Government’s coffers, land registration, as can inevitably impede the full recognition of ancestral domain titles by a mere assertion of the Jura Regalia Doctrine, matters involving personal, family and property relations, seeing as the BLBAR only limits the applicability of the Shariah Law to matters involving persons and family relations.

This curtails the powers expressly granted by the Constitution insofar as the Bangsamoro Government can even pass laws on property as well as penal statutes for the promotion of the general welfare of the people in the region; power over natural resources as the National Government still inserts its own interests in areas such as power generation and the extraction of metallic minerals in the area; economic, social and tourism development as well as preservation and development of the cultural heritage, insofar as it reverts back to the national government the power to oversee libraries, museums, and historical, cultural and archaeological sites in the area ; educational policies, insofar as the BLBAR now insists that the system of education in the Bangsamoro area be consistent with the National Government’s basic state policy/ies, public order and safety (for the general welfare of the people), effectively castrating the capability of local law enforcement to perform their tasks, with the PNP still having primary responsibility rather than devolving it to the Bangsamoro Government.

Under paragraph (g) on peace and order – Sec. 21 of the Constitution is explicit that “the preservation of peace and order within the regions shall be the local police agencies…” consistent with the constitutional provision on Sec. 6, Art. XVI.

The list goes on. What has been mandated by the Constitution and granted to the ARMM, the BLBAR (especially the Senate version) now takes back. What has been clearly expressed in the 1987 Constitution, the BLBAR now circumvents.

This is clearly contrary to the intent of granting authentic self-governance to an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao. With the limited number of days left before Congress adjourns, we urge our lawmakers to heed the command of our Constitution. Give to the autonomous regions what is guaranteed them. Do not take away what has already been granted by existing laws.

An organic law for genuine political autonomy in Muslim Mindanao as mandated by the Constitution is nearly three decades overdue! Do not pass a Basic Law that BARs them from this right. The BLBAR is unconstitutional.

Pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law that implements the Constitution and enjoys the approval of the Bangasamoro people!

This statement is taken from Fr. Joel Tabora SJ's blog. I decided to share it in my column to encourage more discussions about the BBL.) RA 6734 and later expanded by RA 9054.