THE Senate Sub Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law had its 6th Public Hearing last February 5, 2018 to discuss the constitutional, taxation, and mineral and natural resources sharing issues within the bills filed in the Senate.
As a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), I was invited by the Sub Committee Chair Senator Migz Zubiri to attend together with the other members of the BTC.
In the said Senate Hearing, two framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution were invited as resource persons. They were retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid.
Chief Justice Davide affirmed the stance of his fellow Constitution framers that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission’s (BTC) version of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is constitutional.
He also shared his comments and suggestions to improve the BBL. He delivered his inputs for almost half an hour and below are the five points that I learned from him about the BBL.
“First, the passage of a law that creates an autonomous region is a constitutional mandate. Unlike ordinary legislation, the passage of the BBL is not merely part of the regular exercise of the State’s legislative powers. It is the performance of a sacred constitutional duty. Viewed differently, as the eminent constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, would put it, the establishment of the autonomous regions is not a question of privilege, but a question of right, for the regions that were guaranteed autonomy.”
“Second, the passage of an organic law for the autonomous region is compelled by the imperative of correcting the injustices of the past, the urgency of the socio-economic- political context at present, and the uncertainty of having a similar opportunity in the future. The negotiations for a Bangsamoro peace agreement have dragged on for 20 years. The result is an autonomous law that broadens the original one and more fully complies with our government’s Constitutional promise and duty.”
“Third, autonomy, especially in the context of the Constitution’s mandate for the creation of autonomous regions is, in itself, a peculiarity, and the region that is given autonomy must be recognized and respected for its uniqueness. Autonomy and self-governance are not equivalent to independence or statehood. It is a statement of national unity achieved not just by acknowledging human diversity, but allowing diversity to thrive. The Autonomous Regions were created as special local governments that were distinct from the territorial and political subdivisions existing prior to the 1987 Constitution.”
“Fourth, the BBL must be understood as an extraordinarily special law, not only because of its nature as an organic act, but also, and more importantly, as an embodiment of a peace agreement, the product of prolonged negotiations. The BBL is not an ordinary legislative proposal that comes into being merely with the sponsorship of a legislator or a group of legislators. It is likewise not comparable to a number of legislative proposals that came out of a process of drafting by stakeholders, and, eventually, picked up by champions among the legislators.”
He added, “The BBL is a product of a peace agreement, forged after decades-old peace negotiations, borne out of the country’s exhaustion with war. The negotiations were done with the participation of international facilitators and observers. The drafting of the BBL underwent an elaborate process, even necessitating the creation of a composite Bangsamoro Transition Commission. Understanding the nature of the BBL will place greater significance on the legislative process and put it in the proper perspective. The legislative process must be seen as an indispensable and final step to complete and implement the agreement. Legislators are not only policy formulators, they become peace-builders.”
“Fifth, the Constitution must be interpreted liberally, so as to give life to its provisions, and allow the fulfillment of the decades-old mandate for genuine regional autonomy. In interpreting the BBL, any doubt must be construed liberally, and not restrictively, so as to give life to the constitutional mandate.”
The input on Chief Justice gives a clear discussion on the constitutionality of the BBL. He emphasized, “Legislators are not only policy formulators, they become peace-builders.”
In the next few weeks, both the Congress and Senate will have their series of Public Hearings and Consultations in the different provinces and municipalities/cities regarding the BBL. The BBL may be a regional legislation, but it has a national interest at stake. Our nation must support this initiative with an informed opinion.