During Wednesday's Senate plenary hearing on the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR), the amended version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) authored by Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. as Senate Committee on Local Government chair, Senator Teofisto “TG” D. Guingona III questioned the deletions from the original draft, which he believed were vital to the identity and operation of the autonomous region.
“My review of the BBL takes off from the following objectives: first, to highlight the primacy of the Constitution as basis and framework for the mandate of government in peace negotiations and creations of autonomous regions. Second is to acknowledge the nature, context, and significance of the draft BBL both as a legislative measure and a peace process instrument,” explained Guingona.
The lawmaker from Bukidnon began his interpellation by questioning the deletion of the preamble in the Senate BLBAR filed as Senate Bill No. 2894. Guingona argued that Republic Act No. 9054, the bill’s predecessor and the implementing law of the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also a carried a preamble and that had not been found as “constitutionally repugnant.” Republic Act 6734, which preceded R.A. 9054 and established the ARMM, also include a preamble or prefatory statement.
Marcos explained that “constitutionality did not really come into the reasoning that led to the removal of the preamble.” He added that it was done to “remove any suspicion or fear that we are writing a constitution for a separate state.” Conversely, Guingona countered that a preamble is simply an “introductory statement” that “usually states the reasons or/and the intent of [a] law.”
“It would be helpful to have preamble because it will prevent confusion. A preamble is a statement of intent. If you are saying there are fears that [the Bangsamoro] might not be part of the
, that this might be a
first step [toward secession], then let us state ‘it is not so’ in the
preamble,” added Guingona. Philippines
Matter of inland waters
“Inland waters jurisdiction has already been given over to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao under R.A. 9054. This has been taken away in [the BLBAR],” said Guingona, adding that the 1987 Philippine Constitution also guarantees autonomous regions to have jurisdiction over natural resources such as inland waters.
Natural resources as well as economic development are among the legislative powers listed under Section 20, Article X of the 1987 Philippine Constitution that can be vested by organic acts, such as the BBL and the BLBAR, to autonomous regions.
Marcos commented that his committee only intended to preserve the powers of local government units over inland waters as guided by the Local Government Code of 1991. He added that the Bangsamoro parliament, once established, could always pass laws that would enhance the regional government’s administration and management over inland waters.
However, Senate President Franklin Drilon, in his questioning, pointed out that authority was not given to the Bangsamoro government to amend the said code. “[The Bangsamoro] cannot transgress national laws. Therefore, I think we should already give them the jurisdiction over the preservation and management of inland waters,” Guingona seconded.
Other deletions grilled
Guingona directed his next questions on the deletion of provisions referring to the Shari’ah High Court. “From my review, I do not see anything unconstitutional in retaining the Shari’ah High Court.”
Quoting the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the solon from Bukidnon explained that “judicial powers shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.”
Despite the name, the original draft of the BBL clearly stated that the decisions of the Shari’ah High Court are subject to the judicial review of the Supreme Court.
Marcos said that the deletion was motivated by an attempt to streamline operations and cut cost, citing the low number of cases shari’ah courts established under Presidential Decree No. 1083 have been receiving. “There is no legal principle we are trying to impose in the deletion of those provisions,” commented Marcos.
Guingona contradicted Marcos’ statements by highlighting that the establishment of the Shari’ah Courts was not a simple matter of case load. “The closest analogy is the Court of Tax Appeals because taxation, being a complex matter, Congress saw it fit to create a Court of Tax Appeals when we could have done without it with the presence of the Court of Appeals.”
“[Shari’ah law] is not just complex in terms of being technical, but there are cultural and religious aspects on this matter which the Court of Appeals justice may not be predisposed to handle,” added Guingona.
Moving on to the provision on the Special Development Fund (SDF), a P17 billion cash fund which will be disbursed to the Bangsamoro government by the national government for purposes of rehabilitation and development, Marcos admitted that he did not see the purpose for establishing such a fund.
Guingona, who hails from
Mindanao, disputed that there
was an actual and immediate need for the SDF. “I see a need and I see an
opportunity: the need is that the [would-be Bangsamoro] is one of the poorest,
if not the poorest areas in the country. The poverty is stark, illiteracy is
high, and health conditions are below par. Clearly, there is a need.”
“Secondly, here we are creating a Bangsamoro autonomous region, a new entity. This is an opportunity. We do not want it to fail like ARMM. Therefore, if we just give them political autonomy without giving them the financial wherewithal, then we are just dooming them to failure,” Guingona continued.
“Their success in the Bangsamoro will be our success. Their success will be the success of this country,” he added.
GOCCs vs local enterprises
Guingona also asked Marcos why provisions on the creation of government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) had been deleted. “We shall say that whatever [the Bangsamoro government] passes, whatever they create shall be consistent with the Constitution, pertinent laws and Republic Act No. 10149, the GOCC Governance Act of 2011.”
Marcos yielded that the Bangsamoro, similar to local government units, could create economic enterprises. “What a local government does is create what we referred to as an economic enterprise. It is a financial operation where the local government makes money. Tourism, for example, a resort, a restaurant, whatever it is, development of a mall - that is an economic enterprise. And there is nothing that holds an LGU.”
Senator Ralph Recto, at this point, took the floor and offered an additional explanation. “But the only confusion again is: What is a GOCC? What is a local public enterprise? They are very similar. So, yes, local governments, and I think the Bangsamoro region should be allowed to create a local GOCC or a local public enterprise.”
“We must provide the Bangsamoro region with the legal authority to create whatever we want to call it, a GOCC, a local GOCC, or a local public enterprise,” Recto concluded.
After his interpellation, Guingona reserved the right to bring up the matters discussed in a future time. The Senate suspension was suspended until Monday, 7 September.