BBL’s parliamentary features questioned

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Bangsamoro Assembly postponed
BTC Chairman Ghazali B. Jaafar (2nd from left) leads the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law to President Rodrigo R. Duterte on July 17, 2017. — BTC PHOTO

By Camille A. Aguinaldo

FORMER SENATE president Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. on Tuesday flagged constitutional issues regarding the current version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), particularly the structure of the Bangsamoro government aimed at adopting a parliamentary system.

At the resumption of the Senate hearing on the BBL, senators tackled its provisions with security, budget, and finance officials as well as constitutional experts providing suggestions that would further refine the proposed measure.

For his part, Mr. Pimentel said the Bangsamoro government opting for a parliamentary system was “incongruous” with the presidential structure of the 1987 Constitution.

“The autonomous region envisioned in the Constitution which the BBL intends to govern must follow the form of government provided for in the fundamental law, and that is, none other than the presidential form of government,” he said.

According to Article 4, Section 2 of the draft BBL, “The Bangsamoro Government shall be parliamentary. Its political system is democratic, allowing its people to freely participate in the political processes within its territory.”

Mr. Pimentel also questioned the electoral system of the Bangsamoro government in which there is an elected parliament while its chief minister, who heads the government and the executive authority, is chosen by the members of that parliament.

Citing Article 10, Section 18 of the Constitution, the former Senate leader said: “The section clearly mandates that the Executive Department and the Legislative Assembly of the proposed Bangsamoro entity must be ‘elective and representative of the constituent political units’ in that area of our country.”

Mr. Pimentel also proposed ideas on how to improve the reserved powers of the Bangsamoro government, particularly its electoral office, human rights commission, justice system, education system, congressional districts, civil service, among others.

In an interview with reporters, Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, who chairs the subcommittee on the BBL, said they could look into the provisions in question and tweak it in a way that complies with the Constitution.

“Our suggestion was: instead of calling it parliament, maybe we can still call it an assembly. And instead of calling it minister, you can call him executive director. We can change the names so it could address the unconstitutionality questions,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Mr. Zubiri added that there would be a technical working group which would focus on the bill’s constitutionality issues so it passes through the Supreme Court if contested.

On security matters, National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. suggested that the Armed Forces create military task forces for the region, instead of forming a Bangsamoro Military Command, as stated in the bill.

“I believe the Armed Forces is better able to serve purposes of defense and security without becoming a potential instrument of the leaders or personalities in an area for their own interests. I believe the Eastern Mindanao Command and the Western Mindanao Command are enough and sufficient. We can create other task forces, like the Joint Task Force (JTF) Zamboanga or JTF Pagadian, so we can be more flexible in that kind of setup,” he said.

Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno for his part said the expenditure plan for the Bangsamoro government will have to depend on the size of its territorial jurisdiction.

On matters of revenue sharing, Finance undersecretary for legal services Bayani H. Agabin said they could not yet gauge if the proposed 6% annual block grant from the national government as well as the proposed 75%-25% local taxes share between the Bangsamoro and national governments would be enough for the region’s financial stability.

Mr. Agabin also mentioned that based on the estimates of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), money that would be spent for BBL’s first year would be around P60 billion for the block grant, P10 billion for the special development fund, and an additional P10 billion for the transition.