By Charmaine A. Tadalan
THE Bicameral Conference Committee has approved on Wednesday night, July 18, the reconciled version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will be called the Organic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the Muslim Mindanao.
The landmark bill, according to Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, hurdled the bicameral level a year after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) submitted the draft BBL to President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
“First of all, we’re addressing the aspirations of our brothers and sisters for self-governance, additional funding for the block grant, they’ll be able now to chart their own path,” Mr. Zubiri told reporters in a chance interview, following the approval.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas, for his part, expressed confidence the Committee had addressed all possible constitutional breach.
“Definitely, we want them to bring it (to the Supreme Court), (so that) it will pass the test of constitutionality,” Mr. Fariñas said.
The Majority Leaders said a copy of the reconciled version will be provided to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and will be subject for review of the President. “Both panels will be able to ratify it Monday morning, barring any unforeseen circumstances,” Mr. Zubiri said.
The Committee on Wednesday afternoon finalized the last five articles of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) including the article on the economy and patrimony. The committee has held six marathon hearings on the draft law.
“(We’ll) discuss these five articles, and hopefully approve it by this afternoon,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said in a press briefing. “We’re down to the last five articles and we see only one article that is contentious and sensitive, which is patrimony and natural resources.”
The senator from Bukidnon said the BBL has by far the longest bicameral meeting. “This measure probably has the longest bicam. Ito siguro pinakamatagal (This probably took the longest), longer than TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion). TRAIN, we did in four days,” Mr. Zubiri said.
Earlier, he said the draft BBL, if approved, will only amend, not repeal, Republic Act 9054 on the organization of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Under the article on economy and patrimony, the proposed measure identifies the power, authority and control of the Bangsamoro government on the utilization of inland bodies of water, natural resources, and fossil fuels among others.
The panel agreed last week to allow the national government, through the Department of Energy (DoE), and the Bangsamoro government to jointly explore and utilize natural resources in the region.
It was also resolved that inland waters of the Bangsamoro region will be under the control of the Bangsamoro regional government, save bodies of water that contribute power outside the region. Case in point is Lake Lanao which produces power for about 30% of Mindanao. Further, the proposed measure provides that Bangsamoro waters in the Sulu Sea and Moro Gulf will extend up to 19 kilometers from the low-water mark at the coast.
Also resolved by the committee were issues concerning the Shari’ah courts. At present, according to Mr. Zubiri, the Shari’ah justice system does not require court members to be lawyers, but they must be experts on the Qur’an and Islamic Law.
“Right now, hindi needed na abogado dahil meron silang special exam na binibigay ng (it’s not required that they be lawyers because they take a special exam given by the) Supreme Court, (the) Special Shari’ah Bar Exam,” Mr. Zubiri said.
But he also noted that the proposed BBL expands the Shari’ah justice system, which will now have criminal jurisdiction on minor offenses.
“Hawak na ng Shari’ah Courts ang ibang (The Shari’ah Courts will have jurisdiction over) criminal cases involving Muslims to Muslims…, (on) which the penalty is Arresto Menor. I think that is six months and below,” Mr. Zubiri said. “Since may criminal aspect, dapat abogado naman po (Since there is already a criminal aspect, a lawyer should be placed) at the bare minimum.”
The other provisions the committee discussed are those on rehabilitation and development, the holding of a plebiscite, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, amendments and revisions, and final provisions.
Mr. Zubiri also said the committee will take a final look at the Preamble, following debates on Tuesday among the House and Senate panels, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
“We’ll go back to the Preamble kasi pinagdebatehan namin kahapon (because we were debating on this yesterday). There (were) concerns (from the) BTC and MILF on the changing of the Preamble,” the senator said.
Mr. Fariñas said the Preamble should state “the Filipino People,” instead of “the Bangsamoro People,” which he said is not aligned with the 1987 Constitution. He argued that the people of the Philippines, in general, can order Congress to pass legislation. He then proposed that the preamble should read “the Filipino people, cognizant of the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.”
The committee also had to assure stakeholders that last-minute amendments are not intended to diminish the ARMM.
“There was no agenda for diminishing the ARMM or diminishing the gains of the bicameral meetings we had last week. These were just correcting or cleaning up certain provisions…, to better stand the test of constitutionality,” Mr. Zubiri said.
By Charmaine A. Tadalan