By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter
THE deadlock on the territorial jurisdiction of the proposed Bangsamoro region was finally resolved on Wednesday, July 11, with the provisions of the House of Representatives being adopted in the final version of the bill.
“Pleased to announce that the President facilitated the passage of the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) by convincing the two Houses of Congress to adopt the House version of the BBL providing that the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and the 39 barangays of North Cotabato could vote to join the BBL territory in a referendum to be conducted on the mother territory of the areas involved,” presidential spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in part in his text message to reporters.
“Provisions and the decisions of the Supreme Court in the case of Umali, the passage of the BBL has been assured. PRRD (President Rodrigo R. Duterte) will sign the BBL law before the SONA (State of the Nation Address),” Mr. Roque added.
He was referring to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that, as House Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas explained, ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a plebiscite for all registered voters in Nueva Ecija, not just those from Cabanatuan City, on whether to approve Cabanatuan City as a highly-urbanized city.
“In the same manner, the House bill provides that in the case of the 39 barangays in North Cotabato, the municipalities to which they belong shall participate in the plebiscite,” Mr. Fariñas said in a phone message to reporters.
The contentious provisions on the proposed Bangsamoro territory concerned the inclusion of six municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato. The areas involved are part of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
In the House version, the six municipalities in Lanao del Norte needed the approval of the province before being included in the proposed Bangsamoro region. The 39 barangays in North Cotabato also needed the approval of their respective municipalities as well.
Meanwhile, the Senate version did not provide for the approval of the concerned province or municipalities. If the citizens in the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and the 39 barangays of North Cotabato voted in favor of their inclusion in the Bangsamoro territory, their areas will be automatically be part of the Bangsamoro region. The Senate version adapted the provisions proposed by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
The lawmakers sought the advice of the President on the Bangsamoro territory on Wednesday following the deadlock between the House and Senate panels last Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, Senator Aquilino L. Pimentel III, House Majority Leader Fariñas, House Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra A. Sema, and Lanao del Norte Rep. Mohamad Khalid Q. Dimaporo were present in the Wednesday meeting with Mr. Duterte.
Mr. Zubiri confirmed the matter in a phone message to reporters, saying the Senate version was unconstitutional according to legal luminaries present in the meeting with Mr. Duterte.
“The legal luminaries in the meeting together with the Executive Secretary (Salvador C. Medialdea) and Justice Secretary (Menardo I. Gueverra) all agreed that not involving the mother provinces and municipalities during the plebiscite for the towns of Lanao del Norte and barangays of North Cotabato would be unconstitutional,” the senator from Bukidnon said.
“And so as not (to be) struck down by the Supreme Court on that provision, the consensus was to adopt the House version on territory. As a good soldier, as that was the direction given, then I submit,” Mr. Zubiri added.
He also said he would have to “manage the expectations” and “temper the emotions” of the BTC since the body favored the Senate version on the issue.
Aside from the lawmakers, the Wednesday meeting was also attended by national security officials, such as Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Oscar D. Albayalde, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Officer-in-Charge Eduardo M. Año. Lawyers from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) were present as well.
In an interview with reporters at Crowne Plaza in Pasig City after the meeting in Malacañang, Mr. Zubiri said the lawmakers laid down the possible outcomes if the Senate version or the House gets adopted. He said Mr. Duterte just asked if the versions presented were constitutional.
“The decision was not to give false hopes because if you give false hope that we passed it here, they’re happy then it will be elevated to the Supreme Court and it will be shut down by the Supreme Court like the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain). It is more dangerous. As early as now, they are informed that this is the situation. This is constitutional and there you can manage their expectations,” he said.
The MOA-AD once sought to establish the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity but was stalled during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after it was met with strong opposition. Peace talks collapsed between the government and the MILF after the SC issued a temporary restraining order on the MOA-AD and later declared it as unconstitutional in 2008. Some members of the MILF then staged attacks in the villages of Lanao Del Norte and North Cotabato.
Mr. Zubiri also said they have explained to the President that certain groups may take “inevitable actions” and disrupt the passage of the BBL because of concerns that they might not be joining the Bangsamoro region due to the provisions on the territory.
The national security officials then assured that they are prepared with any situation with the passage of the BBL, noting that they were still on “double red alert” in Mindanao due to the extended martial law, he added.
However, the senator appealed to the BTC as well as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) for understanding with the outcome on the Bangsamoro territory and hoped they remained committed with the peace process, noting the other gains that was approved from the bicameral conference committee such as the provisions on block grants, the Parliament, and the fiscal autonomy.
The senator also urged for the Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza to coordinate with the MILF leadership as well as the other stakeholders and to explain the situation with them to “temper emotions.”
“Along the way, we must seek the patience of our partners and stakeholders together with the MILF and the MNLF, and all other NGOs there that we really need to follow the Constitution. The Constituion is our basic law of the land. It’s really difficult to deviate or to come up with unconstitutional provisions,” he said.
“We’re passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law not to create trouble, we’re passing the Bangsmoro Basic Law to create hope and achieve peace… These little snags should not dampen the mood of hopefulness and the development of peace and order in the region,”
Mr. Zubiri hoped they would finish the bicameral conference committee this week so they could approve the bicam report on Monday, July 16 and submit the final version to the President for review on Tuesday, July 17.
By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter