12 senators: Bangsamoro bill unconstitutional

The report prepared by Senator Miriam Santiago's committee has the signature of 12 senators – one signature short of a majority vote

Angela Casauay

10:30:13am May 27, 2015

7:50:12pm May 27, 2015

HANGING IN THE BALANCE. Will the Senate manage to pass the proposed Bangsamoro basic law?

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 12 senators have signed a Senate committee report that considers the proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) unconstitutional. 

The report only needs the support of one more senator to have majority of the 24-member Senate declaring the BBL – as presently crafted – unconstitutional. 

Aside from Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairperson of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, 11 other senators signed the report including Senators Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara and Teofisto Guingona III, who were known to be supportive of the bill.  

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who chairs the main committee tackling the BBL, also signed the report. Other senators who signed include Aquilino Pimentel III, Manuel Lapid, Cynthia Villar, Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Gregorio Honasan II, Vicente Sotto III, Ralph Recto and Alan Peter Cayetano. 

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is outside the country while Senator Juan Ponce Enrile refused to sign because he has not studied the bill fully, Santiago said. 

In a statement, Santiago said she expects more senators to adopt the same view when the bill is discussed in the plenary. “By affixing their signatures in the committee report, senators are agreeing with the conclusion that the present BBL draft is essentially unconstitutional."

House pushes forward

The status of the BBL in the Senate is in stark contrast with how the House of Representatives views the proposed law. 

Voting 50-17, the House ad hoc committee introduced amendments to individual provisions that it deems unconstitutional but retained the meat of the bill on how the autonomous government will be formed and funded. 

A product of the peace deal between the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the BBL seeks to create an enhanced autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao with greater powers and resources. 

But Santiago, a constitutional expert, has stood firm on her position that the parliamentary form of government proposed in the law, which grants exclusive powers for the Bangsamoro autonomous region, constitutes an illegal substate. 

Senate unlikely to meet June deadline

As the results of Santiago's report emerged, Senate President Franklin Drilon – for the first time – on Wednesday admitted that the Senate may no longer meet the deadline. 

"We will try, but we are not sure if it will be passed in the plenary by June 11 because Senator (Ferdinand) Marcos (Jr) is holding another hearing by June 1," Drilon told radio DZRH.  

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is set to sponsor the bill and debate it on the floor on Monday, June 1. 

Asked if the Senate has the numbers to pass the bill, Drilon said he believes senators would vote in favor of it if the constitutionality of the law and the sovereignity of the Philippines would be guaranteed.

Unlike House members, senators have given no indication that they would strive to adhere to the target deadline to pass the law before Congress adjourns session on June 11. 

House leaders sought a meeting with Aquino in Malacañang before the BBL was put to a vote. On the day of voting, a new consolidated bill that included middle-ground provisions between Aquino and the lawmakers was distributed to members.  

During the vote, administration allies voted as a bloc to block most amendments by BBL opponents and pass the bill as a whole. Critics slammed Malacañang for allegedly railroading the bill.   

Senators are divided on proposals to have a similar meeting with Aquino on the BBL. 

Marcos on Wednesday warned that any plans from Malacañang to force its own version of the BBL to the Senate will backfire. 

“I hope it won't happen to us.  But I believe that’s not what the President has in mind because if that’s what the Palace would do I’m afraid the more the Senate will reject any version of the BBL that Malacanang wants to pass,” Marcos said in a radio interview. 

Marcos is holding a final committee hearing on the BBL on June 1 with local government officials. – Rappler.com