Framers of Constitution back Bangsamoro autonomous region

Public discussions on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law must be about people, not semantics, the surviving members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission say

Angela Casauay

Published: 3:50 AM January 13, 2015

Updated: 3:52 AM January 13, 2015

MANILA, Philippines – Surviving members of the commission that drafted the post- Edsa Revolution 1987 Philippine Constitution have come out to declare their support for the establishment of a new autonomous region in Mindanao.

In their statement, the original members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (ConCom) stressed that public discussions on the proposed law must be about the welfare of the people, not semantics. 

The signatories to the statement are: 

Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo

Adolfo S. Azcuna

Teodoro C. Bacani

Joaquin G. Bernas

Florangel Rosario Braid

Hilario G. Davide Jr.

Edmundo G. Garcia

Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon

Christian S. Monsod

Ricardo J. Romulo

Rene V. Sarmiento

Jaime S.L. Tadeo

Wilfrido V. Villacorta

Bernardo M. Villegas 

The rest of the surviving ConCom members – Ponciano Bennagen, Teresa Nieva, Florenz Regalado, and Napoleon Rama –  are "bedridden or could not be reached," the statement said.

In their statement, the original framers of the Constitution did not scrutinize the specifics of the law nor categorically state that the entirety of the proposed law is constitutional. 

Instead, they underscored the "vision, spirit and the core principles" behind the Constitution, which they said "constitute the essential constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law."

"We fully support the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region," they said. 

They added: "We believe that a new organic law is necessary to fulfill the vision and spirit that guided the constitutional provisions on autonomous regions since Republic Act 6734 and Republic Act 9054 have clearly not gone far enough to give life to the concept of autonomy for Muslim Mindanao as envisioned by the Constitution." 

Congress is presently deliberating the proposed law that seeks to create a parliamentary form of autonomous government in Mindanao, with greater fiscal and political powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It will be called the "Bangsamoro" or land of the Moros. (DOCUMENT: Bangsamoro Basic Law Primer)

This marks the second phase of the peace process in Mindanao after the government and the largest organized armed group in the Philippines – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – signed a peace deal in March 2014 that aims to end more than 4 decades of war in the South.

At the top of concerns is whether the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is constitutional as it creates a parliamentary form of government, a departure from the presidential form that the central government now has. 

In Congress hearings, questions on how power will be shared between the central government and the Bangsamoro on various aspects, including auditing and electricity, have been raised repeatedly. (READ: Authority over Lake Lanao: Bangsamoro bill has to be clear)

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has called the proposed law unconstitutional for creating what she said was a substate instead of an autonomous region. 

In the House of Representatives, Isabela 1st district Representative Rodolfo Albano recently issued a statement appealing to his colleagues not to "cave in to political pressure" or "fears on the resumption of armed conflicts in Mindanao" to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law without scrutinizing its questionable provisions. 

Albano also warned against passing a law that was based on a peace agreement signed with only one rebel group in Mindanao. 

The MILF broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 1970s at the height of the conflict between rebels and government forces.

In 1996, the MNLF signed a peace deal with the government. Close to two decades later, the group maintains that the government has yet to fully implement the pact. With the government pushing for the peace accord with the MILF, a faction of the MNLF led by its founding chairman Nur Misuari staged a siege of Zamboanga in November 2013 to dramatize its exclusion from the peace process.   

Change in perspective  

The original framers of the Constitution called for a change in perspective in public discussions on the law – stressing that deliberations should be about people rather than semantics.

"Social justice that calls for genuine social change is the central theme of the 1987 Constitution; and here, it is broader in scope and intent than in the 1973 and the 1935 Constitutions. An interpretation of any relevant provision of the Constitution that results in war and abject poverty would be contrary to its intention," they said. 

They reminded lawmakers that the ultimate decision on the Bangsamoro lies in the people – during the plebiscite to be held once the law is passed in Congress.

To get to this point, "courageous statesmanship from our leaders and the generosity of spirit of a united nation" is needed, the ConCom members said.

"The challenge of the BBL presents to us another chance at national incandescence. It is within our reach. Let us set aside partisan politics and stop the urge to exhibit our ability to find nuances of legalism that can delay, or worse, derail the process, feeding on the cynicism and playing on the fears in the national psyche that are more reflex action than reasoned response," the statement said.  

Before signing an initial peace framework with the government, the MILF was a separatist group that has been engaged in a decades-long struggle for independence.  

During the peace negotiations, the MILF was adamant in its position that the Constitution needs to be revised in order to give Muslim Mindanao full autonomy.  

But the Aquino administration also stood firm in its position to negotiate a workable peace deal that is within the confines of the Constitution. 

Both sides were able to keep talks going after the MILF decided to drop its demand for independence in exchange for full autonomy as the government peace panel agreed to explore the flexibilities of the Constitution. 

Since the final draft of the bill was submitted to Congress, consultations not only in the core territories but also in nearby Mindanao provinces, and key provinces in Luzon and Visayas, have been conducted. 

Congress aims to pass the basic law by March, with the plebiscite targeted to come soon after to give the MILF at least one year to lead the transition towards the Bangsamoro. 

The ad-hoc committee on the Bangsamoro in the House is expected to wrap up discussions on the proposed law in January. 

The Senate, meanwhile, is set to conduct two more hearings on January 26 and February 2 on the constitutional issues surrounding the law.  Rappler.com