By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Senate burned the midnight oil Wednesday and unanimously approved on third and final reading the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), making good its promise to pass the priority measure before going on a break.
After tedious deliberation and page-per-page scrutiny of the Duterte administration’s urgent measure, the Upper Chamber approved Senate Bill 1717 with 21 affirmative votes and no negative vote at about 1 a.m. Thursday.
President Duterte has certified the measure as “urgent,” allowing the Senate to skip the three-day rule in legislation and approve the bill on final reading following its passage on second reading.
Of the senators, Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao and Leila de Lima, who is detained, were not able to vote on the measure.
The Lower House had earlier approved its version of the BBL Wednesday afternoon.
Senate leaders earlier said the bicameral conference committee may convene during the break to thresh out the differing provisions of the bill so that the President can sign it into law in time for his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23.
Once enacted, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Palace is pleased with the versions of the BBL passed by both Houses of Congress.
“We’re pleased that both houses passed the respective versions of the BBL. The certification was a signal that the President considers the BBL as absolutely indispensable in the search for peace in Mindanao,” Roque said Thursday.
“We’re pleased that both houses of Congress agreed to come up with a final version of the bill during the break. They need to polish it at the bicameral conference committee because that is the last chance for them to make sure that it will withstand the test of judicial scrutiny. We’re very pleased that they’re aiming that the President can sign the final BBL on the day of the SONA itself,” he added.
SB 1717 sponsored by Mindanao Sen. Miguel Zubiriunderwent a major facelift in the Senate to address constitutional issues.
Under the bill, the Bangsamoro region shall comprise the provinces in the present ARMM, and the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte. Other cities, municipalities, and provinces who wish to join the region may do so in a plebiscite.
The Bangsamoro region will be established upon the ratification of the BBL by majority of the votes cast in the said plebiscite.
There is no opt-out provision in the Senate-approved BBL.
The national goverment shall maintain its authority over the Bangsamoro region which shall have a parliamentary system of government led by a Chief Minister and shall have local autonomy over the Bangsamoro’s territorial jurisdiction.
Palawan will not be part of the Bangsamoro region and will remain in Region 4-B.
The Bangsamoro people–natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago – should be identified as citizens of the Philippines pursuant to the Constitution.
The Senate-approved BBL also retained the authority of key constitutional institutions in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
The Bangsamoro government may create internal auditing agency, but the Commission on Audit (COA), as a country’s supreme auditing body, shall have “exclusive” power to check transactions of the Bangsamoro government and its local government units.
The Bangsamoro regional police and military will be under the authority of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Their structures shall follow existing policies and programs by the national government.
Besides the COA, PNP and AFP, the powers of the Commission on Elections, Commission on Human Rights, and Civil Service Commission, as well as the Judicial and Bar Council, shall stay in the Bangsamoro region.
The Senate reduced to a five from six percent the annual block grant for the Bangsamoro region.
The block grantshall come from the net revenue collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs. The block grant amounts to about P60 billion, said Zubiri, the chair of the Senate subcommittee on the BBL.
In addition, the region shall have an annual special development fund of P5 billion for a period of 10 years.
Other sources of revenues would come from local taxes, fees, and charges, revenues from the exploration, development and use of natural resources within the Bangsamoro territory.
The Bangsamoro region shall have a 50 percent share of the national taxes collected from its territorial jurisdiction.
Senate Bill 1717 also prohibits political dynasty in the proposed Bangsamoro parliament.
Under the measure, no person related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity shall be allowed to run for any elective office within the same district, province, city, or municipality in the same election.
Likewise, no person related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to an incumbent official shall immediately succeed to the position, whether at the local, district or regional level.
The opposition is doubting the constitutionality of the BBL. Albay 1st district Rep. EdcelLagmansaid, “BBL is unconstitutional because the entity that it seeks to dissolve– the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or the ARMM – was created by the Constitution itself. We cannot abolish the ARMM by mere legislation,” Lagman said.
“As a lawyer, I share that doubt. It’s true that the creation of the ARMM is in the Constitution,” House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez told House reporters Wednesday.
The reference bill was the Speaker’s own House Bill (HB) No.6475, which was earlier adopted by a tri-committee tasked to handle all BBL-related measures filed in the 17th Congress.
“We believe that what we are doing here is constitutional. But nobody can stop anyone from filing or questioning the constitutionality of a law,” he pointed out.
Alvarez said that as legislators, it’s their job to tackle proposed laws before them and not decide on their constitutionality.
“It’s like the quo warranto case. Let the Supreme Court decide on it (constitutionality). We won’t be the ones to say whether it’s constitutional or not. For our part, there’s a proposal for the BBL to substitute the ARMM law, so that’s what we’ll do,” Alvarez said.
227 congressmen voted to approve the substitute bill on third and final reading. Eleven objected while two abstained.
Asked what would happen if the High Court strikes the BBL down, Alvarez replied, “We can’t do anything about that. We just have to accept it. Kasisilanamanang final interpreter of laws.”
Anak Mindanao Party-List Rep. AmihildaSangcopan, a vice chairperson of the Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Committee said the House did everything to make the BBL survive a challenge before the High Court. (With reports from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos and Ellson A. Quismorio)