July 22, 2018, 2:08 pm
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BBL bicam panel adopts House version on contentious territorial issue

THE impasse over the contentious territorial provision of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was resolved yesterday following a consultation meeting between President Duterte and members of the bicameral conference committee threshing out the final version of the measure. 

“Pleased to announce that the President facilitated the passage of the BBL by convincing the two houses of Congress to adopt the House version of the BBL,” Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque said at the end of the closed-door meeting. 

“With the President’s intervention, citing constitutional provisions and the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Umali, the passage of the BBL has been assured,” Roque added.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, head of the Senate contingent in the bicameral conference committee, confirmed the panel will adopt the House version on territorial jurisdiction.

“The legal luminaries in the meeting together with the Executive Secretary and justice secretary (who) were present all agreed that not involving the mother provinces and municipalities during the plebiscite for the towns of Lanao Norte and barangays of North Cotabato would be considered unconstitutional. 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,” Zubiri said.

Asked how stakeholders, especially some Moro leaders who are pushing for the Senate version, would react on the agreement, Zubiri said: “We will have to manage their expectations and try to temper emotions as we are guided by the Constitution in all the work we do as legislators.”

House Majority leader Rodolfo Fariñas defended the House version during the meeting, citing the Constitution and the jurisprudence in Umali v. Comelec, where the Supreme Court ruled that in the matter of the conversion of Cabanatuan City into a highly urbanized city, the voters of the whole province of Nueva Ecija had to participate in its ratification as the province is directly affected by such conversion.

Fariñas cited section 10, Article X of the Constitution which states that: “No province, city, municipality, or barangay may be created, divided, merged, abolished, or its boundary substantially altered, except in accordance with the criteria established in the Local Government Code and subject to approval by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite in the political units directly affected.”

The House version of the BBL states that to be able to join the BBL territory, the six municipalities of Lanao Del Norte and 39 barangays of North Cotabato should vote in a referendum to be conducted on the mother territory of the areas involved.

The Lanao del Norte municipalities are Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan, and Tangcal while the North Cotabato barangays are Dunguan, Lower Mingading, and Tapodoc in Aleosan town; Manarapan and Nasapian in Carmen town;  and Nanga-an, Simbuhay, and Sanggadong in Kabacan town; barangays Damatulan, Kadigasan, Kadingilan, Kapinpilan, Kudarangan, Central Labas, Malingao, Mudseng, Nabalawag, Olandang, Sambulawan, and Tugal in Midsayap town; Lower Baguer, Balacayon, Buricain, Datu Binasing, Kadingilan, Matilac, Patot, and Lower Pangangkalan in Pigkawayan town; Bagoinged, Balatican, S. Balong, S. Balongis, Batulawan, Buliok, Gokotan, Kabasalan, Lagunde, Macabual, and Macasendeg in Pikit town.

Roque said Duterte also met members of the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) in Malacañang.

Roque said the President is expected to sign the BBL before he delivers his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23.  

Fariñas said congressional leaders had to bring the matter to the President “since it was inappropriate for us to let him attend our bicam meeting.”

While the President would want to just give up the six towns and 39 barangays in favor the Bangsamoro, Fariñas said Congress cannot grant the request since it will surely be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“The President wants to just give it up but our hands are tied because the Constitution prohibits it,” he said. - With JP Lopez, Wendell Vigilia and Christian Oineza 

Fariñas said the only remedy will be to amend the 1987 Constitution to accommodate such provisions that are presently deemed illegal.

Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo (PDP-Laban, Lanao del Norte) said he would challenge before the Supreme Court the controversial territorial provision if it is included in the final version of the BBL. 

 “We’ll challenge it in the Supreme Court if we have to but we’ll accept it, too, if the SC will say, ‘sorry, these areas will now be part of the Bangsamoro,” he told reporters at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Pasig City during the continuation of the closed-door bicameral meetings between congressmen and senators.

Dimaporo was referring to the provision seeking to include six municipalities in Lanao del Norte province and 39 barangays in North Cotabato in the Bangsamoro autonomous region. 

Dimaporo, whose province starts to lose part of its territory, said he would abide by the President’s decision while reserving his right to question the matter before the SC.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) wants the 39 barangays included in the proposed Bangsamoro region not only because these are home to some of their camps but also because of its mostly Muslim population. 

BICAM DISCUSSIONS 

Earlier, a sub-committee agreed to specify the powers of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region and struck down the reserved and concurrent powers of the national and local government to avoid confusion.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Senate contingent was able to convince the House contingent to adopt the Senate’s version on the powers of government provision (Article V) of the BBL.

“What we did was to enumerate the powers of the Bangsamoro government. We deleted the reserved powers, so called, because the Constitution says what is not provided for in the Constitution belongs to the national government in terms of power,” Drilon said.

The sub-committee also decided to forgo the concurrent powers to avoid confusion, he added.

“Concurrent means it belongs to the two agencies, national and local or the autonomous region. Does it mean that the one who will first assume this power will do so to the exclusion of other? Number 2, suppose the national government and the Bangsamoro will exercise it at the same time, who will prevail?” he asked.

“So at the end of the day it will only cause confusion so I took the position which the Senate panel adopted that let us discuss what power should be devolved to the autonomous region rather than debate on reserve and concurrent powers for the reason that, number 1 it is unconstitutional, number 2, it will simply cause confusion in the process of making decision,” Drilon also said.

In the Senate’s version of the BBL, the provisions on the reserved, concurrent, and exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro government and the provisions on its power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation and subpoena powers were deleted from the draft by the BTC. These were retained in the House version.

Meanwhile, civil society groups led by former vice mayor Jamil Rimbang of Masiu, Lanao Del Sur yesterday held a rally at the EDSA Shrine in Ortigas to demand the restoration of the draft BBL prepared by the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC). 

Sr. Supt. Bernabe Balba, Eastern police district (EPD) director, said the rally lasted only for 20 minutes. 

Later at a press conference at the Crowne Plaza, Muslim business sector in Metro Manila representative Nassif Malandani warned people who will be affected by the BBL will not completely understand the compromise and this might spark another civil war.

“If there is a war, there won’t be any livelihood. We ask President Rodrigo Duterte to restore the original BBL provision,” Malandani said.

The groups insisted the BTC version of the measure reflects the sentiments of the Bangsamoro. “We will not accept a diluted version of it,” Malandani said.

BTC Lawyer Algamar Latiph, a stronger BBL will be beneficial not only to the region but the nation itself. “This will give the political and economic structure needed to address issues of development and peace,” Latiph said.

He added the enhanced power of the BBL will address the historical and structural injustices suffered by the people in the region. 
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