June 19, 2018, 7:50 pm
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Rushing the BBL

THE speed with which Congress has been pushing the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which was certified as a priority legislation by President Duterte, is indicative that the administration is in dire need of something substantial to say in the coming State of the Nation Address (Sona).

This is the take of known opposition leaders Congressmen Edcel Lagman and Gary Alejano, but the position is not totally wanting of sense. As things stand, Congress is in recess and will reopen on July 23, the day President Duterte delivers his next State of the Nation Address. In the interim, the bicameral conference committee of both houses of Congress will have to meet and finalize the BBL, adopting just one common draft from the two differing versions of the bill. What better way to open the next session thru a SONA that announces the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law?

Now is the best time, while it is still being forged in the legislative mill, to subject this proposed legislation to scrutiny, not only by the lawmakers but also by the public. Specially so when even House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez agrees with Lagman that by all indications, this law is, at first blush, unconstitutional. But Alvarez believes that Congress may do its work, and leave it to the Supreme Court to interpret the Charter and pass judgment on the law’s constitutionality.

While the BBL’s adherence to the Constitution is debatable at this time, Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri expects tumultuous debates before the unified version is crafted, with so many aspects of the proposed self-rule for Muslim Filipinos to be ironed out.

Among the many contentious issues are what towns or barangays may join the Bangsamoro entity regardless of the rejection, if ever, of their provinces in a plebiscite, and will there be an “opt-out” provision for LGUs that may want to leave the Bangsamoro region?

Also important is the determination of the annual block grant, or the development fund automatically appropriated for the Bangsamoro region annually, which ranges from 6-5 percent of the central government’s revenue.

One relevant question to ask is this -- while the 1987 Constitution is still enforced together with the ARMM law that emanated from it, will the ARMM budget stay, together with the budget to be appropriated for the new Bangsamoro region? Will not the national coffers suffer from this clear case of double spending for one particular region or group of Filipinos, to the detriment of the rest?

This query is a basic one that we hope our lawmakers will answer adequately in the course of crafting the new law.

For now, we are happy that the Senate version clearly describes the Bangsamoro people as “citizens of the Republic of the Philippines” under the Constitution and therefore, precludes any entitlement or wild idea called secession.
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