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BTC rejects HB 5811; urges Congress to pass BBL “in its original form”

By Carolyn O. Arguillas

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 July) – The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that crafted the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has virtually rejected the substitute bill of the House of Representatives as it passed a resolution Wednesday, July 29, to support the passage of the BBL “in its original form,” or what was House Bill 4994 and Senate Bill 2408.


Copies of the two-page resolution, along with a three-page “partial list of substantial issues on House Bill No. 5811,” the substitute bill of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (AHCBBL), were attached to the letters sent separately to Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

HB 5811 or the “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” was passed by the 98-member AHCBBL on May 20, by a vote of 50 in favor, 17 against, and one abstention.

Resolution No. 005, Series of 2015 was signed by all 14 members of the BTC, the body tasked to draft the BBL. The BTC was initially composed of 15 members — eight from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and seven from the Philippine government (GPH) – but in April 2014, after the draft BBL was submitted to the Office of the President, Commissioner Johaira Wahab of the GPH resigned to report to work at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Resolution said HB 5811 “bears substantial modifications and/or replacement of the details of the BBL.”

It attached a three-page “Partial List of Substantial Issues on House Bill 5811” consisting of 28 “substantial amendments” made by the AHCBBL and the House Committees on Appropriations, and Ways and Means, which the BTC said “are contrary to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).”

The GPH and MILF signed these agreements on October 15, 2012 and March 27, 2014, respectively, with both parties agreeing that the status quo in the relationship between the Bangsamoro and the GPH is unacceptable and that they would work on a new autonomous political entity, the Bangsamoro, that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and put in place a ministerial form of government.

Critics have repeatedly pointed out that the Bangsamoro that HB 5811 envisions is “less than the ARMM” that it seeks to replace.

Consistent with FAB, CAB

The BTC “strongly expresses its support to the passage of the BBL in its original form (House Bill 4994), as the provisions of the same are consistent with the letter and spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the peace talks;” that it “stands firm” that HB 4994 “is the most appropriate version based on the FAB and CAB and considering that it is the one that underwent the legitimate process of consultation with the people and engagement with the Office of the President.”

The BTC also “implores the better judgment of the leadership of both Houses of Congress to pass the BBL in its original form and to henceforth act according to the terms of the peace agreements.”

BTC chair Mohagher Iqbal, concurrent chair of the MILF peace panel, told MindaNews Thursday morning that that the resolution “in effect” rejected HB 5811.

Iqbal did not reply why it took so long for the BTC to say its piece on HB 5811 which was sponsored on the floor by AHCBBL chair Rep. Rufus of Cagayan de Oro City and his vice-chairs, on June 1.

Iqbal said the resolution was “timed with the current Congress which will deliberate the BBL which President Aquino submitted as number 1 priority bill.”

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Saturday told reporters in Camp Darapanan that he expects the President would, in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) two days later, “reiterate his commitment to support the passage of an undiluted BBL and we hope through this SONA, he could enlighten more those who are still opposing the BBL.”

Silent

But the President only had one paragraph on the BBL and was silent onwhat kind of BBL it should be.The President merely said in Filipino: “To those who oppose this measure: I believe that it is incumbent upon you to suggest more meaningful measures. If you do not present an alternative, you are only making sure that progress will never take root in Mindanao.”

The President also asked: “How many more of our countrymen will have to perish before everyone realizes that the broken status quo of Muslim Mindanao must change?”

The House of Representatives is scheduled to resume the interpellation period for HB 5811 on August 4. Only eight of 38 representatives who had signed up last month to interpellate finished their interpellation before Congress adjourned sine die on June 10.

At the Senate, Senator Ferdinand Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government, told reporters on July 27 that he would submit his substitute bill “next week” or the following week.

Marcos in a privilege speech in early June said the BBL in its present form and substance, referring to SB 2408, would “lead us to perdition” and that he would submit a substitute bill before the President delivers his State of the Nation Address on July 27.

“Partial list”

The BTC submitted its draft BBL to Congress in ceremonial rites held in Malacanang on September 10, 2014. This draft BBL became HB 4994 in the House and SB 2408 in the Senate.

The “partial list” of 28 “substantial amendments” introduced in HB 5811 that the BTC said are contrary to the FAB and CAB:

1. Changing the nomenclature from “Bangsamoro” to “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region;” from “territory” to “area,” from “Central Government” to “National Government” – thereby changing the framework and certain key principles on the asymmetric relationship between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro that was already agreed upon by the Parties;

2. Taking out “parity of esteem” in the Preamble and Article VI (Inter-Governmental Relations), which is an important principle in defining the asymmetric relationship between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government;

3. Expanding the exception to the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro over natural resources within its territory, from the four minerals – i.e., natural gas, petroleum, coal and uranium – to “strategic minerals,” which include the four, as well as “mineral oils” and “all other potential sources of energy;”

4. Putting “strategic minerals” – which is defined by Central Government – under the reserved powers of the Central Government, and not concurrent powers of Central and Bangsamoro Governments, subject only to consultation with the Bangsamoro Government;

5. Taking away the exclusive power of the Bangsamoro to declare protected areas inside the Bangsamoro;

6. Denying contiguous municipalities, barangays, and geographical areas from petitioning to be included in the first plebiscite, and limiting the option to join to only contiguous cities and provinces;

7. Limiting the subsequent plebiscites for joining the Bangsamoro to only two times within 10 years, and only for areas that are within the area of autonomy under the Tripoli Agreement;

8. Expanding the coverage of the plebiscite to join the Bangsamoro to “political units directly affected” instead of pertaining only to petitioning local government unit or geographical area;

9. Adding items in the reserved powers, such as banking powers of the Ombudsman, as well as all other powers not provided in the Basic Law;

10. Making amendments that make internal security a reserved power, rather than a concurrent power, and making public order and safety a joint responsibility of the Bangsamoro and the Central Governments, rather than a primary responsibility of the Bangsamoro Government;

11. Limiting the powers of the Bangsamoro over the matter of budgeting as well as auditing;

12. Deleting the provisions regarding the Wali as the ceremonial head of the Bangsamoro, and that which says that majority of the Cabinet shall come from the Parliament, thereby taking out the important elements of a parliamentary form of government;

13. Making national laws (such as the Labor Code and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act) effective in the Bangsamoro even when these laws are over subject matters that are within the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro, thereby destroying the concept of the exclusivity of the powers;

14. Limiting the power of the Bangsamoro to creating only municipalities and barangays, to the exclusion of cities and provinces, notwithstanding a provision designed to provide a solution to the issue of creation of congressional districts;

15. Deleting the provision that says unspent amounts of the block grant shall revert to the Bangsamoro Government general fund, thereby disallowing the Bangsamoro to carry-over the unspent amount to the succeeding year for the optimum use of such funds;

16. Changing “National Transmission Grid” to the “Mindanao Grid” in relation to concurrence of powers over power generation, transmission and distribution;

17. Putting the Bangsamoro offices on human rights and civil service under the supervision of national counterparts;

18. Transfering powers over ancestral domain from exclusive powers to concurrent power, contrary to the agreement and the Philippine Constitution;

19. Taking away properties of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) located outside of the territory of the Bangsamoro and transferring them to the local government units, even when this is not contemplated in the CAB;

20. Providing that the power to contract loans shall be “subject to the Constitution,” which can be interpreted to mean that only the President can enter into foreign loans, and which violates the agreement regarding the Bangsamoro power to contract loans save for those requiring sovereign guaranty;

21. Transfering the ARMM payables to the Bangsamoro;

22. Amending many provisions on Indigneous Peoples such that they are made to be applicable only to “Non-Moro” Indigenous Peoples and depriving native inhabitants who ascribe to the collective identity of the Bangsamoro from same rights and entitlements as Indigenous People provided in said provisions;

The BTC resolution also said that there are “provisions that reduce the existing autonomy,” as provided in the Organic Acts of the ARMM, by way of the following, “among others:”

23. Not requiring corporations with branch operations in the Bangsamoro to pay taxes therein when the majority income of such corporations come from someplace else;

24. Requiring that the law that can be enacted by the Bangsamoro Parliament over the Bangsamoro Police shall not only be in accordance with the Basic Law, but also with Constitution, national laws, and issuances of the NAPOLCOM, thereby extremely limiting the legislative power of the Parliament over the Bangsamoro Police;

25. Requiring that receiving of grants and donations need to be approved by Central Government;

26. Taking out the option for the President to create a Bangsamoro Command in the Armed Forces;

27. Limting tax incentives to only those that are within the taxing powers of the Bnagsmoro;

28. Downgrading the participation of the Bangsamoro in the governing boards of state universities and colleges to mere membership, instead of being the Co-Chair or Co-Vice Chair.

Commissioner Froilyn Mendoza, one of two IPs in the BTC, signed the resolution but added “with reservation on number 13.”

Autonomy framework changed

At theExperts’ Forumof the Cotabato City-based Institute of Autonomy and Governance (IAG) held at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City on May 29, the Bangsamoro Study Group (BSG) presented a list of at least 45 problematic provisions in what would be known later on as HB 5811 while Mastura listed at least 18, two of these from the Committee on Ways and Means where the Committee-approved substitute bill was forwarded and where major amendments to the taxation provisions were made(see presentations in separate files –BSG-Autonomy-Political-wordfileandBSG-Autonomy-Economic-wordfile).

“The proposed amendments change the framework of the agreement of the parties on changing the status quo and of redefining the relation between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro to a point that the Bangsamoro has been reduced into the category of an LGU (local government unit),” lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, a co-convenor of the Cotabato City-based BSG said.

“In our analysis, the block grant is not a substitute for economic provisions. You’ve seen how it’s framed. All the good economic provisions were removed. What was left to us is the block grant, half of which is for the Department of Education,” lawyer Ishak Mastura said.

Sinarimbo, who served as ARMM Executive Secretary from December 2009 to December 2011, made a presentation on the political aspects of the BBL while Mastura, head of the ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments, focused on the economic provisions.

The two served as lawyers and members of the technical working group of the MILF peace panel, with Mastura, who finished his Master of Law in Petroleum Law & Policy at the University of Dundee in Scotland, serving as technical consultant on natural resources.

Early this month, a joint team of Tulay Kalinaw Mindanao (Tulay KaMi), Balay Mindanaw Foundation Inc. (BMFI), and the Mindanao Civil Society Organizations Platform for Peace (MCSOPP), issued a seven-page critique of HB 5811, titled “Upholding the Core Principles of Meaningful Moro Autonomy.”

In its conclusion, the group said it acknowledges that the original BBL draft may still have room for catch-up enhancements “but given the obtaining socio-political situation in the country that could affect the legislative process, it is recommended to give priority focus on how to restore the autonomy design contemplated in HB 4994 and SB 2408.”(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)
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