POSTSCRIPT / April 28, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Okay Bangsamoro as ARMM upgrade

I AM now convinced that we need something like the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, or a more constitutionally compliant version of it, to redress the decades of neglect of the indigenous peoples of Muslim Mindanao.

This is my conclusion after months of covering the congressional hearings on the proposed BBL and poring over the basic documents pertaining to the BBL draft being rushed for congressional approval in June based on the timetable of President Noynoy Aquino.

It is time that we the majority, who just happen to be Christian, gave relief and assistance to the indigenous peoples of Mindanao — including our Muslim brothers — to lift them from the poverty and discrimination stunting their personal, economic and social development.

But several legal and perception problems stand in the way of gaining approval for the BBL, either in its original or rewritten version.

Foremost among these legal obstacles are several provisions, reportedly inserted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front during the negotiations, that even non-lawyers see as violating the Constitution.

No less than Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the ad hoc committee conducting hearings on the BBL, lists eight unconstitutional provisions that he said must be removed or reworded to gain approval in the plenary debate.

These are mostly sections creating in the Bangsamoro government agencies that duplicate or run counter to the powers and functions of constitutional bodies such as those for the civil service, the national police, auditing and elections.

Another provision that many congressmen oppose more for political than constitutional reasons is a section allowing contiguous areas to be part of the Bangsamoro territory with a petition of at least 10 percent of registered voters.

Noy wants BBL trophy for SONA

PRESIDENT Aquino wants the versions of the two chambers passed by June 11 and their merged version by June 30, sources said, so he would be able to raise it as a trophy before his valedictory State of the Nation Address on July 27.

As we write this, the committee of Rodriguez, who will have to defend the BBL on the floor, is still in an executive meeting working out acceptable revisions of the difficult portions.

Behind closed doors, the committee will benefit from the quality input of the members of the citizens’ “peace” council that President Aquino formed last March to study the Bangsamoro question and propose refinements in the BBL text.

The Rodriguez committee is expected to consider the proposed revisions to be able to beat the President’s deadline and not get bogged down in prolonged discussion.

Substitute ARMM for Bangsamoro

ANOTHER way of going around constitutional objections, aside from rewriting the contentious parts and inserting qualifying phrases is to present the bill as in substitution of the law that had created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

It may not satisfy the ego of President Aquino or fit the designs of his MILF and Malaysian friends, but shifting focus to the ARMM will be less difficult to execute and requires less time.

Since, per President Aquino, the Bangsamoro will supplant the ARMM which he described as a “failed experiment,” the BBL text could be slightly edited and easily made to substitute for the text of the ARMM law.

The ARMM has already passed the test of constitutionality, is functioning normally, and is governed by democratically elected officials. The BBL’s conflicts with the Constitution are absent from the ARMM charter.

The ARMM is not designed just for the MILF or any favored Moro group but meant for the indigenous peoples of Muslim Mindanao. It is a living demonstration of diverse ethnic groups working in peace and unity.

The only ingredients lacking in the ARMM are material assistance from the national government and proper management of people and resources.

Playing down what President Aquino wants, the Congress should just give to the ARMM the powers, finances and material support that it intends to give to the controversial Bangsamoro under the BBL.

In yesterday’s public hearing, the committee members led by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, were already proposing revisions to make certain sections compliant with the Constitution and more acceptable to the greater number.

In answer to questions, Davide said that the consensus of their group was that the BBL, even in its present form, could pass the test of constitutionality. But he suggested the inserting or adding qualifying phrases to overcome legal challenges.

Other members of the multi-sectoral council included: Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (represented by Fr. Luis Tabora), former Concon delegate Christian Monsod, former ambassador Howard Dee, Muslim Princess Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, and Gen. Alexander Aguirre.

Father Tabora and Princess Usman elicited applause from the crowd after their emotional appeal for the BBL’s approval, an unusual occurrence in formal hearings.

Pagcor to build 7,000 classrooms

THE PHILIPPINE Amusement and Gaming Corp., meanwhile, is set to construct some 7,000 new classrooms nationwide under a P10-billion building program in the next few years.

PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Cristino Naguiat Jr. said remote areas and places hit by natural calamities will be given priority. He cited Eastern and Western Samar, Tacloban, Negros Occidental, Leyte, Aklan, Palawan, Capiz, Bohol, Cagayan de Oro and Compostela Valley.

The classrooms include close to 1,300 typhoon-resilient structures in over 300 sites devastated by typhoon Yolanda. Also under construction are classrooms in far localities like Tawi-Tawi, Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato and Lanao del Sur.

During the recent turnover of new PAGCOR-funded school buildings in Tarlac City, President Aquino mentioned a backlog of 61.7 million textbooks, 2.5 million seats and 66,800 classrooms in public schools.

He said that the departments of education and of the budget had informed him that the national budget can accommodate the building of only about 8,000 classrooms every year. Hence the need for such agencies as PAGCOR to pitch in.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 28, 2015)

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