Senate leaders confident latest BBL draft won't violate Constitution

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 14) — The bicameral conference committee is almost done drafting its proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and it's confident of the constitutionality of the latest version.

"It will not hit a snag in the Supreme Court, and we're hoping and praying and that it can be implemented immediately so that the peace process will be finalized," Senate Majority Floor Leader Miguel Zubiri told CNN Philippines Saturday.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon shared the same sentiment.

"That is constitutional and we can defend it," Drilon said in a statement, adding that he believes the draft won't have the same fate as the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2008.

The MOA-AD proposed the creation of an autonomous political region with its own police, military and judicial systems.

After a grueling four-day marathon session this week, Zubiri said they are "99 percent done" and all the contentious provisions have been resolved.

Zubiri clarified that the bicameral committee has not yet approved any version of the BBL, contrary to earlier reports. But he hopes contentious provisions previously resolved would not have to be discussed any further, noting that "almost all the members of the bicam are satisfied (with the draft)."

The bicameral committee aimed to finalize the draft on Tuesday, hoping that President Rodrigo Duterte can finally sign it into law by July 23, before he delivers his third State of the Nation Address.

"This [will be] a historic and momentous occasion because finally we can treat the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as part of government they will be commissioned. Their arms, their combatants now can be part of nation-building," Zubiri said.

House and Senate leaders earlier met with Duterte to end a stalemate over the included territories in the new region.

"The President facilitated the passage of the BBL by convincing both Houses of Congress to adopt the House version of the BBL," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Wednesday. Zubiri said they agreed to compromise to avoid issues of constitutionality in the proposed measure.

He said the latest draft states that six municipalities of Lanao del Norte, 39 barangays of North Cotabato, and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, could vote to join the Bangsamoro region through a referendum conducted in the mother territories.

"Were were able to resolve (the issue) with President Duterte instructing us that to be constitiutional about this issue, (we should) allow the mother province of Lanao del Norte's six municipalities... and the mother municipalities of North Cotabato's 39 barangays to be part of the plebiscite process," Zubiri said.

Some Bangsamoro groups advocating peace and development in Mindanao, however, expressed their discontent over developments on the proposed BBL, accusing lawmakers of watering the measure down through removing or changing vital provisions including the generation, transmission and distribution of inland waters and electricity.

Once signed, the law would implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a landmark peace deal signed by the government and Moro rebels in March 2014, which seeks to put an end to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao. It would pave the way for the creation of the Autonomous Region in the Bangsamoro to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) established in 1989 through Republic Act 6734.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said abolishing the ARMM should be done through charter change as the region is enshrined in the Constitution.

The Duterte administration's proposed federal constitution separates the country into 18 federated regions, which include the Bangsamoro.

Anti-political dynasties

Drilon, however, cast doubts on how the draft BBL can address the issue of poverty and good governance after the anti-political dynasty provision was removed.

"I believe that until we succeed in banning political dynasty, ARMM's economy will not improve," the veteran senator said.

Zubiri, for his part, said he also wanted to retain the ban on political dynasties but admitted it would cause a delay in the passage and implementation of the BBL.

"Why will there be an anti-dynasty provision in Bangsamoro and not in other areas?" Zubiri said.

He rather called for the passage of a measure that outlaws political dynasties for the entire country.