RETIRED Supreme Court justice Adolf Azcuna on Tuesday said the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft was “constitutional,” as the Senate sub-committee on the BBL continued its public consultations on the measure.
Azcuna was one of four legal luminaries invited to the fifth public hearing on the BBL, which seeks to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and replace it with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region that will have more powers.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, chairman of the Senate sub-committee on BBL, asked Azcuna, member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention and the 1986 Constitutional Commission, for his thoughts on the BBL.
“If we create this parliament, is there a risk of being unconstitutional vis-a-vis the 1987 Constitution?” Zubiri asked.
Azcuna said: “I was pleasantly surprised when I went over the four Senate bills, one of them authored by yourself, which I have a copy, precisely to look at possible constitutional infirmities.”
“I could not find any. I used to find a lot in the earlier versions. So, to me this has passed the test insofar as constitutionality is concerned,” Azcuna said.
“For instance, it mentions that everything is within the framework of the Constitution. It also mentions that the territory of the Bangsamoro shall be part of the territory of the territory of the Philippines. Those are very critical factors which were not contained in the previous versions,” he added.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd as well as Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th, Risa Hontiveros and Zubiri have filed their own versions of the BBL. The last three were based on the draft BBL crafted by the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The proposed BBL, according to its proponents, seeks genuine autonomy to address political marginalization and historical injustices committed against the Moros. This is part of the 2014 peace accord between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Asked whether he was satisfied with the pacing of the hearings on the BBL amid the President’s recent call for Congress to prioritize Charter change, Commissioner Firdausi Ismail Abbas, one of the BTC members, said: “We are impressed.”
“Like the President, we will also make adjustments, as we heard him say, ‘I’m always been pro-BBL.’ Actually we are inspired by the political will of the members of the sub-committee and of the Committee on Local Government. We are confident and optimistic it will be passed on time,” Abbas said in a chance interview.
“I don’t think there should be any difficulty. I think that would not be a hindrance nor will it bar accommodation of the BBL into the federal form of government. This BBL could be a model for all the other regional states and government which would be created through federalism,” he added.
Zubiri, in an interview, said public hearings on BBL and Charter change to shift to a federal form of government could be done simultaneously.
“The issue on federalism would take a lot of time. The President has just created a commission and we must respect that. It will take about six months for them to come up with a detailed report and after that six months we still have to agree on what mode we will take: Con-Con (Constitutional Convention) or Con-Ass (Constituent Assembly),” he said.
He added: “So, we are of the opinion that we can pass BBL before amendments to the Constitution. And at the same time, after we pass the BBL and we’ll have Charter change amendments, they can incorporate the Bangsamoro area, this Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.”
The Senate sub-committee on the BBL will conduct its last two public hearings in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi on February 8 and in Basilan and Zamboanga City on February 9.