THE proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) giving wider autonomy to Muslim Mindanao is at risk of being junked by the Supreme Court without a shift to a federal system of government, former chief justice Reynato Puno warned on Thursday.
Puno, an advocate of federalism, said Charter change was needed as the existing unitary form of government would not accommodate the demands of Muslims, who account for five percent of the country’s 100-million population, for self-rule.
“This is to enable the country to deal with the demands of our Muslim brothers to have their own homeland which they can govern based on their culture, religion, language and history,” he said in a Palace news conference.
“It will be very difficult for this bill (BBL) to overcome a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court, because we have a unitary government that is not empowered to grant the identity-based demands of our Muslim brothers and sisters,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte promised a shift to federalism in the 2016 campaign, and his allies in Congress are proposing to divide the country into 11 states under a federal government.
Each state will have the authority to craft laws, collect taxes and manage resources.
“This demand of our Muslim brothers for self-determination, for self-rule…they have always tried to preserve their identity dating back to the time of our Spanish and American colonizers. All the efforts to absorb them have failed, and neither the subtle efforts to assimilate them succeeded. There is only one way to deal with them and that is to respect their identity and to live with them under a cooperative form of a federal government,” Puno said.
“There would be demands, for instance, that would be distinct, peculiar because of their religion, because of their culture, and because of their history. For instance: their judicial system. There is a need to accommodate their demands to have the Sharia (Islamic) law be the law that will govern the state that will be given to them,” Puno added.
The lack of autonomy in Mindanao has an impact on national security, as shown by the May 23 attack on Marawi City by terrorists who wanted to put up an Islamic State wilayat or province in Mindanao, Puno argued.
“This frustration of our Muslim brothers has threatened to wreck our Republic, resulting in open rebellion and worse, they are now assisted by some foreign elements,” he said.
These frustrations, the former chief justice said, also manifested when the Supreme Court junked the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Arroyo government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008, and when the proposed BBL failed to gain enough support in Congress during the Aquino administration.
The 2008 MOA-AD and the BBL, the product of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF signed in March 2014, were heavily criticized as both would carve out a sub-state and share sovereign powers, which would run afoul of the 1987 Constitution.
“The aspiration of our Muslim brothers cannot be substantially granted unless we change our unitary government,” Puno said.