The chief government negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday admitted that certain provisions in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may be unconstitutional and that is why members of the government and MILF panels are trying to fix these loopholes.
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said both parties are looking for “alternative solutions” to these questionable provisions so that the draft measure, once submitted to Congress, will stand legal scrutiny.
“Baka siguro mayroong mga [There could be] parts that may be considered as crossing the line. So ‘yun ang pina-flag natin sa kanila [that is why we are warning them],” Ferrer told reporters in an interview.
“We engaged in that kind of explanation and finding of alternative solution that will address concerns para pare-pareho tayong hindi sumabit dito [so that we won’t end up in a mess],” she said.
The chief negotiator refused to identify which parts of the draft bill could raise constitutional issues.
She, however, noted that some of the contentious issues are contained in provisions on the structure of government and fiscal autonomy of the political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“It’s hard to point out the specifics because the details are embargoed at this point.
I know it would be easy to understand but it’s hard to start setting the specific provisions because ethically it won’t be proper at this point,” Ferrer said.
“Right now, we really have to go back and reflect on what we have achieved and the fundamental starting points that will continue to serve as our basis for continuing this process. So [we just want]a little breathing space in the meantime,” she added.
Ferrer said the government and the MILF remained focused on coming up with a “mutually accepted draft.”
She noted that the two parties were going through the draft BBL, which was prepared by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), “line by line” and had gone through all 18 articles.
“We’re very open to accommodating ideas. Sometimes it’s in the language, yung kanilang mga proposals kailangang i-fine-tune ang pagkakasulat kasi maaring hindi nakita yung implications nun sa iba pang mga bagay [writing of proposals of the government and the MILF have to be fine-tuned because their implications on other things may have been overlooked],” Ferrer said.
“It takes a long time for them to explain . . . reasons behind their proposals and then for us also to explain our concerns to the President, of the Office of the President,” she added.
The two panels met in Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago after the Palace returned the thick BBL draft replete with major revisions. But that meeting in Malaysia only led to “modest progress,” thus, the government and MILF negotiators will again meet in Manila for more discussions.
The MILF refused to accept the revised draft because it was “heavily altered.”
Aside from the legal concerns, Ferrer noted that both parties were also trying to resolve “political considerations” and “policy issues” in the draft law.
She gave assurances that the draft law will not be “watered down” despite the delay in its submission to Congress.
“Definitely there is no watering down of the signed agreements. The feeling [that it will be]watered down has to do with the other details that are being provided if that is the way they’re putting it,” Ferrer said.
She, however, said there is a “wide range of options” that can be put in place.
“But if some of these would require careful language, then it’s very important that we get that message across to them and that’s what we have been trying in the last two days,” Ferrer added.
When the final copy of the draft BBL was submitted to the Palace in April, two government nominees to the 15-man BTC refused to sign the document. Two others—Froilyn Mendoza and Peter Eisma—also government nominees, reportedly signed the draft BBL but “with reservations.”
But Ferrer said the public should not read too much into the decision of Fatmawati Salapuddin and Johaira Wahab not to sign the draft BBL.
“In a process like this, you cannot really expect a 100 percent consensus among the BTC members. Perhaps they felt that some provisions went beyond the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” she added.
“The final Palace-approved draft that will be submitted to Congress is what the entire BTC will carry,” Ferrer said.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd has planned to submit the draft measure to Congress on July 28 but because negotiations have stalled, the submission of the measure as well as the implementation of the proposed law will be delayed.
The leaderships of the House of Representatives and the Senate had committed to pass the BBL by December, after which a plebiscite will be held in the first quarter of 2015.
The plebiscite will cover the current provinces and cities in the ARMM, the cities of Isabela and Cotabato, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays (villages) in six municipalities of Cotabato province.
After the plebiscite, the government aims to put the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in place to serve as interim government until the elections in 2016.
With the troubling developments in the negotiations, the Senate leadership also on Wednesday called on parties involved in the drafting of the BBL to maintain an open mind and come up with an agreement soon so that Congress can meet its target to ratify the law by the second half of next year.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said negotiators have gone a long way in finding ways to put an end to the years of conflict in Mindanao and it is time to come up with an agreement.
“We cannot afford to fail as far as the Bangsamoro Basic Law is concerned. We must have something in place so that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will provide stability and improvements in the economic life of the region,” Drilon added.
Ferrer on Tuesday admitted that no final draft has been made because the MILF has refused to accept the revised version of the draft law.
“It is critical that we come up with an acceptable solution for both sides,” Drilon said.
He added that the Bangsamoro law will be the highest priority of the Senate.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who heads the Senate committee on local government, also expressed hope that that transition commission will be able to submit the draft law to Congress soon so that the Commission on Elections can hold a plebiscite in areas to be covered by the Bangsamoro entity.