In this land of true believers and faux leaders, many will probably think it is fated. After Ms. Miriam Coronel- Ferrer, President Aquino’s chief peace negotiator, sold our country down the river in a peace deal to rival Chamberlain’s pact with Hitler, another Miriam has ridden in to the rescue of our republic.
And she is none other than the original Miriam in our public life – Miriam Defensor-Santiago – a near miss in the presidential election of 1992 and a senior senator of the republic. It is she who will talk sense to our people amidst all the confusion and dishonesty in the debate over a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
In the inexplicable rush by Congress to pass a Bangsamoro law before it adjourns on June 11 (or thereabouts), it is surprisingly the often unpredictable Senator Santiago who is sounding the words of sobriety and prudence.
It is her words and her gravitas that are forcing legislators, whether congressmen or senators, to pull back and review their options and positions.
In a 27-page report by her Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws, she has laid down the hard realities that must be faced by everyone in Congress, and everyone interested in the issue.
Forget the calendar, fix BBL first
Essentially, what Miriam the original is saying is simple: Fix BBL first or face defeat in the Supreme Court.
So forget about the calendar.
The Senate and House of Representatives cannot approve the proposed BBL in its present form without raising constitutional problems.
“The BBL has much merit, but its promulgation requires constitutional amendment or revision; mere legislation will not suffice, and will spark Supreme Court litigation,” Santiago said. Promulgation means “to put into effect a law or decree.”
In the committee report, the senator warned that insisting on changing the Constitution instead of amending the proposed BBL is “constitutional impiety.” Instead she recommended that the Senate version of the BBL be substantially revised.
Santiago contends that the BBL fails the two-fold test set by the Constitution: national sovereignty on the one hand and territorial integrity on the other hand.
“The problem with the BBL as an experiment in both creative and innovative political values is that it makes no mention of the possible various consequences of such an experiment in domestic governance. Enthusiasm and dedication to peace have served to diffuse the principle of sovereignty, which refers to the supreme authority within a territory,” she said.
Santiago said that the BBL must ensure that the national sovereignty of the Philippines remains intact, not limited or shared.
The senator said changing the name of the proposed BBL, as the House adhoc committee has done, will not make it any less objectionable unless Congress also revamps the bill to address numerous “constitutional infirmities.”
“The words ‘basic law’, in legal construction, is a synonym for ‘constitutional law’ and ‘organic law,’” the senator said.
“This implies that the BBL is intended to have the same effect as the 1987 Constitution which is supreme in the territory of the Republic of the Philippines.”
“Two different constitutional instruments cannot have legal effect at the same time and in the same territory.” she said.
This will tie BBL proponents up in knots. I doubt whether Cardinal Tagle, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. will go near the issue again.
Santiago’s committee report was born out of two public hearings on the draft BBL, where the resource persons included former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, Associate Justices Florentino Feliciano and Vicente Mendoza, and former UP law dean Merlin Magallona.
Not surprisingly, Santiago was joined by many other senators in signing the report. They included committee vice chairman Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, and members Jinggoy Estrada, Cynthia Villar, Aquilino Pimentel III, local committee chairman Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and acting Minority leader Vicente Sotto III. Senators Lito Lapid and Ralph Recto said they will sign the report on Monday.
Legal cover for Moro statehood
Until the original Miriam’s emphatic intervention, Congress and the media [but not The Manila Times]had been relying solely on the self-serving testimonials for the BBL of Miriam Ferrer and peace adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles.
It is thanks to Ferrer and Deles that President Aquino cheerfully signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in March last year. This formal document binds the government to press for the passage by Congress of a Bangsamoro law.
Under the CAB, our government granted the MILF the four essential elements for statehood: People, government, territory, and capacity to enter into international agreements
As Jemy Gatdula of the university of Asia and the Pacific has pointed out: “the CAB effectively provides a legal cover to the MILF’s claim for statehood, while the BBL aims to supply the resources and implementing wherewithal to carry out that claim.”
Through sheer incompetence and ignorance, our government has voluntarily granted the Bangsamoro’s right to “self-determination”.
This is why the MILF is insisting that the CAB is an international (“executive”) agreement.
If a BBL (in its present form submitted by Malacañang to Congress) is passed, it would provide the MILF with the legal cover to receive funding, resources, and legitimacy both from the government and from international donors.
What then is the remedy?
Senator Santiago says: let the Senate fix the draft BBL so that all constitutional infirmities are removed.
Senator Bongbong Marcos, who will finalize the draft legislation, is anxious to incorporate Miriam’s report into his committee’s drafting of the legislation.
Jemy Gatdula, the international law expert, suggests one remedy that merits consideration: Congress can pass a law terminating the CAB, which the president will be duty-bound to enforce (Article VII, Section 17). Or it can have the CAB classified as a treaty and it can then be turned down by the Senate.
This way, Congress will have the opportunity to write a law that is not exclusive for any single group but one that will serve as a comprehensive law for Mindanao peace and development.
This is the road to take.