By Christina Mendez | Philstar.com
MANILA, Philippines - The Senate will expedite public hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law once Congress resumes session on January 20 by focusing on the constitutional issues raised by some sectors on the peace initiatives of the Aquino administration in Mindanao.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr, chairman of the Senate committee on local government, said the Senate will start ironing out constitutional issues during the hearing set on January 26.
The hearing will be led by the committee on constitutional amendments chaired by Sen. Miriam Santiago.
"We had a meeting with the Senate President... there are many issues that need to be threshed out so we are speeding up the hearings," Marcos said in an interview after he met with Senate President Franklin Drilon at the Senate.
Drilon held a closed-door meeting with Marcos along with Senate committee on peace and reconciliation chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona III to discuss the issue, which is being pushed by Malacanang. The meeting came after the Palace expressed optimism that the BBL will be passed soon in a bid to allow the peace agreement to be finalized before President Aquino steps out of office in 2016.
"So we decided that the Senate committees on constitutional amendments will be the 3rd referral and we are now scheduling the hearings," Marcos said, adding that further consultations will also be conducted in Jolo and Zamboanga in the next few weeks.
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The Senate hopes to finish the hearings before Congress goes into break on March 19. This means that the lawmakers have barely one and a half month in session days to tie the loose ends of the measure.
Marcos vowed that the framework agreement will have no constitutional infirmities. He said the Senate has also been studying the issues pointed out by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa).
"Kung ano ang hindi talaga puwede hindi natin ggawin. Kung ano hindi puwedeng gawin, hindi gagawin," Marcos said.
The Senate Tax Study and Research Office had also noted that the proposed Bangsamoro's vast powers on fiscal autonomy and powers on taxation, among others, might violate the Constitution. "That should be put into the record," he said.
Marcos agreed that the fiscal autonomy is among the contentious issues in the BBL.
"That's what they have to thresh out. These are constitutional bodies-- BIR, Comelec and the COA. The threee Constitutional bodies really will have to be examined to determine their relationship w the Manila/ Central offices. Thats why its really time to tackle Constitutional issues," Marcos added.
"Siyempre, may konting limitation na ang framework agreement. Hindi naman namin ilalayo masyado. Kung ano puwedeng ayusin, aayusin namin. We can do it na naman na hindi masyadong mapalitan iyong original or at least in principle," he said.
"We will suggest what we think is legal, constitutional," Marcos said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sonny Angara filed a bill seeking to mandate the inclusion of the Bangsamoro history, culture and identity in the curricula of all levels in all schools in the country, starting in Mindanao.
"Peace roots from an understanding of the multi-cultural nature of Mindanaoans—of Christians, Muslims and Lumads alike. Improving such understanding of each other's historical, social and cultural values lays the foundation for mutual respect and unity in Mindanao," Angara said.
Angara stressed that one way of effectively instilling further understanding of Bangsamoro history, culture and identity in the minds of the youth is by including such subjects in the education system.
Angara noted that the roots of the Christian-Muslim conflict in the Philippines can be traced to as early as the 16th century, where Spanish colonizers were successful in using Christianity as a tool of conquest and reducing the Muslim group to a national minority.
"Some contend that this part of our history was where the seeds were planted for relentless biases against Muslim-Filipinos. Sadly, these biases persist today," he lamented.
Under Senate Bill No. 2474, among the key contents of Bangsamoro studies include an understanding of the roots of the conflict and its impact on the rest of the country, the appreciation of the various cultures and ethnic identities, and support for the broader Mindanao peace process and promotion of intercultural dialogue.