Interview with Karen Davila on ANC’s Headstart

Karen Davila: Good morning to you Senator Bonbong Marcos. Alright, what is your reaction? You haven’t even come up with the substitute bill and you have a report on moros coming out already, you hear threats, we might go to the battlefield again, signing up “if this is the case, we want independence”. Let’s talk about that.

Sen. Bongbong: Well I think of course it’s very dismay because yesterday, there was also a press release from the MILF which said “they will no longer… the war is no longer an option” it was very ratifying and I think it increase the confidence of everyone who was involved in this. I’ll say “it looks like the MILF has really chose in peace and therefore are good partners in the peace process” when suddenly there seems to be a change of heart but you know the people have to understand that when we say of a substitute bill, it just means that there’s so many amendments that need to be put onto the draft BBL as it was given us. That it might be as well considered as a different bill. Because it is no longer just file amendments to the 100+ provisions but very detailed changes that we’re planning to make in the draft BBL. So being a substitute bill just corrects what we feel to be possible misinterpretations, again the constitutional infirmities, the details on administrative process, mechanisms, the power sharing, even up to that way (…) to discussion of the power sharing between the National Government and the Bangsamoro Government is going to work.Davila: But when you’ve gone as far as saying you might amend the existing ARMM law.

Sen. Bongbong: Well this is something that many of the senators have suggested. Because one of the basic constitutional infirmities that was identified in Senator Miriam Santiago’s committee was that the constitution only mandates the creation of two autonomous regions. That was the ARMM and the Cordillera Autonomous Region. Now, many of our constitutionalists are saying “this will be the third autonomous region”

Davila: But isn’t it the same region, senator? Technically you just changed the name of the law?

Sen. Bongbong: Actually there is also additional provinces in the last version that are opt in provision, all of those things.

Davila: Are you for that?

Sen. Bongbong: No we are very much against it. There are just so many problems that it brings. So in any case, I would like to remind everyone that the first option of the… in fact, what we (…) ad hoc committee passed, the palace version, is a substitute bill.

Davila: Already?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes! It is a substitute. It is another form of the BBL. You can say that any bill that has major changes in it.

Davila: But then it has additions. Opt-in was there.

Sen. Bongbong: It looks like it’s coming back out again. Because of the discussions in the House in the past few days.

Davila: Now the difference is… first let’s start with; Senator Miriam says the constitution only mandates two autonomous regions – ARMM and the Cordillera. Let’s say of an ordinary Filipino, is it technically the BBL is still ARMM but then you are making a new law to strengthen the ARMM. Giving it more powers of autonomy.

Sen. Bongbong: Beyond the mandate in the constitution of creating two autonomous region, it also says “the first congress will create two autonomous regions” that’s that. We’ve done that. Yung (…) hindi natuloy because the plebiscite, they did not succeed and so did not continue as an autonomous region. ARMM did. Now we have done that, we have created the two. Now, this is considered a third and there is no…

Davila: Really? This is an interesting new interpretation.

Sen. Bongbong: This was a view that was given us by Justice Feliciano, by Justice Mendoza, by Senator Nene Pimentel, and I think Chief Justice Puno has also mentioned something in that regard so it is… actually it is the main constitutional infirmity as they see it. That’s why one of the many suggestions is that “let’s just amend the ARMM law” because if you remember, we started this entire process because the palace declared that the ARMM was a failed experiment. And I think that that does not mean that you throw the BBL to the bath water. I think what you do is you improve whatever the failings are, whatever the shortcomings are of the ARMM then let’s fix those problems and the shortcomings so that it becomes a better government.

Davila: Now let’s do broad strokes. I know that when you go into recess, you’re going to write your substitute bill. But then tell me, what will you do to improve the ARMM law?

Sen. Bongbong: Well we don’t know yet. We don’t know yet if we are going to do that. That’s not something that I can decide by myself. That is something that will have to be discussed amongst other senators and the members of the committee and finally, in the plenary. And I think, it will probably go to a vote. So that is one…

Davila: You have the time for that? I don’t know, you have two days left?

Sen. Bongbong: No we can’t do that. We have 1 day left. Today is the last day of session before we adjourn on Thursday. We are now going… we have the committee and then we will eventually go to the plenary. And so all of these issues are suggestions that other Senators have brought, and outside of (…) have brought.

Davila: Now I’ve read some interviews. One of your concerns for example, is the fact that under the BBL, there’s a parliamentary form of government considering we are in a presidential form. Do your colleague share that same concern?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes, well again, the constitutional infirmities or the constitutional issues, let’s put it, we are basing really what we do on the committee report of Senator Miriam. Because if you could already read it, it is very, very well written, very well researched, and very well argued. So it is very clear there that it is again, one of the constitutional infirmities.

Davila: So why (…) the parliamentary form locally? In that region? So Miriam said that?

Sen. Bongbong: There is a school of thought that says “there is no room for a different kind of local government within…” because it is a parliamentary, ministerial form of government. We are republican (…) form of government, as defined in the constitution.

Davila: Actually even CJ Puno said that.

Sen. Bongbong: That’s right. We have to change the charter. The informal discusses we’ve been having, there’s another school of thought that says “this is a great area. It can be argued” but it is alright. So again, we will have to decide what we’ll do about that.Davila: I will ask you personally Senator Bongbong, do you want them to be parliamentary, in the region? What are you leading towards more?

Sen. Bongbong: Well again if we are going to base it on the findings of Senator Miriam’s committee, that is going to be a problem.

Davila: So you’re nothing towards it?

Sen. Bongbong: Well we really have to talk about it very well and decide exactly what position the Senate version is going to take in the end. But we can guarantee that if it is a parliamentary ministerial form of local government, then that will be, for sure, challenge to the Supreme Court.

Davila: Number two, you talked about wealth sharing as well, as one of the concerns. Because in other local governments, 60% of taxes collected goes to National, 40% goes to the Local government. Why in the Bangsamoro Region, a 100% goes to the local?

Sen. Bongbong: Goes to the Bangsamoro government at least for the 10 years. There is in fact, there is no wealth sharing because it all goes to the Bangsamoro government and the question that we continue to ask is “why?” and surely if the Bangsamoro government and whatever form it takes, is part of the republic of the Philippines then they must also contribute to the state. And so whatever wealth is found in Bangsamoro government, whatever value is generated in the Bangsamoro government, part of that should go to the National government.

Davila: But then President Aquino talked about it in the past and say “it is because they’ve been neglected for so long that…” kumbaga, parang pag bawi eh. I can’t remember the… you remember?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes. The social inequities that we have suffered for years and years. That’s a valid point and that’s a point we have taken. But, maybe instead of making them… usually what we’re doing is we’re isolating the Bangsamoro government by making it so different from the rest of the country. Surely what we need to do is to absorb it as much as possible. When we talk about social inequities, the lack of development and all that, perhaps it should become a national policy then. And we should institute a massive infrastructure program for the Bangsamoro in the next ten years.

Davila: And you even (…) for that frankly. And all you need to do is just (…) and put money… okay go on.

Sen. Bongbong: Let’s draw up a ten year plan for Bangsamoro and let the national government implement it.

Davila: But then clearly Senator, this is an agreement between the government and the MILF. This is to buy peace with the MILF. What do you do with that contentious issue? Let’s say if you amend the ARMM law, the ARMM then was with the MNLF. So there’s an ego issue there. I mean, it’s a little more complex.

Sen. Bongbong: You’re absolutely correct. On the basis of the tripoli agreement, the autonomous regions were negotiated with the MNLF. The Jakarta agreement of the ’96 was negotiated with the MNLF, the ARMM is the result of those negotiations. This, the BBL is a result of the negotiations with the MILF and perhaps that’s going to be a problem. That’s why this is not a done thing yet. We still have to really see if it’s going to work. So I hope… because I think the involvement of the MILF in whatever government is put in the Bangsomoro can be written into the law. But then you also have to include in our discussions the fact that the MNLF has this Jakarta agreement, has the Tripoli agreement and what happens to that?

Davila: In other words there were old agreements that also have…

Sen. Bongbong: That you cannot ignore. That you cannot abrogate, outright by another law. These have been agreements that have been in place for many years. And that is the MNLF’s position. They said “we have fought for 43 years. We have made some games and is this what BBL’s going to do? To just throw away those games? Then we’re going to have to go back and fight again. We don’t want to do that.”

Davila: My question is, is it the BBL what the MILF has closed with the government… honestly, there are more powers, there’s more money, there’s more autonomy compared to what the ARMM has today. Don’t you think that’s the case? That’s why you don’t agree with the BBL?

Sen. Bongbong: No no that’s not at all. We have come to this (…), we have come to this point because of the way the negotiations were held. It was OPAC and MILF. They spoke to nobody else.

Davila: So it’s the manner? The manner… you felt the process?

Sen. Bongbong: Everything that MILF discussed and wanted, what was to give and take within the comprises that were made in that discussion. However there are other stakeholders, MNLF is one of them, whose support – we need for this to succeed. You know this entire peace process will not succeed without the understanding of what we’re trying to do and the support of all of these other stakeholders. And for the other stakeholders I talk about… primarily local governments, the sultanates, which are extremely important part of the whole thing, the IPs have not been consulted, we have not even had any discussions as to what the effects are to the surrounding provinces, cities and towns. All of these things have not even been done. It was just OPAC and MILF. And that’s why all these issues are sprouting up because they never listen to other groups and that is only now that we are hearing these issues coming out.

Davila: Now take us through the process. Clearly the house will have a hearing today, there’ll be debates but Senate President Franklin Drilon said when you adjourn, he will wait for your report. Take us what happens, ordinary people, on how the process goes. Okay so, you adjourn, then what happens?

Sen. Bongbong: Well we finished our last hearing yesterday. Tapos na ang hearing process. So we are now going to adjourn and during the recess what I’m going to do is to start writing… to start preparing the amendments based on the hearings.

Davila: So you prepare the amendments already based on the hearings?

Sen. Bongbong: Based on the amendments that we think are necessary.

Davila: Can you tell me some of those amendments? Just very quickly. Based on the hearings.

Sen. Bongbong: Well we touch very quickly on the Opt-in that I think is almost unanimous in the Senate (…). Of course the constitutional changes. Number 1 again we talked about the constitutional bodies. What we are going to try and do is make it as close to what already happens to ordinary LGUs.

Davila: So in a way, re-word, re-phrase, and clarify. Is that correct?

Sen. Bongbong: Well we also have to re-structure. It is not merely language that needs to be changed but some of the mechanisms like for example, again the constitutional bodies. We have to make them first, very clearly under the control and the supervision of the central offices in Manila. We are talking about COA (…)

Davila: Parliamentary? Is that part of you amendment?

Sen. Bongbong: That is something that we will certainly have to discuss.

Davila: So you’ll put it in your report?

Sen. Bongbong: Well, yes. No I will put it as a proposed amendment. I will put it in the proposed amendment and we can debate about it. And then again I think it will go down to a vote whether it stays in or goes out.

Davila: This is good because now we have a preview of your report but you are just about to write. At least (…). This is new, this is good. So opt-in – almost unanimous. Constitutional bodies, restructuring not just language but to clarify their under control of the central offices, the parliamentary you’ll put it in as a proposed amendment to be discussed.

Sen. Bongbong: Because that is on the basis of their report of Senator Miriam, it’s a very important point but we need to adjust.

Davila: Next, wealth sharing… Is that gonna be in your ano?

Sen. Bongbong: Wealth sharing, well I think we just finished taxation issues and again, the question of taxation… because the question that was… very simple question that was posted in the last couple of hearings was “barangays, take your barangay roads, for example.” Municipalities take your municipal roads, city – city roads, national hi-ways – national. What does Bangsamoro do? What roads do they do? What infrastructures are they… and yet getting 100%. And then for the businesses, if we actually find peace for the businesses that will flourish. There’ll be taxes… surely there has to be some sharing to the National Government.

Davila: So it’s a sharing issue?

Sen. Bongbong: Sharing issue. And then the issue of the Bangsamoro waters.

Davila: But that’s going to be included in your report?

Sen. Bongbong: Well this is something that came up with, especially with the Tausugs and the Sultanatew of Sulu.

Davila: What about that?

Sen. Bongbong: Well we have to talk about first of all how it affects Sabbah, number one. Secondly, the fishing industries outside of ARMM or Bangsamoro. Because the fishing industries are based in Zamboanga and GenSan and they’re very large. They provide much, much employment and income for many people and if comes under the administration of Bangsamoro government, what happens to that? Then there are…

Davila: Do they get the share?

Sen. Bongbong: Then there is also the issue of another constitutional issue of the ownership of the natural resources that are found within Bangsamoro. Again, the constitution very clearly states that all natural resources found within a territory belong to the state and so this one is changing that altogether. There are other provisions in the BBL. For example, there is a section that states very clearly that “Man of the powers, privileges, and functions of the Local Government Unit are all guaranteed as they are given in the Local Government Code, and then, EXCEPT if in the interest of good governance” the Bangsamoro parliament changes it. So that is an amendment.

Davila: That was complex. That like went through me.

Sen. Bongbong: Basically all it says is that the Bangsamoro government can change the powers and the functions of a Local Government Unit.

Davila: That’s in the BBL now?

Sen. Bongbong: That’s in the BBL now.

Davila: That the Bangsamoro Government can change the functions and the powers of an LGU as they see fit?

Sen. Bongbong: In the interest of good governance. So it’s a catch-off phrase. But that essentially, is an amendment to a national law. So that puts Bangsamoro Parliament equal to congress. That’s not possible.

Davila: That’s interesting. That’s never been pointed out.

Sen. Bongbong: There’s more than one of those. And those are the kinds of things that really worry us. That’s why the argue with a state within a state keeps coming out.

Davila: But nobody has explained it this way. When they keep saying state within a state, they never say this particular part of the BBL you’ve just mentioned.

Sen. Bongbong: So that allows the Bangsamoro Parliament again to amend a law passed by congress. Which is untenable. We cannot have that. So the powers again between the police… there is even a Bangsamoro Armed Force so that is something (…). So that is something that also needs to be addressed. What I think again we will do, is try to make it as similar as possible because it’s a regional government – we don’t have any other regional government. In fact the phrase that was used yesterday was that the police will be an enhanced regional office which works for me. I think that’s quite doable.

Davila: Okay we’re going to take a quick break but it just occurred to me. I think you talk in your sleep with the BBL. I have a feeling you do. It’s like mental (…). Alright we’re going to be right back with Senator Bongbong Marcos for picking his brain on what he’ll be writing in his report/proposed amendments to the BBL. You’re watching Headstart.

Karen Davila: Senator Bongbong Marcos is with us and we’ve been discussing generally what amendments he’ll be preparing in his committee report that he will submit and we’ve discussed a few. Let’s talk about the Block Grant.

Sen. Bongbong: The Block Grant is something…

Davila: You’ll add on your committee report?

Sen. Bongbong: Well many of the senators have expressed (…) about checks and balances…

Davila: But is it the ARMM get the Block Grant today?

Sen. Bongbong: No, the ARMM gets a budget that would pass every year. This year was 24.3 Billion I think for ARMM. And this is one of the contentions of the MILF… is that “how can we be autonomous? When we have to beg for our budget every year?” but the answer to that is “but all the other local government units receive their (…) share. Your local government units receive their (…) share” that’s not begging, that’s automatic appropriation. So this is an entirely different thing because this is like an office like any department for example, we say we have this many personnel, this is how much we pay in salaries, etc. but again I think their point for them to have an autonomy… this kind of thing doesn’t have to be, should not have to be justified. And much of that is spent on salaries. So that’s well-taking. The Block Grant is additional to that…

Davila: Additional, to the existing?

Sen. Bongbong: The existing. So there is like 30+ Billion.

Davila: So you’re talking about a budget that will exist… put it to 25 Billion. And then a separate Block Grant of 30 Billion. Is that accurate?

Sen. Bongbong: It depends on what they did that year. The income was not clear, there was a formula. But it comes to about 35, 36 Billion.

Davila: The Block Grant alone ah?

Sen. Bongbong: The Block Grant. Which is over and above the budget of the ARMM. That’s why that 75 Billion number keeps coming up, dahil dinagdag yung 24 plus… that’s how that works. But the Block Grant… its fine I mean, again the social inequities, we try to accelerate development, that’s understood. How do we guarantee what checks and balances do we have in place? That in fact this money will be used to accelerate development. How do we know about what the appropriations are? There is, put together a Bangsamoro Development Plan which slowly… I think we are starting to implement already. So that’s a good thing but again the process, the mechanisms must be clarified because as it stands now, there is no check or balance on those Block Grants. The National Government cuts a check, writes a check, and hands it over.

Davila: And no explanations needed.

Sen. Bongbong: No explanations needed. I suppose it could just be the auditing process that we can count on.

Davila: But the problem with that, if you give, for example, 35 Billion in full, whose in-charge of the money? Will the Chief Minister say this – “You know what, I like you – you mayor, you’re in my team, I give you a 100 Million.”, “You know what, I like you, I give you 200 Million.” That could work that way too.

Sen. Bongbong: Well, I suppose they could justify it as a development program…

Davila: Technically, yes. But who make the roads? Who spends for the roads? The National? Who spends for the schools?

Sen. Bongbong: National roads are national… Well yun ay isa pa. There is a devolution of even the educational system (…) again not clear. Because it is something that we need to clarify. Who builds the schools? And they say that Bangsamoro will build it but if the National Government chooses to add to the budget of the Bangsamoro Government for school buildings then of course that will be (…) development. So there is no guarantee at least part of the money of the Bangsamoro road will be used for education. The other very important sector is health. What about the hospitals? Who builds the hospitals, who runs them, who pays for the salaries of the doctors and nurses and its personnel?

Davila: So who?

Sen. Bongbong: Hindi nanaman maliwanag.

Davila: Because ang mahirap naman, if here’s a region that demands “we want to be autonomous, we demand to be more autonomous than the existing.” And yet, “oh dapat kayo mag suweldo ng ano… dapat kayo magpatayo…” ang nangyari is, what’s the 35 Billion for?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes… The stated purpose is very clear. Again that’s for re-development because naiwanan nanaman namin. (…)

Davila: But this all the (…)

Sen. Bongbong: Yes that’s fair but we need such imbalances. Whatever mechanism has to follow policy. If the decided policy is that we are going to build so many kilometers of roads, we’re going to build a new power plant or port or airport, dapat sundan ‘yon.

Davila: Senator ang tanong ko naman, since this Block Grant is coming from the taxes of every Filipino from all over the Philippines, ang tanong ko lang, aren’t there at least certain rules with the Block Grant? Like for example, “it can only be spent for…” maybe 10 or 20 items. Because what if they all buy cars? Sorry I’m just stating…

Sen. Bongbong: If we look at the terminology, Block GRANT. Grant is a transfer payment. You take (…) money and you give it and that’s it, it’s a grant. And so again, that is something that we need to study further because if this is to succeed, that development should occur, otherwise again, we will object. This is one of the criticisms of ARMM. That ordinary citizens do not feel the money that was given to ARMM. So if ARMM is an experiment, let’s not do that again. Let’s do something better. But then you just touched upon another (…) of contention in the BBL – should it the plebiscite be national or should it be local?

Davila: Will it that be in your report?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes it will be in the report.

Davila: What will you recommend?

Sen. Bongbong: Again, the school of thought… the argument is that the Block Grants are moneys that are paid by other local governments and to the national government.

Davila: But I wouldn’t hear what you think because Senator Ralph Recto thinks the plebiscite should be national. Senate President Drilon told me not necessary. And he thinks it’s just (…) affected. What does Senator Bongbong Marcos really believe?

Sen. Bongbong: I think, at the very least if not the plebiscite, at the very least… the other local government units, the other provinces, and cities, and towns should have a say. Because its (…) money.

Davila: Which cities and towns? Like including Manila or you mean around them?

Sen. Bongbong: At least those surrounded but even more because some people are saying all of Mindanao, some people are saying the entire country. So if you remember what we were speaking about earlier, all the taxes that are collected in Bangsamoro, stay in bangsamoro – there is no share. Therefore all of those Block Grants come from other places outside of Bangsamoro. That’s their money, that’s their contribution to the National Wealth, to the National (…). So again, surely, they might have a say in it. And for example, whatever 36 Billion, whatever figure you use, that amount less for my local government for the entire country. So surely, we should have at least, if not control, at the very least, we should be assure that the moneys will be used properly.

Davila: Don’t you fear being unpopular in Mindanao? With your point of view? I mean coming from that report that you saw of “Si Senator Bongbong Marcos ‘bat ganito? Hindi kami sang ayon!” Don’t you fear? You don’t have these fears?

Sen. Bongbong: I think, I’m quite confident because right now I don’t know what they are objecting to. There’s no bill yet. So what are you objecting to? There’s nothing to object to. Wala pang lumalabas na bill. Maybe when the bill comes out you can say you don’t like this, then that’s fine. And beyond that, I’m quite confident because this is all based in logic and reason that I can explain and explain to them and make them see that this is actually necessary because if we don’t do this, it will be shut down by the Supreme Court. If we don’t do this gulo lang ang mangyayari. If we don’t do this, this sector is going to rise up and cause trouble. It’s not because we woke up one more (…). It is based on reason.

Davila: So during the break while other people are, while your other Senators could be resting, travelling somewhere abroad, you’ll be working on your committee report?

Sen. Bongbong: Yes.

Davila: What happens after? When do you get back? When the session starts again? July 27. After SONA, debate starts.

Sen. Bongbong: After SONA, yes, the committee… we’ll form the committee again and I will say “this is my substitute note”

Davila: And everybody gets into debates, interpolation, (…)

Sen. Bongbong: Ay hinde wala pa ‘yon. Nasa committee pa lang tayo.

Davila: Ganun pala mahaba pa ulit.

Sen. Bongbong: But the three committees, because there are three committees involved. This is the local government, peace and reconciliation, and constitutional amendments. Pag pinag sama-sama mo lahat ng member dyan 19 already. 19 Senators.

Davila: So that’s almost…

Sen. Bongbong: So the only one that’s not in there is the Senate President. So I’m pretty confident that even if the debates within the committee go for a while, the plenary will be short. Because napag usapan na namin. Maybe people would want to make a point and explain exactly why… because there will be a Marcos amendment, there will be a Recto amendment, and there will be… maybe they would like to explain why they proposed that amendment and why they’ve pushed for it.

Davila: Okay after that, what happens? You grow on bicam…

Sen. Bongbong: You grow on… let’s say that it passed in the plenary. We have a version that’s passed in the plenary. We then go in the bicam.

Davila: Is Senate President Drilon accurate that by September, the BBL could be passed. Sealed, (…), and delivered.

Sen. Bongbong: I think so.

Davila: Would you keep the main BBL still? Will these amendments (…)?

Sen. Bongbong: Isa pa yan. (…) changed it. (…) Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Davila: Isn’t that Miriam’s concern?

Sen. Bongbong: No it’s not the name. It is a different autonomous region. It is not the ARMM that was created by the first congress.

Davila: How did it become different? There’s an addition?

Sen. Bongbong: They just changed the name. They amended it from Bangsamoro Government to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. I think it’s kind of trying to move towards that suggestion. That it just be an amendment of the ARMM. So I think, I haven’t spoken to them about this specific point but I am beginning to see that they’re trying to alleviate some of those, the problems that people have identified.

Davila: Alright quickly what is your message to the MILF?

Sen. Bongbong: They should be patient and wait for the version that we will finally craft and they can rest assure that we are not taking advantage of them, that we still consider them our partners in peace. We know that they are necessary part of the peace process and we cannot do it without them. So certainly their concerns and their issues will be addressed perhaps not in the way that they want but again I am very confident that if we sit down, and go through it, rationally, and logically, and objectively, then they would understand that these thing were necessary. Whatever changes we instituted will be necessary.

Davila: On that note Senator Bongbong Marcos. What a pleasure to have you on the show. At least now we know what we’ll be in your committee report. Partly, parts of it. That’s Headstart today replay of this interview is 3:30pm this afternoon. I’m Karen Davila thank you for watching. Our weekend replay as well – we’ll be announcing that. Have a good day everyone and stay on ANC!

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