Speech at University of Cebu

4 September 2015

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!

Maayong buntag kaninyong tanan!

Very obedient itong mga ito.

Thank you for your warm reception and for your welcome to me here at the University of Banilad Campus for this discussion that we will have on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. At this point, naririnig ninyo sigurado iyong Bangsamoro Basic Law o iyong BBL at iyan ay balitang-balita. Ngunit, ang katotohanan, ang BBL wala na. Dahil iyong BBL ay iyong version na ibinigay ng Pangulo sa Kongreso. Ngunit, ang version na ibinigay ng Pangulo sa Kongreso, iyong BBL na nga, ay walang pag-asa pumasa dahil ayaw ng mga Congressman, ayaw ng mga Senador, kaya’t ay binago nga namin, and we have changed the name from BBL because the BBL has become a touchtone now for our people as a reminder of the massacre Mamasapano. Kaya’t tinanggal na namin at ang tawag ngayon namin ay ang Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. The shortcut is BL BAR. That is what we are discussing when we talk about the basic law creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to all of you here who have come today. It is with great satisfaction and honor that I am able to touch base and share with the students of higher education institutions the results of the work that I do in the Senate, as your elected Senator. Especially on this extremely contentious and sensitive subject which portends great impact on our country and our people, and from which not only students of political sciences and other “politically inclined” subjects, but all students concerned about the state of our politics, our government, our nation, and to all of those who have expressed that much interest. I hope that this talk that I’m giving today and the discussion that we will later have will allow you to find some important lessons or important insights into the peace process in Muslim Mindanao.

But first allow me to assure everyone: WALAY EXAM PARA ANI. But I cannot speak in behalf of your professors, who, possessed with academic freedom, might have other plans for you—concerned and responsible as they are for your full intellectual development and wellbeing!

But we can ask them to be a little more liberal when it comes to this subject matter. However, as diligent University students, you are the sharpest and the most receptive in taking valuable lessons and insights from this talk, with regard to our constitutional system and our form of government, as well as on the interplay of the branches of government and the political forces involved in this proposed legislation and proposed shift in government policy. Do not worry, it sounds complicated, it is not. It is quite simple and I think you will see that as we go through the different issues. Makikita naman ninyo na it talaga ang patakbo ng pamahalaan. It will give you an idea. Although, the specific subject is the Basic Law on Bangsamoro, marami siguro kayo mapupulot tungkol nga sa patakbo ng pamahalaan, tungkol sa mga relasyon sa iba’t-ibang departamento ng ating gobyerno.

I also hope that if there are any law students and Bar examines that are present, then maybe they will also pick up certain political law aspects of the BBL. Although, this is not important only to law students because it is important to the running of our country and the structure of government. Particularly, I will be referring to this quite often, it will be Article 10 of the Constitution on “Autonomous Regions” and of course, “Local Government”. This Basic Law is a hotly debated issue right now, not only in the field of policy but also in the field of constitutional law; thus, there is a strong suspicion and possibility that the Supreme Court will be asked to weigh in on the issue after the process of legislation in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. It is something that we are anticipating will possibly happen depending on what the version will be that both houses will pass.

University of Cebu law students are always looking for possible yet relevant questions of the day, if only to ensure that in your studies, you have left no stone unturned. For surely, the entire University of Cebu will want to continue to produce another Bar Topnotcher for the third straight year—and give premier Metro Manila schools a run for their money! I hope you do so and this reminds us of the history of not only the educational system in Cebu, but of course, of the identity of Cebu as our first national capital.

Anyway, to get on with the topic, you may have learned in the news about this BBL and that a modified version of thaw law is already being debated in Congress today, in the hope that it passes in time for the 2016 elections.

First and foremost, ano ba talaga itong BBL na ito na pinag-uusapan?

I hope you are all aware of a basic Philippine constitutional principle that certain parts of Mindanao are declared to be on a different political status in relation to the national government, and in comparison with other local government units, say, for example, the City of Mandaue or the Province of Cebu.

This area in Muslim Mindanao has been recognized under Article ten (10) of the Constitution as an “AUTONOMOUS REGION”, alongside with the Cordillera Region. So, there are only two (2) autonomous regions in the Philippines- Cordillera Autonomous Region and the Autonomous Region, ngayon ang tawag ARMM, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. In essence, these two (2) autonomous regions are an aggrupation of local government units, not just one. ARMM now consists of five (5) provinces and one (1) city. In essence, it is recognized that they share a “common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage”. It means that they are granted autonomy. It is essentially and substantially different from “independence”. That is going to be a key issue as we continue with this discussion. So while these areas can be viewed and describes as “autonomous”, they are not and cannot be allowed to be “independent” from the Philippines.

Right now, this part of Mindanao is called by the legal description “the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao”, or simply “ARMM”. The grant of their autonomy has been enfleshed in law enacted by Congress. We had Republic Act number 6734 in 1989, and then we had a Republic Act 9054 in 2001.

For everyone’s information, in the Cordillera Region, wala pa. Despite two attempts to operationalize the autonomy in 1990 and in 1998, the people of Cordillera did not agree when they voted in their plebiscites and that were separately held for that purpose. They were not able to obtain iyong “matamis na oo” galling sa kanilang mga inhabitant.

However, in the case of Muslim Mindanao, this BBL is now the third time that the autonomy of the region is being revisited and recalibrated. So now, this all means that we as an entire nation are now trying to renegotiate this grant of autonomy to Muslim Mindanao.

During previous legislations, it was the Moro National Liberation Front that stood as the negotiator for the ARMM. This time around, it is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Ngayon, although the names are very similar, it is a very distinct organizations and come from two (2) very distinct parts of Muslim Mindanao. Although, previously it was the MNLF, not it is the MILF, that has been exclusively negotiating with Malacañang on this matter. And now, instead of the political name “ARMM”, they want their revamped autonomous region to now be called “The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region”.

Now, in doing all these, we are of course governed and guided by the framework of our constitutional democracy. Hence, we have to follow the rules and precepts ordained by our Constitution.

To recall what you have learned in your Political Science 101, the form of government that is ordained and authorized under our 1987 Constitution is described as a unitary, presidential, and republican form of government. On the national level, we have three (3) departments, we have the executive, we have the legislative department and we have the judicial. All the independent constitutional entities.

On the local level, we have what are called “territorial and political subdivisions” of our country, or what we now refer to as our LGUs- our local government units. Again, a perfect example is the City of Mandaue, the Province of Cebu, all of these are described as LGUs. This is well defined within the Constitution. These LGUs also enjoy local autonomy, but not in the degree allowed for the ARMM and the Cordilleras. Mas malawak ang autonomy na binibigay natin sa Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Notwithstanding the grant of autonomy under the law, the President still has the power of general supervision over both the LGUs and the autonomous regions. That is a very important point because if the President no longer has general supervision over any part of the Philippines, then we can say it is already independent. In other words, nakahiwalay na sa Republika ng Pilipinas.

Because of the primacy of the Constitution, the BBL, both in its SUBSTANCE and its PROCEDURE for its enactment and enforcement, must follow certain principles, basic principles, enshrined in the Constitution.

Number one (1), the Agreements between the MILF and the “Government of the Philippines” or GPH, do not bind the entire government.

If you will recall, there had been all sorts of agreements between the MILF and the so-called “GPH” or again the “Government of the Philippines”. In fact, the “original draft” of the BBL was precisely the by-product of these agreements.

But we have to understand that these agreements do not bind Congress. Neither does it bind the Supreme Court, much less the entire country. Even if you see the acronym “GPH”, giving the impression of the entire Philippine government, we should not be misled and should always remember that it only covers and it only binds the Executive Department, the President or Malacañang only. Anyway, it is our own President that claimed that the ARMM was a “failed experiment” in the first place. He actually did say that.

So again, that is an important point because we are hearing often from the MILF, and sinasabi nila, “Nagpirmahan na kami ng Pangulo. Bakit kailangan pang makipagnegosasyon sa lehislatura? Bakit pa kailangan padaanin sa Supreme Court?” Dahil, ang agreement ng MILF atsaka ng Philippine Government, ay hindi ito International Treaty. Ang International Treaty, pagpinirmahan na ng Pangulo, tapos na. i-raratify, i-aapprove na lang ng Senado, tapos na. Pero ito ay hindi treaty dahil hindi naman sila separate na isang sovereign state. They are not a country. The MILF is not a government, it’s not a state, therefore, it is a local agreement and The Basic Law is still a law. It still has to studied by Congress and can be amended by Congress and can be challenged in the Supreme Court like previous attempts, it can be found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. So, ibang klaseng agreement ito. Hindi ito international agreement kung hindi ito ay agreement sa pamahalaan at ng isang local na revolutionary organization.

Pangalawa, Congress, through the power of lawmaking, not only has the authority to enact the MILF-GPH draft of the BBL, but to also, we have the power to change its terms in order to make it faithful and amenable to the provisions of the Constitution, to ensure the balanced and inclusive development of our country and the people. In other words, ang nangyari kasi dito, pagbigay sa amin noong draft BBL, iyong unang ibinigay sa amin na version, lahat ng mga abogado nakita agad noong binasa nila, sinasabi this is unconstitutional. Dahil maraming mga probisyon doon na labag sa Saligang Batas. Kaya naman, ang trabaho ng isang legislator, ay tignan ng mabuti, at kung mayroon nga kaming nakikita na unconstitutional na probisyon, ay kailangan ayusin ito at gawing constitutional. Kung hindi, walang mangyayari. Pagdating sa Supreme Court, sasabihin ng Supreme Court, unconstitutional itong batas na ito. Itatapon na iyan. Wala ng mangyayari. So, wala rin nangyari doon sa ating ginawa. That is why we have to continue to work and refine the Basic Law.

In school, we have all learned that under our present Constitution, Congress is the lawmaking body, not the President. This means that the draft BBL proposal needs to be first be passed upon by Congress before it can become a law—this notwithstanding any provision of the BBL or whatever agreements and concessions made by and between the Government of the Philippines and the MILF.

But the problem— and it is a very big problem, was that the hearings in Congress yielded the conclusion that many of the provisions of the original draft of the BBL were in fact, violative, in violation, of the Constitution!

So we had to call for assistance and request our resident constitutional law expert in the Senate, in the person of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, to study the constitutional law aspect of the BBL. Senator Miriam is the Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and the Revisions of Laws. Dahil siya ang kinikilala sa Senado na experto pagdating sa batas. Dahil maraming pinagdaanan si Senator Miriam, naging RTC Judge pa siya. So nauunawaan niya at talagang pinag-aaralan niya ang mga legal issues tungkol sa batas.

Senator Miriam invited all the great Filipino minds in the field of Constitutional Law to study the BBL in order to determine its consistency or lack thereof with the Constitution. We got the report of Senator Miriam after many hearings that she conducted with iyong ating mga dating Supreme Court Justice, iyong ating mga mga expert sa Constitution, iyong ating mga magagaling na abogado, at matagal nilang pinag-usapan at diniscuss ang kanilang mga opinyon tungkol dito sa draft BBL na ibinigay nga sa Kongreso ng ating Pangulo.
Unfortunately, the report of Senator Miriam confirmed our initial suspicion. The BBL has many provisions that violate the Constitution.

According to the now-popular book of Senator Miriam: “STUPID IS FOREVER”!

According to Senator Miriam’s report, the BBL intends to establish a “part-sovereign state” or a “state within a state” called the “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region”. The reason that she came into conclusion is that, maybe some of you may not have heard of this before but you can look it up, you can quickly google it while I continue with my talking. Allegedly, it has all the elements of a State under what is called, the Montevideo Convention. The Montevideo Convention sought to define what a state is, there definition includes certain aspects namely: 1) A permanent population; 2) A well-defined territory; and 3) A capacity to enter into relations with other States. Those were all included in the draft BBL; therefore, it was deemed, it was a creation of a “state within a state” and therefore, in violation of the Constitution.

And so I was alerted, and had to make sure that the Bangsamoro proposal would not turn the ARMM into a separate state or a “state within a state”. The national and territorial integrity of the Philippines should be preserved and protected. The proposal should not contain provisions leading to opportunities for secession or for breaking away. The matter of defense, security, and peace and order in the Bangsamoro should always remain under and within the national government.

Bakit maraming natatakot na ito ay gagawing hakbang para ihiwalay ang Bangsamoro Autonomous Region sa Pilipinas. Dahil ang MNLF at saka ang MILF at saka hanggang iyong BIFF, pati na iyong Abu Sayyaf, pati na iyong mga ibang armed groups, ang kanilang sinasabi, kaya nila ibinuo ang kanilang grupo, upang labanan ang gobyerno para ihiwalay ang Muslim Mindanao sa Pilipinas. Ngayon, ang MNLF, pumayag na, na we will abandon the idea of separatism and we continue to be citizens of the Philippines. Kaya nagkaroon na sila ng peace agreement. Iyong MILF, ganoon din. Sabi nila, hindi na kami lalaban sa gobyerno, kami ngayon, ang gagawin namin, ay ipagpapatuloy namin bilang mamamayan, we will be citizens and continue to be citizens of the Philippines and pledge allegiance to the state. So, that is why we are able to come to these peace agreements with the different groups. They have to abandon their original calls of breaking away parts of Mindanao from the Philippines.

I also had to make sure that provisions leading to normalcy in the area that were contained in the substitute bill. I fully agree that peace and development in Muslim Mindanao are as much part of the primary objectives of the Basic Law, as the grant of autonomy. Therefore, we included provisions on the so-called “normalization of communities” and the “decommissioning of forces”.

What does that mean? Ang normalization of communities ay ibig sabihin iyong mga conflict areas, na ang mga nilalaman noong mga conflict areas ay puro iyong tinatawag nga na combatant. Iyong mga lumalaban sa gobyerno. Pagka natapos na ang peace agreement, kapag naitayo na natin ang Bangsamoro Autonomous Region ay kailangan natin bigyan sila ng hanap-buhay para i-surrender na nila iyong kanilang armas. Pero, hindi naman natin basta’t pababayaan. Pagka nagsurrender ng armas pero wala namang trabaho, babalik iyon sa gulo. So, kailangan din natin silang tulungan. We have to develop the area. We have to provide livelihood. We have to give them opportunities in life so that they do not return to raging war with the government.

The other important aspect is the decommissioning of forces. Ano ang ibig sabihin ng decommissioning of forces? Ibig sabihin, essentially, disarmament, na i-susurrender ang armas. Ayaw nilang tanggapin iyong salitang “surrender”. Kaya’t decommissioning of forces. Ngunit, baki importante ito? Simpleng-simple lang. Kung walang armas, walang gera. So, pag nawala na iyong armas from the field, when all those, we can now have discussions without shooting each other. We can now talk about the different issues that are important. We can come to a consensus which is something we could not do if both sides are armed and still continue to fight.

This means that in exchange for and simultaneous with the grant of a wider and a more extensive autonomy, there should also be a more sincere and permanent ceasefire and a more substantial demilitarization and disarming of all armed groups in the area. The MILF and all armed groups have to stop fighting the government, and put an end to all the conflicts going on in the region.

We have to disarm—literally and figuratively—a portion of our people who are so used to and steeped in a culture of arms-bearing, fighting, of killing, of war. The enactment of the Basic Law is also a time for our brothers and sisters to lay down their arms, and replace them with plows, tools of trade, books, with computers, and other wholesome and more potent materials of creation—not of destruction—and other building blocks of social development and progress.

In fact, these were some of the very important lessons learned from the Mamasapano massacre in January of this year. We were able to appreciate the importance of achieving a lasting PEACE in Mindanao. We were taught about the virtue of trust. Remember that the MILF was involved in this deadly encounter—the very same organization that our government now has been exclusively talking to and negotiating with in the past several years about, quite ironically, the quest for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.

It is just terribly unfortunate and a tragedy that it had to take the lives of 44 brave SAF policemen—one of whom turns out is your alumnus, in the line of duty fighting for the cause of peace and against global terrorism—it took that for us to be reminded of these important and noble goals. At the very least, we were greatly comforted by the thought that our Fallen 44 heroes had given their lives not only for the single valiant purpose of bringing fugitives to justice, but more importantly and more transcendental reasons: that the revealed to the rest of the country the imperfections and the weaknesses and the necessity of the peace process in Muslim Mindanao.

I wrote the substitute bill. Noong nakuha naming iyong BBL hindi nga kami happy dahil unconstitutional. Mayroon kaming mga nakitang probisyon na hindi maliwanag. Masyadong Malabo, hindi mo maintindihan. Mayroong mga probisyon na masyadong binibigyan ng puder ang autonomous region to the detriment of the national government na hindi natin maaaring pabayaan. So, when I filed that substitute bill, I made a sponsorship speech to sponsor the bill and I deemed it prudent and made it a point to pay tribute to the memory of our Fallen 44. May they forever be remembered by our grateful nation. We are eternally grateful to the two (2) sons of Cebu—PO1 Windel Candano and PO1 Romeo Cempron—whom have laid their lives down in the line of service of our beloved country and of their duty.

Number three (3), the Supreme Court’s authority to declare a law unconstitutional.

Of course, Congress will scrutinize the whole proposal BBL, up to its very detail, as well as its effects and implication, foreseen and unforeseen. Hindi pwedeng bara-bara mana-uy! Hindi pwedeng ganoon. We have to be very detailed. We cannot have this mentality, iyong sinasabing “bahala-na-si-Batman, tignan natin kung anong mangyari”! We should neither approach it by saying “rak-en-rol-to-the-world! Okay na iyan”. Hindi pupwede iyon. Dahil pagka ganyan ang ating ginawa, magkakaproblema tayo.

One of the main reasons is because the Supreme Court—the last bastion of constitutionality and the rule of law—is there, standing on guard for any legal question that might be raised by any affected Filipino citizen or taxpayer against any alleged unconstitutionality of the Basic Law. Again, all the agreements between the MILF and the GPH Panel do not bind the entire government—let alone the Supreme Court.

Or else, all the painstaking work of Congress could just end up being another sumptuous target of a petition by a concerned and well-meaning Filipino taxpayer for certiorari and prohibition with the Supreme Court on the ground of unconstitutionality. We know this because it has actually happened before. There have been previous attempts na tinatawag na MOA-AD. I don’t know if you have heard about it It is the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. This was also an attempt by the government to find a peace agreement with the MILF. They wrote the law pero pagka pasa noong batas ay chinallenge sa Supreme Court. Sinabi ng Supreme Court it is unconstitutional. Iyong batas na iyon tinapon na. Hindi puwedeng gamitin. So, we did not want that to happen to the Basic Law.

If the BBL that were to spring forth from Congress and is eventually stricken down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, what happens? Is it the end of the road for the proponents of peace?

If the proponents are really bent on passing the BBL in the exact shape and form as drafted by the Palace, then there would be no other legal recourse but to initiate a coordinate move of amending or revising the Constitution. This is in order to accommodate and make possible all the changes in our existing government structures and institutions called for under the draft BBL.

Thus, under the Article XVII of the Constitution, the said proposed constitutional changes will have to be done by Congress. In other words magkakaroon pa tayo ng constituent assembly or ng constitutional convention para palitan ang ating Saligang Batas. This seems to be to me, disproportionate kind of action because parang babaguhin mo lahat ng sistema ng buong Pilipinaspara i-accommodate ang isang lugar. Ang laging pumapasok sa aking pag-iisip, the phrase that keeps coming to mind when we are told about this possible move to change the Constitution to accommodate Bangsamoro Autonomous Region is, “The tail is wagging the dog”. Mali yata iyon. Maybe if they are to remain part of the Philippines, they should conform to the Constitution of the Philippines.

As of the moment, we are in the stages of interpellation and amendment. Do people know what interpellation and amendment mean? It is a very fancy word for “questioning”. It is question time. For the last two (2) weeks, nakatayo ako sa Senado at kung sino man na Senador na may tanong tungkol doon sa substitute bill, tumatayo at tinatanong ako. Ako naman, ay kailangan kong ipaliwanag at sagutin iyong tanong na iyon. That is what we call interpellation. Alam niyo naman kaming mga Senador, hindi kampi pwedeng magsabi ng “question”. Kailangan namin pagandahin, “interpellation” pa. Interpellation kuno pero pinag-usapan na naming lahat iyon. Anyway, that’s all that it means- is that I am now to explain the substitute bill that I wrote.

After that will be the period of amendments which essentially means lahat ng mga proposal ng mga Senador na sa kanilang palagay ay dapat baguhin doon sa batas ay ipopropose nila. Iyon ay pag-uusapan namin, didiskusyunan namin. Kung hindi makapag-agree, iboboto namin kung ipapasok o hindi.

So, we are now in the period of interpellation. Ang susunod is the period of amendments of the substitute bill in Congress for further refinement and improvement of the bill, before it is finally brought to the floor for voting and for passage into law.

Presidential approval, na alam naman ninyo, lahat ng napasa sa Kongreso, kailangan pirmahan n gating Pangulo and we are confident the Presidential approval will be expected since he is the one behind all of this anyway. But even after the President signs the law as Republic Act, the law will ultimately be laid down before the affected people of Muslim Mindanao, be they Muslims or not, for their ratification in a plebiscite wherein they will have to answer the important question:
“Do you approve of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region?”

These are the peaceful, unifying, and constitutional ways of doing it. In the name of peace, we must let these be done.

No shortcuts. No railroading. No threats of violence. No threats of war. We cannot succumb to such forces. We must continue in our work in all seriousness and in all sincerity.

I have worked hard and I have risked so much for this proposed legislation to reach this stage. It got so far na umabot sa ito lang, na pinaputukan iyong aking opisina sa Manila at nakahanap kami ng butas ng bala at saka nakita namin iyong bala doon sa loob ng opisina ko.

But you know, I am not scared, I am not rattled, I am not shaken. I will continue to do everything to make sure that the hard work will not be put to waste or set to naught—especially on the whims and caprices of such unseen forces working behind the scenes.

Your public servant assures our young people and our posterity that as an elected representative of the Filipino people, entrusted with the life and future of our nation, I will continue the valiant struggle of our patriots by ensuring that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country are kept intact and respected by all, and our people continue to be united by a common aspiration for a genuine and lasting peace, for order, for justice and development not only in Mindanao but in our entire country as well.

I do all this because I am of the firm belief that at the end of the day, the ultimate desire and aspiration of all Filipinos, Muslims, non-Muslims, whoever they are, wherever they come from, is very simple, a good life and this, is what we in government need to provide.

So, I hope with this brief explanation, you are able to see some important lessons about our topic this morning because of its sheer importance to our life as a nation, to the lives of the Filipino people, especially to you—our students, our youth. As the future of our great land, you will be inheriting the country and the society that we—your progenitors and forbears—are now shaping and molding in your behalf. What we are doing is history in the making. By your active involvement and your insights in the national dialogue, also, you too can be part of the process of writing this particular chapter of our history.

Therefore, I urge you all to be involved in your own ways as young, exuberant, dynamic and proactive students. I also humbly ask for your support, your patience and your understanding.

So, let me end on that note.

Thank you for your time and attention. Daghan na ku nasturya.

Mabuhi ang University of Cebu ug ang Banilad campus!

Mabuhi ang Dakbayán sa Mandaue!

Mabuhi ang Lalawigan sa Sugbo!

Hangtud sa atong sunod na panagtagbo!

Daghang salamat ug maayong buntag kaninyong tanan! Thank you.