Speech at University of Cebu

4 September 2015

To the students of University of Cebu-Banilad campus, who are in attendance this morning,

To the administrators, teaching staff and other personnel and employees of the University,

Other visiting students, guest and friends,

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!

Maayong buntag kaninyong tanan!

Thank you for your warm reception and for welcoming me here at the University of Cebu-Banilad campus for a short talk on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to all who are present here today. It gives me great satisfaction and honor indeed to be able to touch base and share with the students of our higher education institutions the results of the work that I do in the Senate, as your elected Senator. Especially on this very contentious and sensitive subject matter of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which portends great impact on our country and our people, and from which not only students of political science and other “politically inclined” students, but all students concerned about the state of our politics, our government and of our nation, may pick valuable lessons.

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

But joking aside, as diligent University students, you are the sharpest and the most receptive to pick valuable lessons and insights from this lecture, 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 our governance policy.

I do hope that law students and Bar reviewees are likewise in attendance this morning, because of the political law aspects of the BBL, particularly Article 10 of the Constitution on “Autonomous Regions” at “Local Government”. The BBL 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 possibility that the Supreme Court might be minded to ask a question or two about this in the Bar Exams this coming November.

Proven top-caliber as they are, University of Cebu law students are always on the lookout for all possible ticklish yet relevant legal questions of the day, if only to ensure that they leave no stone unturned. For surely, they and the entire University of Cebu want to produce yet another Bar Topnotcher for the third straight year—and give the premier Metro Manila schools a run for their money!

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

First and foremost, just what really is this BBL all about?

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 10 of the Constitution as an “AUTONOMOUS REGION”, alongside the Cordillera Region. In essence, they are an aggrupation of local government units, which share a “common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage”. In Cebuano, it means that they have “KAUGALIGNON” or autonomy. But note, however, that the concept of “autonomy” is essentially and substantially different from “independence”. So while they may be viewed as “autonomous”, they are not “independent” from the Philippines.

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

And for everybody’s information, in the Cordillera Region, WALA pa’y! Despite two attempts to operationalize its autonomy in 1990 and 1998, the people of Cordillera did not agree in the plebiscites separately held for that purpose. They were not able to obtain that “MATAM-IS NGA GUGMA” (the sweet “YES”) from the people.

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 the previous legislations, it was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that stood as the negotiator for the ARMM. But this time around, it is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that has been exclusively negotiating with Malacañang on this matter. And instead of the political name “ARMM”, they want their revamped autonomous region to now be called “BANGSAMORO”.

Now, in doing all these, we are 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 a unitary, presidential, republican form of government. On the national level, we have the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and the independent constitutional bodies.

Then, on the local level, we have what are called the “territorial and political subdivisions” of our country, or our local government units. A most popular example of an LGU is your very own City of Mandaue. These LGUs also enjoy local autonomy, but not in the degree allowed for the ARMM and the Cordilleras. 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.

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

1) The Agreements between the MILF and “Government of the Philippines” (GPH) do not bind the entire Philippine Government.

If you will recall, there had been all sorts of agreements between the MILF and the so-called “GPH” or 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 the 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 rather think that it only covers and binds the Executive Department, the President or the Malacañang only. Anyway, it is our own President that claimed that the ARMM was a “failed experiment” in the first place!

Yes, our President said that!

2) Congress, through the power of lawmaking, not only has the authority to enact the MILF-GPH original draft of the BBL, but also the correlative power to change its terms in order to make it faithful and amenable to the provisions of the Constitution and to ensure the balanced and inclusive development of our country and of the people.

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

But the problem—ANG DAKU NGA PROBLEMA (the “BIG PROBLEM”)—was that the hearings in Congress yielded the conclusion that many of the provisions of the original draft of the BBL were violative of our Constitution!

So we had to call for backup 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. Obligingly, Senator Miriam then 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.

Unfortunately, the Report of Senator Miriam confirmed our initial suspicions: the BBL really violated the Constitution!

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

According to the Miriam Report, the BBL intends to establish a “part-sovereign state” or a “sub-state” to be called the “Bangsamoro”. Allegedly, it has all the elements of a State under the Montevideo Convention, namely: 1) Permanent population; 2) Defined territory; and 3) Capacity to enter into relations with other States.

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

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

This means that in exchange for and simultaneous with the grant of wider and 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 region. 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 or so steeped in a culture of arms-bearing, fighting and killing. The enactment of the BBL is also a time for our brothers and sisters to lay down arms, and replace them with plows, tools of trade, books, computers, and other wholesome and more potent materials of creation—and not of destruction—and other building blocks of social development and progress.

In fact, these were some of the valuable lessons we have learned from the Mamasapano tragedy in January of this year. We were able to appreciate the importance of achieving lasting PEACE in Mindanao. We were taught about the virtue of TRUST. Remember that the MILF was involved in this deadly skirmish—the very same organization that our government had been exclusively talking to and negotiating with the past several years about (quite ironically) the quest for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.

It is just very unfortunate that it had to take the lives of 44 brave SAF policemen—in the line of duty fighting for the cause of peace and against global terrorism—for us to be reminded of these important goals. But 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 for more important and transcendental reasons: that of revealing imperfections and weaknesses in the peace process in Muslim Mindanao.

So in my sponsorship speech, I deemed it prudent and made it a point to pay tribute to the memory of our Fallen SAF 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 on the line in the service of our beloved country.

3) Supreme Court’s authority to declare a law unconstitutional

Of course, Congress has to scrutinize the whole proposal BBL, up to its minutiae, as well as its effects and implication, foreseen and unforeseen. Hindi pwedeng bara-bara mana-uy! The mentality should not simply be “bahala-na-si-Batman”! And neither should the approach be merely “rak-en-rol-to-the-world!”.

This is because the Supreme Court—the last bastion of constitutionality and the rule of law—is there, standing on guard for any legal questions that might be raised by any affected Filipino citizen or taxpayer against the alleged unconstitutionality of the BBL. Again, all the agreements between the MILF and the GPH do not necessarily bind the entire Philippine government—let alone the Supreme Court of the Philippines!

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!

3) Amendment and revision of the Constitution

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

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

Thus, under the Article XVII of the Constitution, said proposed constitutional changes shall be done by Congress either through direct action, upon a vote of three-fourths (3/4) of all its Members; or through a Constitutional Convention. This particular view is shared by eminent legal minds, most notably by former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.

As of the moment, we are in the stages of interpellations and amendments of the substitute BBL bill in Congress, for further refinement and improvement of the BBL, before it is finally brought to the floor for voting and for passage into law.

Presidential approval is to be expected in all probability, since he is behind the proposal anyway. But even so after the President signs the law into a Republic Act, the law shall ultimately be laid down before the affected people of Muslim Mindanao for their ratification at a plebiscite wherein they will have to answer the important question:

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

No shortcuts. No railroading. No threats of violence. No threats of war.

I have worked so hard and risked so much for this proposed legislation to reach this stage. Just a few weeks ago, we found a bullet hole through the glass of my office with a bullet slug on the floor.

But I am not rattled or shaken at all. I will do everything to make sure that all the hardwork will not be just put to waste or set at naught—especially on the mere whims and caprices of unseen forces working and weaving their magic behind the scenes.

Your humble public servant assures our youth and our posterity that as an elected representative of the Filipino people, entrusted with the life and the future of our nation, I will continue the valiant struggles of our patriots by ensuring that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country are kept intact and respected by all, and our people united by a common aspiration for genuine and lasting peace, order, 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 our kababayans, Muslims or non-Muslims alike, is—in simple terms—“HAYAHAY NGA BUHAY” (Magandang buhay)!

To end, I hope that you are able to pick up important lessons about our topic this morning, because of its sheer importance to our life as a nation, and to our lives as a Filipino people, especially to you—our youth. As the future of our great land, you shall 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 now is HISTORY IN THE MAKING. And by your active involvement and your insights in the national dialogue, you too can be part of the process of writing this particular chapter of our history.

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

Let me end on that note, my dear students of the University of Cebu.

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

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!

(Until we meet again!)

Daghang salamat ug maayong buntag kaninyong tanan!
(Thank you and good morning to you all!)