By Ellson Quismorio
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez admitted to “sharing the doubt” of the opposition regarding the constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
“As a lawyer, I share that doubt. Talaga namang nasa Constitution yung ARMM eh (It’s true that the creation of the ARMM is in the Constitution),” Alvarez told House reporters Wednesday, just a few hours after the chamber passed the substitute bill on the BBL on second and third reading.
The reference bill was the Speaker’s own House Bill (HB) No.6475, which was earlier adopted by a tri-committee tasked to handle all BBL-related measures filed in the 17th Congress.
Last week, opposition member Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman, a fellow lawyer, said that the BBL is unconstitutional because the entity that it seeks to dissolve– the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or the ARMM–was created by the Constitution itself.
“We cannot abolish the ARMM by mere legislation,” Lagman said.
The Bangsamoro jurisdictional entity to be established in the far south under the BBL will replace the ARMM.
Despite sharing Lagman’s reservation, Alvarez acknowledged that as members of the House of Representatives, they are mandated to pass measures that are constitutionally sound.
“We believe that what we are doing here is constitutional. But nobody can stop anyone from filing or questioning the constitutionality of a law,” he pointed out.
Alvarez said that as legislators, it’s ultimately their job to tackle proposed laws that are put in front of them and not decide on questions regarding their constitutionality.
“Parang quo warranto yan. Hayaan mong ang Supreme Court ang mag-decide dyan. Hindi kami yung magsasabi kung constitutional yan o hindi. Basta kami, may proposal, ito, BBL as a substitute doon sa ARMM law, so gagawin namin.”
(It’s like the quo warranto case. Let the Supreme Court decide on it. We won’t be the ones to say whether it’s constitutional or not. For our part, there’s a proposal for the BBL to substitute the ARMM law, so that’s what we’ll do.)
The Davao del Norte 1st district representative added: “Anybody can question yung constitutionality nung gagawin namin (the constitutionality of what we will do). Again, Supreme Court pa rin yung magdedecide kung inconsistent with the Constitution yung ngang pagpalit with the ARMM law (It’s the Supreme Court that will decide whether or not replacing the ARMM law is inconsistent with the Constitution).”
During Wednesday’s session, 227 congressmen voted to approve the substitute bill on third and final reading. Eleven voted “no” while two abstained.
Asked by a reporter what would happen in case the SC strikes down the BBL, Alvarez said: “Wala tayo magagawa dyan (We can’t do anything about that), we just have to accept it. Kasi sila naman ang final interpreter of laws (They are the final interpreter of laws).”
Anak Mindanao Party-List Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan, a vice chairperson of the Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity Committee, agreed with the Speaker in that only the SC can rule on the issue of constitutionality on the BBL.
But the lady lawmaker insisted Thursday that the House has done everything it can to make the proposed statute survive a challenge before the High Court.
“Hayaan po natin ang Supreme Court na mag-decide kung constitutional or unconstitutional ang BBL. Pero sa level po namin ay ginawa na po namin lahat para lahat ng constitutional infirmities ay ma-address (But on our level, we’ve already done everything to address all constitutional infirmities),” Sangcopan said.
The Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Committee is part of the tri-panel on the BBL, the other two being the Local Government Committee and the Muslim Affairs Committee.
The BBL is the enabling law of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and secessionist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
It was aggressively pushed by the previous Aquino administration, but its plethora of unconstitutional provisions coupled by the unfortunate January 2015 Mamasapano, Maguindanao siege doomed its passage.