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Zambo out, Cabatangan in?

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(BY: VICENTE R. SOLIS) Last Wednesday at Malacañang, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. formally received their copies of the 119-page draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which essentially creates a new political entity known as BANGSAMORO to replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The event marked the end of protracted negotiations between the government and MILF panels, capped by the imprimatur of the chief executive on the finalized BBL by way of a Presidential certification, and the beginning of the legislative process leading to its adoption as part of the law of the land, with anticipated amendments from both houses of Congress.

I accessed a copy of the draft law on the same day and was interviewed the following morning by broadcaster Bong Simbajon of RMN-Radyo Agong, where I made several observations, including that:

(1) The BBL seeks to align itself with the Constitution, particularly Art. X, Sec. 15 (Autonomous Regions), by declaring in its title that the BBL repeals RA 6734 and RA 9054, both of which refer to the creation and expansion of ARMM, which, in turn, is based on the cited Constitutional provision. When the BBL will be measured and weighed for its constitutionality in Congress (and eventually, in the Supreme Court), the question will be asked: Does the BBL conform to the Constitution, including and particularly the provisions on “Autonomous Regions”?  The issue of constitutionality is pivotal and a major concern for all parties in light of the 2008 decision of the Supreme Court voiding the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government (then under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) and the MILF. A repeat verdict by the high court (in this case, on the BBL) will result in more severe (and perhaps unintended) consequences than its earlier ruling on the MOA-AD.

(2) The BBL does not include Zamboanga City as part of the Bangsamoro’s “core” (or original) area of coverage (Art. III, Sec. 2, a, b, c). However, it leaves open the possibility of the city’s (or certain of its barangays) inclusion based on letter “d” of the same provision, which provides an entry mechanism by way of a “resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10% of the registered voters”. It also provides a similar mechanism for the city’s (or certain of its barangays) inclusion as an additional area of the Bangsamoro in the future as provided in Sec. 3 of the same article, which states that, “The areas which are contiguous and outside the core territory may opt at anytime to be part of the territory upon petition of at least ten percent (10%) of the registered voters and approved by a majority of qualified votes cast in a plebiscite.”  The possibility of inclusion rests and depends on several factors, critical of which are the interpretation  of the word “contiguous”, the distance lying between Zamboanga City and Basilan, and whether  barangays or groups of barangays in the city may be considered “geopraphical areas”, as used in Art. X, Sec. 15 of the Constitution, separate, distinct, and independent from the city, and entitled to become parts of the Bangsamoro area of coverage.

(3) The issue surrounding the once Region IX LTP (Lupong Tagapagpaganap Ng Pook)-occupied and administered Cabatangan property, its ownership status and disposition, must be immediately addressed and resolved by the city government in collaboration with the national administration in order to avoid a potential area of conflict in the future. Sec. 9, Art. XVI of the BBL states that, “All powers, functions, assets, capital, receivables, equipment and facilities of the ARMM Regional Government at the time of the ratification of this Basic Law shall be transferred to the Bangsamoro Government.” Sec. 4(c) of the same article provides that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority shall ensure during the transition period, the “transfer of powers and properties of the ARMM Regional Government to the Bangsamoro Government, and the disposition of personnel, as provided in this Basic Law.” The key question to be resolved here is, Who owns the multi-hectare property at Cabatangan? Is it the National Government or  ARMM? Zamboanga City may lie outside of the Bangsamoro area of coverage, but a part of Cabatangan might end up virtually inside, with the Bangsamoro government in possession and control of this strategic part of the city. The mayor must act on this matter now, not later. (PO Box 333, Zamboanga City, solislaw@outlook.ph)




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