Essay: My take on the constitutionality of Bangsamoro Basic Bill

Bangsamoro Basic Bill is unconstitutional. While the 1987 Constitution provides for the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao, such region should still be considered as a territorial and political subdivision of the Philippines and that the President of the Philippines should still exercise general supervision over it. Several provisions of Bangsamoro Basic Bill clearly violates it in such a way that framers of the bill are aiming to give the Bangsamoro Government powers which are not normally given to a mere autonomous region, particularly sovereignty.

Sec. 1, Art. X of the Constitution states that “the territorial and political subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. There shall be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras as hereinafter provided.” This is highly reflective of the idea that the Philippines should consider these autonomous regions as included among its territory. Sec. 16, Art. X of the Constitution states “The President shall exercise general supervision over autonomous regions to ensure that laws are faithfully executed.” Sec. 18, Art. X of the Constitution also provides “The Congress shall enact an organic act for each autonomous region. xxx The organic act shall define the basic structure of government for the region consisting of the executive department and legislative assembly, both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units.”

House Bill No. 4994, also known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law, in its full title “An Act Providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and Abolishing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao”, which also repeals RA 9054 and RA 6735, which were organic acts for the creation of such autonomous region, is currently being deliberated in the Congress. For the purposes of discussion, the author selected the following provisions from the bill:

Sec. 1, Art IV of the bill states, “In its exercise of its right to self-governance and self-determination, the Bangsamoro is free to pursue its economic, social and cultural development.” Sec. 2., Art IV of the bill provides “The Bangsamoro Government shall be parliamentary. Its political system is democratic, allowing its people to freely participate in the political processes within its territory.”

The bill title and the two provisions above are clearly indicative that the framers of the bill intend to give Bangsamoro Government great authority, deviating and different from that which is given to a mere autonomous region. In the past, these autonomous regions, while given independence, are still generally governed by the Central Government, and are still subject to its limitations. However, these two provisions in the bill can be construed that the Bangsamoro is aiming to become a small state, having the essential elements of a normal State, including a sovereignty which cannot be touched or encroached upon by the central government. There has never been any indication in the Constitution, especially in Article X, regarding the creation of smaller states.

Furthermore, Sec. 1, Art. VI of the bill provides “The relationship between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government shall be asymmetric. xxx This makes it distinct from other regions and other local governments.” Sec. 4, Art. VI of the bill states “The Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government shall be guided by the principles of parity of esteem and accepted norms of good governance. The Central Government shall respect the exercise of competencies and exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro Government. The Bangsamoro Government shall respect the exercise of the competencies and reserve powers of the Central Government.”

While vague, it can be interpreted as violative of the constitutional mandate that autonomous regions should still be under the Central Government, and as such, must still comply with its laws. While the Central Government respects autonomy, it is the locality which must adjust and conform to the existing laws of the higher government and not the other way around.

Sovereignty, being one of the elements of a State, gives it the right and power to govern itself without any interference from outside bodies. The Bangsamoro Basic Bill clearly gives such sovereignty to the Bangsamoro Government. Nowhere in the provisions of Constitution states that this is allowed. It is through here that the author takes his stand in alleging that the Bangsamoro Basic Bill is unconstitutional.