MANILA - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. assured the nation yesterday that the law creating a new Bangsamoro region in Mindanao, which the House of Representatives and the Senate would soon pass, would be constitutional.
“We are certainly working on the theory that its constitutionality can be assured,” he said in response to apprehensions expressed by some lawmakers that the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which would be carried out through a law, runs counter to the Constitution.
The draft legislation on the new region would soon be submitted to the House and the Senate.
Belmonte said the autonomy to be extended to the region would be within the context of one sovereign nation.
“There will be autonomy for the establishment of the Bangsamoro juridical entity but we will remain as one sovereign nation,” he said.
“All discussions to be made will be guided by existing laws and consistent with the provisions of the Constitution. National sovereignty is not an issue here because it will not be violated. The supremacy of the Constitution will always be upheld during the deliberations on the proposed law,” he added.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., one of the leaders of the House majority coalition, said he and his colleagues would make sure that the Bangsamoro law would comply with the Constitution.
“Congress will carefully deliberate on the proposed law for the establishment of the Bangsamoro to avoid legal infirmities that may jeopardize the peace talks with the MILF,” he said.
He said he and his colleagues could either scrap or rewrite the provisions that are deemed constitutionally questionable.
For his part, Rep. Sherwin Tugna of party-list group Citizens Battle Against Corruption said criticisms from all sectors, including those of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, “are at the moment premature and speculative.”
Santiago has branded the peace agreement as unconstitutional, as it would erode the powers of the central government.
“At this point, Sen. Santiago’s statement is speculative at best. Congress has yet to approve the Bangsamoro basic law, which will be the legal framework for the implementation of the peace agreement. We should make sure that such law would hurdle all constitutional questions,” he said.
Earlier, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, another majority coalition leader, said Congress should correct whatever constitutional flaws there are in the peace deal and the law that would implement it.
“We will have the opportunity to correct whatever defects there may be in this agreement so that we can save the peace process for the sake of the people of Mindanao, especially those of Central Mindanao,” he said.
Rodriguez, a former law dean, said he, like Santiago, would not support a proposed basic law that would violate the Constitution.
“As I have told the House committee on peace and reconciliation and the committee on Muslim affairs, when the draft of the basic law is submitted to the House, we will have to make sure that it conforms with the Constitution,” he said.
He said he made this point clear with the MILF negotiators and the government panel.
He recalled that the government negotiators assured congressmen that they strictly followed President Aquino’s instruction that all provisions of the agreement should comply with the Constitution.