MANILA - Two Muslim lawyers and a Moro civilian leader have asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition filed by the Province of Sulu questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
Claiming a right to intervene in the petition as registered voters and concerned citizens, lawyers Algamar Latiph and Musa Malayang, and civilian Moro leader Pendatun Disimban, recently filed their comment-in-intervention before the high court to show their support for the BOL.
The Province of Sulu, represented by Governor Abdusakur Tan II filed a petition in October 2018 claiming that the BOL violated several provisions of the 1987 Constitution.
Tan said the Constitution only allows 1 autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, and that the parliamentary form of government under the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) violates the separation of powers under the Constitution.
Among others, Tan also claimed the requirement for provinces and cities under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to vote as one in the plebiscite scheduled this month “coerces” these provinces and cities to join the BAR.
MISREADING OF CONSTITUTION
In their 22-page submission, Latiph, Malayang and Disimban said Tan “misreads the Constitution” in claiming that the BOL can only be effected by constitutional amendment since the Constitution only allows 1 autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.
“RA 9054 (the law which strengthened the ARMM), which will be superseded by RA 11054, can by (sic) repealed by the Congress. It is not an irrepealable law as petitioner contended,” they said, explaining that prior to RA 9054, RA 6734 (the law which created the ARMM) can in fact be considered the first organic act.
They clarified, however, that contrary to Tan’s position, RA 11054 will not abolish the autonomous government but will only repeal both RA 6734 and RA 9054, replacing the old structure of the ARMM should the “Yes” votes to BOL win in the plebiscite.
SEPARATION OF POWERS INAPPLICABLE
They also argued that the doctrine of separation of powers raised by Tan is inapplicable to an autonomous government.
“This doctrine applies only to the co-equal three branches of the government: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. It does not apply to the autonomous government as it is not a co-equal branch of the three branches of the government,” they said.
They added that Congress is empowered to determine the political structure of the autonomous region.
They also argued that the election of a chief minister by the Bangsamoro parliament does not violate the right to suffrage of citizens.
“What is prescribed by the Constitution is that all members of the executive and legislative officials in the Parliament are elected by the constituent units. The Constitution used a comprehensive term in its coverage that it embraced all the elective officials of the Parliament. And it made no distinction as to what the levels, ranks or positions in the executive and legislative departments of the autonomous government where the elective requirement is applicable,” they said.
“Thus, when the people, in an election, voted for the members of the Parliament, the people cast their votes in full consciousness of their sovereign intent that they are voting for a candidate who will become a member of the Parliament who may discharge a dual functions (sic) of both the legislative powers and executive powers,” they added.
Similarly, they said that the provision for reserved seats and sectoral representatives in the Bangsamoro parliament is not unconstitutional, as long as these are elective in nature.
NO CONSTITUTIONAL DEFINITION OF GEOGRAPHICAL AREAS
Lastly, the three refuted Tan's claim that the requirement for provinces and cities under the ARMM to vote as one in the plebiscite deprives the Province of Sulu of its right to suffrage and right to local autonomy.
“The Sulu Province had already expressed, in two plebiscites, their approval of the autonomous government when it ratified RA 6734 and RA 9054. This is contrary to the allegations of the petitioner that the province is being compelled to join the autonomous government,” they said.
They added that this will avoid a situation where 2 organic laws will simultaneously operate within the same autonomous government, a situation which will likely ensue should Sulu, for instance, reject the BOL.
Besides, they argued, there is no constitutional definition of “geographical areas,” thus, Congress may determine which areas constitute the constituent units of the BAR.
“Such determination, with all due respect to the Honorable Court, is a political question and cannot be the subject of judicial review,” they said.
CONSOLIDATED SC PETITIONS
Aside from the petition filed by the Province of Sulu, the Philippine Constitution Association or PHILCONSA, a group of constitutional law experts, is also questioning the constitutionality of the BOL.
The high court on Tuesday consolidated the two petitions and has required respondents to file their comment on the petition and on the prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order within 10 days.
But no TRO has been issued for now, which means that the plebiscite on the BOL scheduled on January 21 can push through.
The Court has yet to act on interventions filed in support of the BOL.
On Monday, a group of Muslim accountants and two lawyers also asked the high court to allow them to intervene and defend the passage of the BOL against the petition filed by the Province of Sulu.