Press Release
March 8, 2018


COTABATO CITY -- Congress should act on bills on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and other urgent measures before working to shift to a federalist form of government, said various resource persons here at the Senate's third Regional Consultative Hearing on Charter Change. Sophia Paguital of the Mindanao People's Caucus said Congress should pass the BBL first before acting on the proposed shift to a federalist form of government.

She said her organization is not opposed to Charter change and may even support it "if it would give voice to the minorities."

"Sana po supportahan po ng Senate ang pagpasa po ng BBL before federalism. Lahat po kami ay naniniwala na makatutulong ang pagpasa ng BBL before federalism (We hope Senate would support the enactment of BBL before federalism. We all believe that passing the BBL first before federalism would help)," Paguital said.

Laida Musa of the Kilusan ng mga Lumalabang Mamamayan para sa Pagbabago ng Bayan (Kilos-Bayan) said that aside from BBL, bills on anti-political dynasty and pro-indigenous people should also be passed first.

Kilos Bayan, a group representing marginalized sectors in Cotabato City and Maguindanao, is against attempts to change the 1987 Constitution.

"Ang pagbabago ng Saligang Batas ay hindi para matugunan ang mga pangangailangan ng mga karaniwang mamamayan (Changing the Constitution will not address the needs of ordinary citizens)" she said.

"Ayaw po namin ng Charter change. Ang 1987 Constitution ay hindi perpekto subalit ito ay sumasalamin sa mga mithiin ng sambayang Pilipino (We don't like Charter change. The 1987 Constitution is not perfect but it reflects the aspirations of the Filipino people)," Musa added. The present BBL draft is constitutional and there is no need to change the Constitution to pass the BBL, said Atty. Mohammad Muktadir Estrella.

"The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, specifically the version of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, is constitutional under the 1987 Constitution. Hence there is no need for charter change to have enacted into law," said Estrella, a lawyer and a professor at the Notre Dame University College of Law.

However, Atty. Michael Mastura, former representative of the 1st District of Maguindanao and Cotabato City, disagreed and pointed out that the need for Charter change to bring about proportionate government representation for the Bangsamoro people.

"There is a flaw in the structure of government. It is not possible for a senator from the Moros to be elected without assistance," said Atty. Mastura.

Changing the Constitution should allow Moro leaders to have a voice in the proposed parliamentary government, he said.

"This is a core argument for opening the 1987 Constitution if only to answer the aspiration of our people," said Atty. Mastura.

Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, headed by Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, said he organized the hearing here because the voice of Muslim Mindanao should be heard on the issue of Charter change.

"Sinadya po nating pumunta sa ARMM dahil napakahalaga ng usapin po ng constitutional change hindi lamang sa Luzon, hindi lamang sa Visayas, kung hindi pati na rin sa Muslim Mindanao (We intended to go to ARMM because the issue of constitutional change is important not just in Luzon, not just in Visayas, but also in Muslim Mindanao)," Pangilinan said.

"Matagal na po ang kawalan ng kapayapaan, matagal na po ang armed conflict na siyang nagiging dahilan kung bakit nagkakaroon ng problema (Peace has long been absent here, and the long-standing armed conflict has been the reason why there is a problem in Congress)...

And that's why we are going, we will be there to listen to the voices of our countrymen, our Muslim brothers and sisters on the issue of Charter change," he added.

Vigilance needed as 'Cha-cha may lead to abuse of power'

At the same time, Estrella warned that bills pushing to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution may lead to abuse of power.

"Almost all of the present bills are characterized by legal loopholes, which will open the floodgates for abuse of power and lack of public accountability," said Estrella.

"In a country where authorities always abuse their powers, we cannot afford to lose provisions that promote checks and balances," he added.

The law professor also urged the public to keep a vigilant eye on efforts to revise or amend the constitution.

"There is a need to exercise the highest form of vigilance in attempting to revise or amend the 1987 Constitution. We have to be reminded of our obligation that amending or revising the constitution should be made beyond the vaults of political affiliation and patronage politics," said Atty. Estrella.

"The Constitution serves our social contract with the government. It protects us from the abuses of the government. It provides for mechanisms to ensure public accountability for people serving in the government," he added.

Con-Con, not Con-Ass

On the manner of changing the Constitution, most of the resource persons here said that they prefer a constitutional convention (con-con) over a constitutional assembly (con-ass). "The creation of a constitutional convention is more in keeping with our democratic history and our democratic values as a nation," said Atty. Estrella.

Timuay Santo Unsad, who represented the municipality of Upi in Maguindanao, also preferred con-con, emphasizing the need for indigenous peoples to be represented in such a body.

A dozen resource persons attended the hearing to present their positions on Charter change. Their insight and inputs will form the basis of the committee report.

Senator Pangilinan, who is also vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms, noted that while some are in favor of federalism and some are not, most don't have an idea about it. "Sa usapin ng pederalismo, mayroong pabor, mayroon ding kontra pero pinakamarami ata yung kulang ang kaalaman (On the issue of federalism, there are those in favor, there are also those who are against it, but mostly, a lot know little about it)," he said.

"May mga nagsasabi daw na kung gusto ninyo kumain ng tatlong beses sa isang araw, iboto natin ang pederalismo. Pero may mga debate tungkol dito, at lumalabas yung pinakadebate, kailangan ba ng pederalismo o kailangan lang tiyakin na yung bulto ng pondo ng gobyerno ay ilaan sa mga lokal (There are those who say that if you want to eat three times a day, let us then vote for federalism. But there are debates about this, and it shows that the most debated is: do we need federalism or do we just need it to ensure that the bulk of the funds of government is allocated to the local governments?)," he added.

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