Charter Change and the Bangsamoro issue

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BusinessMirror Coffee Club Forum guest Conrado “Ding” Generoso, former spokesman for the Consultative Commission, delivers an overview on Federalism. Photo by ROY DOMINGO

With the midterm elections just around the corner, the public spotlight has shifted from the Bangsamoro plebiscite to the candidates running for local and national public office.

But there is one issue that will crop up again once the midterm polls are over. This is the issue of charter change, especially since the Duterte administration has supported the call to change the country’s form of government from its current unitary form to a federal government.

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The Philippines Graphic has run a series of stories focusing on the push for federalism. Since the Bangsamoro Organic Law has now taken concrete form after the recent plebiscite, we can now ask this question: “What is the relationship of the ratified Bangsamoro Law with the draft constitution as written by the Duterte administration’s Consultative Committee?”

Conrado “Ding” Generoso, the former spokesman for the Consultative Commission, explained how the Bangsamoro issue was handled.

Generoso gave the explanation during the BusinessMirror Coffee Club forum, which was held in Makati on Feb. 7.

“At the time the Consultative Committee was drafting the proposed Constitution, the Bangsamoro bill was pending in Congress,” Generoso recalled. “The ConCom had decided that the country will have 16 symmetrical regions, meaning they will have the same structure and funding and we will have two asymmetrical regions, the Bangsamoro and the Cordilleras.”

This was embodied in Article XI in the Concom’s draft Constitution and the regular federated regions will be recognized as Ordinance 1.

“With that in mind, the position of the ConCom, as far as Bangsamoro is concerned, is recognition of the Federated region of the Bangsamoro,” Generoso said. “We call it the Federated Region of the Bangsamoro, which is specifically stated as asymmetrical in character, which means the Bangsamoro, together with the Cordillera, is different from the other regions.”

Generoso was referring to the draft Constitution’s Article XI, Section 23: “There is hereby created the Bangsamoro and the Federated Region of the Cordilleras which shall recognize the ethnicity, culture, religion, customs, traditions, language and distinct identities of their people.”

“The Federal Constitution acknowledges the asymmetrical character of the Bangsamoro and Federated Region of the Cordilleras.”

The latter sentence’s significance will be explained later.

Generoso pointed out that instead of coming up with a new structure or design for the Bangsamoro region, the Concom agreed that the their draft Constitution simply accept the Bangsamoro Organic Act as passed by Congress, signed by the President and ratified in a plebiscite.

This, he added, would be appended to the draft Constitution as Ordinance No. 2.

“This means that whatever is contained in the Bangsamoro Organic Law is recognized by the draft Constitution,” Generoso said. “The Concom decided to do it this way because they didn’t want to have a conflict between the draft Constitution and what has been passed by Congress and ratified in a plebiscite. If we had put new or additional provisions in the draft Constitution and there’s a conflict between those provisions and the Bangsamoro law, then we end up with a Constitutional problem.”

“Second, we anticipate that there might be questions raised before the Supreme Court as to the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” he added.

Generoso explained that since the draft Constitution already recognized the Bangsamoro Organic Law in the form it took effect or was ratified, “this would help cure whatever inconsistencies the Bangsamoro Organic Law may have with the 1987 Constitution.”

“We intended two things here, first, avoid any conflict with the Bangsamoro Organic Law with the proposed Constitution, and second, cure whatever defect it may have with the 1987 Constitution,” he said. “Whatever powers the law grants to the Bangsamoro region will be recognized by the draft Constitution.”

Generoso recognized that there will be differences between the Bangsamoro region and the other federated regions in the draft Constitution.

“Admittedly, there will be differences between the Bangsamoro region and the other regions in the draft Constitution,” he explained. “For the normal regions, the sharing of revenue from natural resources between the federal and the regional governments is 50/50. For the Bangsamoro region, 75% of the revenue goes to the regional government and the federal government gets 25%.”

“This is allowed because the Bangsamoro region, as well as the Cordillera region, is classified as an asymmetrical region,” he pointed out.

He was referring to the last sentence of the draft Constitution’s Article XI, Section 23: “The Federal Constitution acknowledges the asymmetrical character of the Bangsamoro and Federated Region of the Cordilleras.”

“These two regions are seen to have an asymmetric relationship within the federation under the draft Constitution,” he said. “That’s why the provisions of the Bangsamoro Organic Law can be accepted by the draft Constitution.”

Asymmetry in a federal government means that certain regions are allowed to have different powers from other federated regions but still be part of the federation. This was designed to accommodate the autonomy of the Cordillera and Bangsamoro regions.

“As for the Cordilleras, the draft Constitution calls for the formation of an interim Cordillera regional government which will be charged with the responsibility of writing the Cordillera enabling law,” Generoso explained. “The draft Constitution has already defined the areas that covered by the Cordillera region and its regional assembly. It will be the regional assembly who will be responsible for writing the enabling Cordillera law, which will also be subjected to a plebiscite.”

Generoso and 11 other candidates are running for senator under the political party Katipunan ng Kamalayang Kayumanggi.

He explained that they were joining the Senate race to campaign for federalism and the Concom’s draft Constitution, which he called “The Puno Draft Constitution.”

“The draft Constitution is our party’s 13th candidate,” he added.

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno was the head of the Consultative Committee which President Rodrigo Duterte had tasked to draft a new federal charter to replace the 1987 Constitution. G

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