Bernardo M. Villegas
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Constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Law

          It has been 28 years since forty eight members of the Constitutional Commission convoked by former President Corazon Aquino in 1986 finalized the Philippine Constitution for ratification in 1987.  We have not met since.  During the last weeks of 2014,  the surviving members of that Commission exerted the effort to meet for the first time in order to respond to questions being asked about the House Bill No. 4994 entitled “An Act Providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and Abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Repealing For the Purpose Republic Act No. 9054, Entitled ‘An Act to Strengthen and Expand the Organic Act For the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,’ and Republic Act No. 6734, Entitled ‘An Act Providing  For An Organic Act for The Autonomous Region In Muslim Mindanao, And For Other Purposes,” authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. et al.

          Is the Bangsamoro Law constitutional?  The framers of the 1987 Constitution gave an unequivocal affirmative answer:  “We fully support the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and the enactment of a new organic law for that purpose… We believe that a new organic law is necessary to fulfil the vision and spirit that animated the constitutional provisions on autonomous regions, since RA 6734 and RA 9054 have clearly not gone far enough to give life to the concept of autonomy for Muslim Mindanao as envisioned by the Constitution…The core principle of local autonomy and decentralization of Local Government Units (LGUs) and the creation of a special status for the autonomous regions of Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras is the development of people.  Not only because that is a good by itself but also because social justice that calls for radical social change in our society is the heart and central theme of the 1987 Constitution, which is broader in scope and intent than in the 1973 and 1935 Constitutions.”  Commissioner Ricardo Romulo added the following:  “An interpretation of any relevant provision of the Constitution that results in war and abject poverty would be irrational and could not have been our intention in writing it.”

          The historic visit of Pope Francis last January 15 to 19, 2015 reminded us of the most fundamental principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  The first is the principle of the common good, which is deeply enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.  The common good is not the greatest good for the greatest number, a very dangerous principle of some modern democracies in which what is right is determined by majority rule.  The common good is a social order in which every member of society is able to attain his or her fullest development economically, politically, culturally, socially and spiritually.  Then there is the principle of subsidiary which states that what can be effectively accomplished by individuals and smaller groups should not be usurped by higher bodies, least of all by an all powerful State.  This principle is the very basis for local autonomy of the smaller government units.  It is also the basis for private property and private enterprise which is the result of the exercise of the human right of individual initiative.  This human right, however, does not give license to capitalists to exercise the “absolute autonomy of the market.”  Subsidiarity is balanced by the principle of solidarity, which states that every member of society must always find ways of contributing to the common good in his private decisions and behaviours.  Finally, as Pope Francis emphasizes time and again, there is the preferential option for the poor and the needy.

          These are the principles which convinced the framers of the 1987 Constitution to give local autonomy to the regions predominantly populated by Muslims since at least culturally, socially and spiritually, they significantly differ from the Christian majority of the country.  A letter to the Constitutional Commission in 1986 briefly describes this reality:  “Autonomy is an expression of the Bangsa Moro’s conviction of its being a viable alternative to separation…The Bangsa Moro is historically and culturally a distinct and separate nation…and the political fusion with the Christian majority is workable only under a framework of political autonomy which shall allow the full flowering of the genius of Bangsa  Moro in the context of his Islamic culture.”       In fact, something similar prevails in the mountain provinces of the Cordilleras.   The commissioner received the following testimony from an old man from the Cordilleras:  “We asked government for a teacher, it did not give us one; we asked for help to repair our road, it did not send any; we asked for a doctor, it did not send us one.  Instead government men came to build a dam and sent in the Philippine Constabulary and the army.  This…we did not ask for.”

          There are no ifs and buts.  The Bangsamoro Law is constitutional. It will be a very positive step towards making the poor and the indigenous peoples in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras the center of our development efforts.  As the statement of the surviving Commissioners ends:  “It has been 27 years since it was approved by our people but we are still living in the mass poverty, gross inequalities and cultural inequities of the past, and the promise of radical social change has not unfolded.  It is time to move on. And there is no better way to demonstrate our commitment to it than by giving opportunity to create a higher and better future for themselves than what they have.”  Commissioner Christian Monsod expects the Bangsamoro people to make use of their autonomy responsibly:  “The challenge to the Bangsamoro people is to demonstrate the same commitment to peace and human development by treating other indigenous peoples and uniting warring Muslim communities with magnanimity and statesmanship.  In this manner, Bangsamoro can be a model for us to do the same for the rest of the country and thereby build together a more just and peace nation.”  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.