Peace negotiators leave 'Cha-cha' to Congress

Posted at 01/29/14 12:41 AM

MANILA -- Government negotiators maintained Monday that the peace agreements signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are within the ambit of the 1987 Constitution, and left to Congress the matter of amending the charter.

Congressmen were briefed Monday by government and MILF negotiators during a joint hearing of the Committee of the Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Committee and the Committee on Mindanao Affairs.

However, the transitory commission, who is expected to draft the bill for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, has yet to submit the actual bill which will be considered by Congress.


This early though, questions have been raised by a number of lawmakers.

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said, “Nowhere in the agreement is the Constitution mentioned as a guiding light.”

For her part, chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer replied, “We would like to assure that nothing in the agreement diminishes the Constitution. It allows for its enhancement, it puts into life provisions on autonomous government, autonomous regions, matters of social justice and autonomous provisions. Nothing there can be stated as having diminished the sanctity of the fundamental law of land. Lahat po ng actions, nakapaloob sa ating Saligang Batas.”

Meantime, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles said “all of these shall be embodied, enacted into law by Congress. I don’t know what else can be more constitutional than that.”

In a subsequent ambush interview, Deles reiterated, “Unless Congress says they want to undertake an initiative for constitutional change, it cannot be said that it is the agreement that pushed it along those lines.”

Deles maintained that their mandate is “to abide by the Constitution, including its flexibility. You'll not find any item there that’s unconstitutional. The panel follows the instructions of the President. MILF will become legal and constitutional.”

Deles, however, left open the window for constitutional change.

“To make proposals to amend the constitution is not unconstitutional. We’ve been hearing that Congress leaders want to propose changes... Whether or not that will be done we don’t know.”

Amendments needed

Representative Thelma Almario, however, still believes "there are terms that may need an amendment of the law."

For his part, chairman Jim Hataman explained that the matter of the amendments to the Constitution is up to Congress, depending on the basic law they will craft.

Coronel also expressed readiness to answer questions on the constitutionality of the agreement.

"We’d be very pleased to address any specific item that you feel will require constitutional change; it's hard to generalize without looking at specifics," she said.

Deles doesn’t see a problem with the creation of a peacekeeping force from the MILF, PNP and AFP, noting that the three have been working since the early 2000s in law enforcement cooperation.

Jun Mantawil of the MILF Peace Panel secretariat also doesn’t see any problems with the joint peacekeeping force. Asked if the peace agreement is unconstitutional, Mantawil said: “Let’s go through the process. We are still in the process.”

Mantawil however said that this agreement is much better than the 1996 peace pact of the government with rival Moro National Liberation Front.

The MILF representatives will be in the House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon to make a courtesy call with House Speaker Sonny Belmonte.

The MILF and GPH inked the normalization annex of the peace agreement over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur.