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PEACETALK: Too premature for a Senate inquiry on BOL implementation

PASIG CITY (MindaNews/06 August) – On 27 July 2019, Senator Ralph G. Recto filed a Resolution directing the Senate Committee on Local Government to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the “update of the implementation of Republic Act No. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) with the end in view of ensuring that the provisions of the law are satisfied and implemented.”

Is it advisable for the Senate, at this time, conduct an inquiry on the implementation of the BOL and summon Interim Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (who is also Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front), the Speaker of the Parliament and other BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) officials to give a report?

I think it is too early and premature. I ask the question of “should” and not of “can” because the power of inquiry clearly resides in the Senate. And Senate does have the power of inquiry over the status of implementation of the BOL. The power of inquiry by the Senate is textually demonstrable in the 1987 Philippine Constitution:

“Sec. 21. The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.

The US Constitution did not have an explicit provision on the power of inquiry and thus had to do a round-about way of discussing the scope of the inherent power of investigation:

“The power of the Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. That power is broad. It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes. It includes surveys of defects in our social, economic, or political system for the purpose of enabling the Congress to remedy them. It comprehends probes into departments of the Federal Government to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste.”

“The power of inquiry has been employed by Congress throughout our history, over the whole range of the national interests concerning which Congress might legislate or decide upon due investigation not to legislate; it has similarly been utilized in determining what to appropriate from the national purse, or whether to appropriate. The scope of the power of inquiry, in short, is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.”

It is clear that the power exists and that it is broad and plenary. The BTA, being created by law, is subject to this power of inquiry. There is a limit however, to the power of inquiry. The power of inquiry must be exercised “in aid of legislation” and must “respect the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries.” Once it is shown that there is no reasonable nexus between the inquiry and future legislation or amendment, the investigation cannot continue.

I have no debate with the existence of Senate’s power of inquiry but I would call, however, for self-restraint on the part of the Senate in conducting a public hearing on the status of the implementation of the BOL, at this time, for the following reasons:

  1. It is too premature. The MILF-led BTA has been at the helm of the BARMM for less than six months. Chief Minister Ebrahim and his people have barely warmed their seats. There is an adjustment period to be made. There is a learning curve to be negotiated. Unless the purpose is to set up the BTA to fail, what is required at this time is support and push rather than pull. The MILF-led BTA must at least be given a year to work things out.
  2. The BOL is not just ordinary legislation. It is a peace agreement transformed into law. The law is meant to stop the armed conflict in Mindanao, turn the region into a space of peace and prosperity, and normalize the lives of the people. A different treatment for inquiry is required – a treatment that looks at the bigger picture, the common good, and security of the country.
  3. The BOL is a security and justice document. The law is meant to rectify and make amends the hundred of years of injustice committed to the Bangsamoro People and provide durable peace. Inquiries, especially premature inquiries, do not have only legal or administrative repercussions but peace and security as well. It can imperil the demobilization and disarmament of combatants and end a fragile peace even before it takes off.
  4. The BOL is borne out of long years of negotiations. While the legislative track was followed to implement the agreement, the making of the BOL was preceded by years of negotiations. The law did not happen overnight. Thus, any inquiry on the state of implementation of the BOL requires, at the very least, an understanding of the long road to peace, of what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. An inquiry cannot be an inquiry into specifics, i.e. why funds were not utilized or used during a specific quarter or the allocation of work between the executive and the legislative branches of the BTA, what is required is an inquiry of the broad situation.
  5. Admittedly, the creation of the BTA and the appointment of people to the BTA has created tensions both within and without the MILF, the BTA, the National Government, and even the Bangsamoro communities. Cooperation and competition are to be expected. Given this, the Senate must make sure that the inquiries are not weaponized to advance any agenda of any group or individuals that are interested in the BTA in particular and in the Bangsamoro Region in general. These inquiries must build inclusiveness and harmony and that requires preparation.

Senate restraint then is key as it is too early for this kind of public inquiry. To conduct such inquiry at this time will not build confidence and will imperil a peace process that is still ongoing. I hope the Senate exercises self-restraint. It can always call for an executive session on the state of implementation if it needs to. But the Senate must always bear in mind that beyond the power of inquiry, it has the power of support and empowerment.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on peace in Mindanao. Atty. Bong Montesa has been with the GPH-MILF peace process for almost 20 years. He was Chief Strategy Advisor to three government chief negotiators negotiating with the MILF. He was also Philippine Government Chair in the Tripartite Review Commitee of the GRP-MNLF peace agreement. He was country head of the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and former Team Leader for Peacebuilding and Resilience at the United Nations Development Programme. At present, he runs his own private consultancy practice and provides external advisory services to the BARMM).

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