A Critique of the Revised Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)

The new BBL reminds me of an old optical illusion that demonstrates very well how human minds work:

Do you see the old lady or the young woman? A lot of people can only see one or the other. There is no way to see both. I can see one or the other, but I have to switch my perspective: the young woman is looking back, and the old hag is looking to the left of the viewer. It is impossible to see both at the same time because our minds can resonate at only one viewpoint and not both.

The new BBL is very much like this optical illusion. I can understand why neo-liberals would see only the young lady in the new BBL. I don’t think the old hag is even visible to them. What’s worse is that the new BBL has even painted the cheek of the young lady with rosy colors, to make the young lady look even more attractive. In fact, I can see that the old hag has gotten worse.

The politicians are starting to praise the new BBL. They claim it will finally bring peace in Sulu and Mindanao. I doubt it very much. Last time around, we were lucky the Supreme Court rejected the old BBL. The politicians were already about to celebrate the enactment, but the Supreme Court rejected it at the last minute.

What is wrong with the new BBL?

I urge Pinoys not to focus on the rosy cheeks of the young lady. Article IX is where the neo-liberals would focus, and indeed, it sounds much better than the old BBL. “Full respect for human rights” has even been added in Section 6.

What I would like people to focus on is Article X. Just focus on Article X (Bangsamoro Justice System), and you should see the old hag. Sections 2 and 3 are newly inserted:

Section 2. Shari’ah Judicial System

The judicial authority shall be vested in the Bangsamoro Shari’ah judiciary, in accordance with the power of the Supreme Court, particularly on the Bangsamoro Shari’ah High Court, Shari’ah District and Circuit courts, and other subordinate courts which Congress of the Philippines may create upon the recommendation of the Bangsamoro Shari’ah High Court through the Supreme Court. This notwithstanding, Congress, upon the recommendation of the Supreme Court, may likewise create Shari’ah courts outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro government in areas where a considerable number of Muslims reside. The Supreme Court shall station these courts.

Section 3. Shari’ah.

Shari’ah (Islamic Law) which is the law forming part of the Islamic tradition derived from religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Qur’an and Hadith, shall be distinctively applied as the underlying basis of the Bangsamoro Shari’ah judicial system exclusively over Muslims or persons who voluntarily submit to the Shari’ah Court.

Section 2 would expand the jurisdiction of Shariah courts OUTSIDE of the current Bangsamoro territory. This is unacceptable.

Section 3 would make Shariah take precedence over the Philippine constitution, at least for Muslims “or persons who voluntarily submit to the Shari’ah Court”, for ALL legal matters, including criminal cases. Why did this pass the scrutiny of our politicians? Perhaps not one of them understand what Shariah jurisprudence is. The old hag is invisible to them.

Let’s take a simple case to illustrate how Article X would invalidate the Philippine Constitution in the Bangsamoro (and eventually for all Muslims, wherever in the Philippines they may live, as per Section 2).

Maria is a good Catholic. She is friends with Myrna, who is Muslim. Maria and Myrna have invested a lot of good deeds to each other: Maria helped Myrna when Myrna was in trouble with her family. She let Myrna into her home at one time when Myrna needed a place to stay for a week. Myrna in turn has lent money to Maria when she needed it badly. The two women are very good friends, and they see each other almost everyday. To make the story short: through Maria, Myrna got exposed to Christianity and was attracted to it. Eventually, Myrna decided to convert to Christianity. She told Maria about it, but nobody else knew at first. Then the bombshell came in: Myrna’s family found out.

First of all, does any politician in Imperial Manila even understand that converting outside of Islam is a crime in Shariah? Can freedom of religion (which is a recognized human right, last time I looked) be really allowed in Shariah? There will be a court case against Maria and Myrna, and of course it can only be heard in a Shariah court. What happens to Maria’s human rights (not to mention Myrna’s)? Can this case be elevated to the Supreme Court, when it is clear under Sections 2 and 3 of Article X of the BBL that only a Shariah court has jurisdiction?

How to Fix Article X

Let’s not rely on the Supreme Court to reject the BBL (again) this time around. I do not believe the Supremes will even have the courage to reject the BBL twice. Let us instead reject Sections 2 and 3 of Article X, and go back to the old BBL at least on this matter. It is very important, not just for the sake of Christians in the Bangsamoro territory, but also for the sake of our Muslim brothers and sisters. If it is politically impossible to reject Shariah in whole, then we should at least settle for something less drastic, by explicitly stating in Article X that the Philippine constitution supersedes Shariah, and that Shariah only applies to non-criminal cases. Conversion should be allowed both ways: Christians can convert to Islam, and Muslims can convert to Christianity.

A Muslim territory without Shariah is not uncommon. In fact, most Muslim countries around the world  do not use Shariah in their courts. Filipino Muslims should be subject to only one constitution, the Philippine constitution. Federalism does not mean the absence of a unifying constitution that at least defends the rights of citizens. Power is devolved to the different regions, but core principles in the constitution should apply to all regions. No region, although very much independent, can establish its own constitution that contradicts the federal constitution. Therefore, Shariah cannot be applied in the Bangsamoro if we are to remain intact as a federal country.


About Carlos C. Tapang

I run a company called Rock Stable Token Inc. I am the leader of the team behind the stabletoken called ROKS. ROKS is a cryptocurrency (digital money) and its value is tied to the U.S. dollar (USD). We are initially targeting it to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with two great benefits: it costs almost nothing to send it, and it is fast. I am also involved in a movement (http://correctphilippines.org) to correct the Philippine constitution. It's an ambitious undertaking in itself, and there's no guarantee that improving our constitution will improve things. However, one thing is certain: if we don't establish a rational constitution, we will continue on our path of self-destruction. What kind of government is best? For me the best government is that which governs the least. We need the government not because it can provide for us but because it keeps us from running into each other. The proper function of government is that of a traffic light: it prevents us from bumping each other, but it does not tell us where to go.
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