Congress 'absolutely needs' to clarify BBL will not grant secession – Carpio

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice and Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said that Congress "absolutely needs" to clarify that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will not grant Moros the right to secede as an independent state.

"There is an absolute need to clarify that the right to self-determination proposed to be embodied in the BBL is the right to self-governance within a single Philippine state. There should be no ambiguity whatsoever about this," Carpio said on Friday, June 22, in his keynote address at the University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration & Governance's (UP-NCPAG) graduation ceremonies.

The key phrase is the right to self-determination, which Muslim leaders said were essentially deleted from the BBL. It is one of the reasons why some Muslim leaders fear that the BBL may even be less than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

For Carpio, there is a danger to the right to self-determination that Congress must be wary of, and that is potentially giving the right to secede. (READ: Difficult work ahead to reconcile Senate, House versions of BBL)

"The right to self-determination, a recognized principle in international law, has two meanings, depending on the socio-political environment where it is used. First, the right to self-determination can mean the right of an ethnic minority to self-governance within a single, indivisible state. This meaning is consistent with our Constitution," Carpio said.

He added: "Second, the right to self-determination can also mean the right to secession, or independence from a state. This meaning is anathema to the Constitution and must not be allowed to be grafted into our legal system."


For so long, Mohagher Iqbal, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) implementing panel, said that the BBL will not lead to a secession of Mindanao from the Philippines. 

"The BBL is the antidote to the dismemberment of this country," Iqbal once said in 2017. 

The next and most crucial level of the BBL will come soon: the bicameral conference committee hearings, where the Senate and the House will reconcile their versions of the proposed law.

Carpio said both Houses of Congress should keep the secession risks in mind.

Carpio likened it to the situation in Spain, where Catalonian separatists are trying to break away from the country. Majority votes were cast for Catalonian independence, in a referendum whose legitimacy is still being questioned.

Carpio said that the Spanish Constitution is silent on whether autonomous regions can secede or not, and that silence is being used by both sides, resulting now in crisis.

"If there is no clarification, or if there is even a shadow of doubt, then the right to self-determination can be interpreted in the light of the long history of secessionist movements among the Muslim communities in Southern Philippines," said Carpio, who is retiring in October 2019. (READ: Carpio to decline chief justice nomination)

The justice added: "That would mean that the right to self-determination is the right to secede. This will result in the dismemberment of the Republic, a prospect too horrendous to contemplate." –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.