COMMENT: Bangsamoro: On the Level Lang!

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/05 Feb) — President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed last January 9 the appointment papers of the members of the new 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). MindaNews reported this January 13. MILF’s Luwaran echoed the news on the same day. No national media reported the news.

The report, an answer to an information hiatus long overdue, elicited some questions.

Time is the Essence

MindaNews headline, counting“2 months after signing EO, Duterte finally appoints BTC members”, subtly asked: “Why has it taken this long to appoint the members?”

But the delay is much longer. The new BTC members could have been appointed last September at the latest – not four months after.

The BTC membership was expanded to 21 in the Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap (BPDR) which President Duterte approved on July 18, 2016 to enhance inclusivity in the redrafting of the Bangsamoro basic law. Subsequently, the GPH and MILF negotiating – now “implementing” – panels accepted BPDR in their meeting in Kuala Lumpur on August 14. The executive order creating the new BTC should have been issued in the next two weeks of August and the members appointed immediately.

QUESTIONS: Why was this not done? EO No.O8, s, 2016 was issued more than two months after, on November 7. Why that long? It took two more months to sign the appointment; yet, no names of the appointees have been released. What’s keeping this? The release, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told MindaNews, will be done “shortly”. How long is “shortly”? It’s now February 4 – almost a month from the signing of the appointments. No release, no installation!

Dureza also said that the BTC has to hit the ground running as soon as the appointment papers are released and the members have taken their oath”; it has to submit the enabling law draft to the Congress in July 2017 as set in the BPDR and before President Duterte delivers his second State of the Nation Address on July 24. When will it hit the ground?

All Will Be Well?

The Secretary was aware of the short time the BTC has – less than six months counting from February if it is installed this month – to draft the enabling law. Likened to the Marines scrambling down their helicopters hitting the ground running, the BTC members will have to do overtime to beat the deadline. No worry? All will be well?

Good picture to see. Is it an honest depiction of the Bangsamoro scenario? 

What the picture hides are the diversions in the roadmap and the consequences vital to the fate of the Bangsamoro due to the emergence of Chairman Nur Misuari, the founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front — the acknowledged prime mover of the Moro liberation movement. For all its apparent sincerity, the Duterte government is not on the level with us – not much different from the past governments.

The BPDR envisioned a single-track roadmap where the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)-led BTC with members from all MNLF factions, the IPs (Indigenous People) and the LGUs (Local Government Units) of the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) will consolidate or converge in the new basic law draft all the past peace agreements of the Moros with the government and the relevant existing laws. This is the side of the picture being shown.

The Other Side Unclear

But Misuari refused to join the MILF-led BTC on the BPDR. He has his own “Roadmap to MNLF-Duterte Government Peace Talks (RMDGPT)”. This is the second track in the Bangsamoro roadmap. The Duterte Government has allowed it. Knowing Misuari, it must have delayed the issuance of EO No. 08 until his meeting with the President to have his position known. The EO, almost completely without reference the BPDR, came out four days after Duterte-Misuari in Malacañang on November 3. Just coincidental?

This is the side of the picture the Duterte government has yet to clearly show and explain but seems loathe to.

Secretary Dureza has said this much: The BTC will draft a law to create the Bangsamoro to replace the ARMM as agreed in the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsmoro; the MNLF-Misuari panel will have RA 9054 amended to enhance the ARMM in accordance with the 1996 Final Peace Agreement – a contradiction: one, to abolish the ARMM; the other, to keep it.

As Dureza told MindaNews on November 3, the GPH-MILF (MILF-led BTC) and the GPH-MNLF (Misuari) peace tracks “will somehow converge in Congress without converging in the process”. This means a U-turn away from the original BPDR plan to submit to the Congress only one basic law draft converged in the process of drafting. In the revised scenario, two drafts will be submitted for the Congress to converge.

How can this be done? The Duterte government is not on the level with us.

Posers

First, will the two drafts be in the Congress on or before July 24, 2017? Scrambling and running hard on hitting the ground, the MILF-led BTC may be able to. Can the same be said of the GPH-MNLF (Misuari)? Dureza told MindaNews, it is supposed to do so “by July this year”.  

“Supposed to” means “unsure but hoping”. Where are the panels? What are the talking agenda and the mode? There are none to see. Where is Misuari now? Last December 14, he was reported on his way to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to “seek advice” from the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) heads of state concerning the peace talks. Is he back? No report. If not, when?

Second, granting the two drafts will be in the Congress on time, MNLF spokesman and head of the MNLF-Misuari panel had warned that converging the two drafts would be a disaster.

Third, how can the ARMM be abolished and retained at the same time as proposed in the contradictory drafts revealed by Secretary Dureza?

Misuari: the Vital Factor

This impossible scenario could have been avoided had President Duterte persuaded Misuari to sacrifice his “principles” and bitterness against the MILF and the other MNLF factions for the sake of the Moro unity and the Bangsamoro. He is the only person who can especially with the help of the OIC – a help that has been given.

The OIC, in a statement dated November 11, 2016 and appearing in its official website, commended the decision of President Duterte in releasing Prof. Nur Misuari as another manifestation of the positive approach of the current administration towards the long-standing problem of the Bangsamoro people”.

In that Statement, the OIC acknowledges Misuari’s role in the peace process; supports the MILF, its Chairman Al Hajj Murad and the CAB; and avows its desire for the MNLF and MILF to close ranks, merge the two peace tracks and converge all the gains in all peace treaties. The OIC position is clear: It does not favor either the MNLF or the MILF; above all, “it is in full support of the inalienable rights of the Bangsamoro people to determine their future and seek peace and prosperity in their homeland.”

In Jeddah, did the OIC advise Misuari in accordance with its November 8 Statement? If he is back in the Philippines, will President Duterte persuade him to follow the OIC’s avowed desire and position? If he will not, Why NOT.

The Duterte government must be on the level with us. If it cannot persuade Misuari to follow the single BPDR peace track, presenting the MILF-led BTC side of the picture only is pointless. We all know that is not the whole picture. That is not how to solve the Moro Problem.

Otherwise, All’s Clear

With the convergence and inclusivity under the BPDR, the way for the BTC to draft a new BBL or BEL for the establishment of Bangsamoro and peace is all clear. This could have been much clearer had Misuari embraced the BPDR.

Incidentally, this is the implication of law professor Antonio G.M. La Viña’s column article Big win for Mindanao peace in Supreme Court (MindaNews, January 31, 2017). The author is presently a constitutional law professor in the Xavier University College of Law in Cagayan de Oro City. He was a member of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF from January to June 2010.

The article is a comment on the Supreme Court’s dismissal on November 20, 2016 as “premature” of the consolidated (five) petitions “challenging the constitutionality and validity of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro) and the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro), from which the BBL had been drafted.

What is the “big win”? The Court has decided “that the CAB and the FAB will survive on their own as political documents and their legality will no longer be in question”. When the constitutionality of the new draft BBL or BEL is questioned, the Congress can refer to the decision which “provides a map for the government on how to move forward on the Bangsamoro: Do it right, stick to the constitutional boundaries”. (Bold supplied)

Following the “big win”, La Viña proposes that the BTC “now begin its work (once all appointments are released), consult widely with stakeholders, and finalize a draft for submission to the Office of the President”. He emphasized this: “… the proposal of the BTC should be respected but should not necessarily control the draft that President Duterte submits to Congress”.

What is special about the draft that the Office of the President will submit to Congress? It “must be a draft of a BBL that the President believes” Congress can accept and enact. It mirrors “the BTC draft but not necessarily in its entirety”.

The President, using all the resources within his powers, “should engage with Congress to come out with the best and most realistic draft possible”. What must be considered? (1) Primarily, such a draft must be acceptable to the MILF, MNLF, the Lumad, and other stakeholders. (2) No group should be allowed to veto compromise provisions that provide solutions to contentious issues. (3) Nobody should insist on including provisions that have no chance of passage or those that could endanger the law in its entirety.

We see in La Viña’s proposal a plea for the MILF-led BTC as the sole drafter of the new BBL or BEL in accordance with the BPDR and one that is acceptable to the President and the Congress — for the Congress to pass the best and most realistic basic law for the Bangsamoro.

We see in the “three considerations” concerning the draft La Viña’s appeal for the draft to be most inclusive and for the stakeholders – obviously referring to the MILF, MNLF and IPs – to temper their demands and not to reject the draft if their demands don’t push through. They, too, should “stick to the constitutional boundaries”.

We agree. With the Court not declaring as unconstitutional the CAB and the FAB, the new draft BBL or BEL has a better chance of passing in the 17th Congress.

To reiterate, it would be much better should MNLF-Misuari join the MILF-led BTC on the BPDR peace track – which, unfortunately is not the case. We can waste our second chance if the Bangsamoro peace track continues to be divided. We want to know how President Duterte plays his cards. We are in limbo. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)

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