COMMENT: BBL* Ahead of Federalization (2nd of 4 parts)

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II. Liked with Fear

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 29 March) — The second main concern focused on the implications on BBL of federalization as the BPDR provides – the “Federalism + Enabling Law Approach” or the “Enabling Law (Legislative) and Federalism (Constitutional Convention) Simultaneous Tracks”. If the Senate will agree, “Constitutional Convention” in the original plan will be changed to “Constituent Assembly”, the House and the Senate constituted as one body to mend the Constitution.

President Duterte declared in his inauguration speech last June 30 that his administration “is committed to implement all signed peace agreements in step with constitutional and legal reforms”. The phrase “constitutional and legal reforms” must be referring to his proposal to shift from a unitary to a federal form of government.

The MILF and other Moro leaders have expressed their full support for this commitment. In principle, it sustains the Bangsamoro government’s asymmetrical standing with the national government as a shift from the Philippine unitary system and its parliamentary-ministerial form as akin to that of a federal state.

The IM admitted that the idea of federalism seems to fit into the demand of the Moro people in Mindanao for self-determination; yet, they feared that it may defeat such aspiration to be embodied in the BBL even if the Congress passes it. This was among the concerns that emerged during their March 4-5 meeting.

Federalization Explained

Lawyer Jose Lorena, an undersecretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2010 – 2016) of the Aquino III government, and a member of the New BTC, explained that “federalization should be tiered and by phases”. The laggard regions in the country should first be transformed to be more advanced and progressive while “we start to break and federalize the country beginning with financially and economically capable regions.”

Under this plan, the “government proposal is to initially form four federal states — Mindanao, the Visayas, Luzon and Metro Manila”. The IM participants pointed out that this will reduce the Bangsamoro into an “enclave” of the Mindanao federal state.

Lorena explained further: By the government timeframe, the BBL is expected to be passed in December 2017 and ratified in a plebiscite in May 2018. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be organized immediately to prepare the Bangsamoro for the midterm election of 2019. Even if plans don’t miscarry, the New Charter will only be drafted in 2018 and ratified in mid-2019 – implicitly suggesting longer delay.

If the New Constitution is ratified as scheduled, 2019-2022 will be the transition period of the new form of government, including elections of a new set of officials. From 2022 to 2027, there will be reconfiguration into smaller federal states, including one for the Bangsamoro. [The implication: Being a “laggard region”, the Bangsamoro will first be an “enclave” of Mindanao State and must not expect to be reconfigured into a separate federal state until 2027 — ppd.]

Reactions

Lorena’s explanation differs from that of Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles, a member of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments (MindaNews 3/22/17: GPH, MILF implementing peace panels sign new terms of reference) and other members of the Congress. But as past OPAPP undersecretary and a government-member of the New BTC, his explanation could not just be dismissed as “personal fancy”. It fueled apprehensions even if federalism is liked in principle.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, former ARMM executive secretary and member of the Bangsamoro Study Group – composed of non-MILF members who worked in the committees of the MILF peace panel and reviewed the revisions on Draft BBL — noted that “there is no platform allowing us to participate in the federalism discourse”­­ — noting that the basic reason for the Duterte government to shift to federalism differs much from that of the Moros in establishing the Bangsamoro.

He noted further, evidently drawing from Lorena’s explanation, that federalization by tiers and phases will be on the basis of financial and economic viability. This is not an issue to the Bangsamoro. Rather, it is the right to self-determination, including the right to natural resources which is hampered by the Regalian Doctrine. This basis is embodied in the CAB.

However, he warned that if, by 2019, “we are still haggling for the enabling law, the process and substance of the agreement will have to change. We will be forced to follow the federal constitution if we fail to negotiate under the terms of the agreement.” He said that the minimum condition in agreeing to put Bangsamoro under the federal constitution must be the preservation of the gains of the peace process.

Sinarimbo proposed holding a Moro Congress as the platform where the Bangsamoro can define its own federalism framework for its state constitution which is not reflected in the national federalism framework. He warned that “we don’t expect the armed groups to follow the president and just go along with federalism”. Issues that were sidelined with the junking of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain can be revived.

His point, enhanced by some participants, was that the federal constitution can make BBL, which is anchored on the 1987 Constitution, irrelevant and can diminish or even obliterate the powers of the Bangsamoro.

The assumption, it was explained, is that the Bangsamoro will be lesser than a federal state and it will have no power to amend the enabling law. One solution is to put provisions in the federal constitution allowing the Bangsamoro parliament to come up with its own system, even one that is dismissive of the BBL.

Lawyer Randolph Parcasio of the MNLF(Misuari) said the Bangsamoro agenda, aside from being overtaken by events related to federalism, will suffer a setback when the popularity of President Duterte wanes. He agreed to the holding of a Moro Congress. He is also head of the MNLF(Misuari) peace implementing panel and Misuari’s spokesman.

He suggested a radical approach. The Muslims, if they want self-determination, need not wait for the government to grant it. “Reassert precolonial sovereignty to rectify historical injustice as envisioned in the Jeddah Accord… Establish a Minsupala (Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan) federal state and not just settle for the Moro-dominated provinces”, citing the Jeddah Accord of January 3, 1987.

Sarcastically adducing to the ARMM: “Sasabihin nila, ‘hanggang Moro-dominated provinces lang kayo, yan ang hawla ninyo. Gawin nating gintong hawla,’ pero hawla pa rin. (They would say, stay in Moro-dominated provinces, that’s your cage. We will make it a golden cage, but it’s still a cage),”

Lawyer Ishak Mastura, a department secretary of the ARMM and a member of the Bangsamoro Study Group with Sinarimbo: Former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr.’s proposal to have the Bangsamoro federal state cover only the ARMM does not address the issue of territory; but the idea of pushing for a Minsupala federal state “dilutes our assertion.” For instance, the Bangsamoro people are a minority in Palawan.

Lawyer Omar Sema, one of the three representatives of the MNLF Council of 15 to the New BTC, without clearly stating his reference, said that the current framework of the BBL does not preserve the “incremental gains” of the peace process, citing the provision on territory that “seems to support the possible disintegration of the core territory.”

The Moros like federalism. But they have no say in the framing of the federal constitution and in the federalization process. Even if CAB-compliant, the BBL can become irrelevant to the federal constitution or its CAB-uniqueness obliterated – more so, if by the “tiered and phase-by-phase” federalization process that Lorena presented, at the outset the Bangsamoro fails to attain a distinct federal state status. Will being under the federal constitution be different from being under the unitary constitution?

This fear of some IM members is not unfounded. Will the Moros let federalism hostage the Bangsamoro?

Tomorrow: III. Uncleared but Clear

(“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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