CRUCIBLE: BBL – Entangled Anew? (1)

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QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 02 March) – (First part of a paper presented during the Center for People Empowerment and Governance’s (CENPEG) Forum on “Key Issues on Federalism: A Policy Action Conference” held at the Center for Integrative Development Studies, University of the Philippines on 07 February 2018. Part of this paper was also presented during the Senate Hearing on BBL on 05 February 2018).

It is a déjà vu once again for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Despite the crackling of political and legislative mills in the past Administration, there was no flour that came out. It was amazing that the nation reacted to that failure with high degree of acceptance if not complicity. There was no outrage, no demonstration, no street protest against Congress. The nation took that crackling a normal thing like many instances in the past.

Meantime, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its supporters have been left crestfallen again. Thanks to MILF’s patience, government’s peace process with Moro rebels continues to hold.

Surely, simply thanking a group that had been engaged in peace process for more than 20 years knowing fully well that what it got so far were mere crackles of government machineries producing nothing is obviously cheap. Since 1997 when government’s negotiation started with the MILF, Mindanao had been rocked with big and small wars.

Now that the BBL is subjected to the same rituals once again, question is raised as to what could release the flour out of the mill this time around. The Duterte Administration’s plan to shift to federalism and parliamentary system with attendant Charter change is supposedly a game changer. If viewed as instrument of reforms, the shift would not only expedite the passing of the BBL, it would also address the structural problem of the Philippines as a unitary state.

However, such plan faces an uphill battle. There is much partisanship and “discordant politics” surrounding the BBL. Like many instances in the past, the vision and dividend of peace in the Philippine South have been badly entangled in that “discordance.” It is a question how much is the impact of such discord in stifling past and present attempts for reform while the Philippines is increasingly becoming a “fragile state.”

For decades, high mistrust among Filipinos in politicians proposing “reform” has perpetuated status quo and leaves the problem in the Bangsamoro unresolved as a consequence. Ominous signs in the failure of Philippine political system including the continuing restiveness in the Muslim South like the “War in Marawi” seem not enough to temper let alone change old habit.

At this juncture, allow me to narrate some personal observations on, at least, that part of “old habit” in Philippine politics. From there, this essay would segue to a reform perspective on what I supposedly consider as a package of reforms in the political system – the BFAPS (BBL, Federalism and Parliamentary system). Then, I would raise some critical concerns why because of “discordant politics” prevailing in the country, the BBL and other peace dividend in the South would again be opened into another entanglement that could potentially drag the Moro question to nowhere.

Even assuming that the BBL is passed this time around, as shown with many versions of bill there is a fear that it would be badly watered down thereby defeating the primary purpose of its being: the raising of self-determination aspiration of the Bangsamoro people.

And if a new BBL is passed just because of Duterte’s influence, that would speak volumes of the kind of scruples Filipino politicians have these days. It would be a question whether Congress would pass the BBL out of its legislative merit or mere diffidence if not subservience of many legislators to President Duterte. If it is out of merit, why did they not pass it during the previous administration as there is no radical change between old and new BBL?

I was at the Senate on 05 February 2018 per invitation of Sen. Miguel Zubiri, the chairman on the sub-committee on BBL. During the deliberation, there was a proposal to insert in the BBL a provision or some provisions about anti-political dynasty in Moro areas given, accordingly, the prevalence of political clans and families there.

While Senators have not yet agreed on how to undergo the process, some members of the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) appreciated the proposal but countered as well that it might be discriminatory and untimely.

As the BBL, if enacted, would still have to be approved in a plebiscite, traditional politicians in Moro areas would obviously call the shot in the process. To send premature signals against them would have tremendous consequence on the BBL.  Yet, some senators were pressing the BTC to do something amid the dismal condition of Moro political dynasty.

Sensing a glaring sign of bad habit with what I call “discordant politics” in the Philippines with some people often obsessed in looking wholly at the flaws of others while remiss with themselves, I tried to interject in the deliberation. I contended that the phenomenon of political dynasty in the country is systemic and that the proposal to insert anti-political dynasty provisions on the BBL could be discriminatory. To do so, I said, requires system change and a no nonsense reform agenda with which the federalism and parliamentary system project of the Administration could supposedly be the centerpiece of that reform.

Unfortunately, before I could further elaborate how systemic the problem of political dynasty is even as I wanted to add a point that it is also structurally induced with the country’s unitary system, Sen. Zubiri cut me off and thanked me though, short of telling me that they did not need a lecture on Moro history in that deliberation. It was not an attempt to make a lecture; it was simply a comment on the myopia on how political dynasty has been loosely understood as if it is the monopoly of Moros.

At any rate, I rested my case and informed the Senator that I’d forwarded earlier my short paper to his office; then, I left the Senate. So, thanks to Cenpeg with its own forum; I could pursue what I was not able to fully express in the Senate.

When I insisted the need for a vision of national reform to address the interlocking problem in the country’s political system these days including the attendant effect on political dynasty, it is because, I believe, patch-up, incremental, and segmented approaches are not already enough to address it.

With Filipinos today numbering more than a hundred million, with Edsa becoming a parking lot every day, with Congress overwhelmed with endless investigations instead of legislating laws, with ISIS violent extremism on the rise in the Muslim South, there is a need for Filipinos and their leaders to transcend beyond “discordant politics.”  Failure to do so prolongs the Bangsamoro question as the country increases its “fragility” day by day.

As Senators were pinning down on Moro political dynasty during that BBL deliberation, I wanted to say that the lifeline of Muslim political dynasty in the South is actually maintained with their own ilk in “Imperial Manila” and elsewhere in the country. For lack of better term, I call that lifeline or relationship “conspiracy.” In Cenpeg’s “Moro Reader,” I wrote in the chapter, “Moro Political Dynasty:”

“The conspiracy, albeit unspoken, between the State and Muslim political dynasty explains why recent species of dynastic families and traditional politicians in Moro areas are mostly “Frankenstein” creation of the State; many of them serve as stooges of political elite and oligarchic interest of “Imperial Manila.” Their tandem undermines the maturity of the Philippines toward a truly democratic polity since what is promoted is not the common good and the interest of the State and the government as a whole but their own parochial, negotiated, dynastic, and family interests. In turn, Moro dynastic families and traditional politicians are assured of government and military support including access to power. It guarantees them, too, national party support, victory every election time, business protection including political and military control over their Muslim constituents. So that the over-all intended effect aggravates national and local problem of governance, patronage politics, and corruption even as political elitism, warlordism, clannish and dynastic politics pose too much burden on the State making it weaker and weaker especially in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.”

With such interlocking relation among national, regional, and Moro political dynasties, would we wonder why Congress refused to pass the anti-dynasty provision of the 1987 Constitution? With that failure, why obliged the BBL to carry provisions about anti-political dynasty?

There is a saying among Tausug: “Mamung hi ambung kan batak sin sibuh da sila.” To paraphrase, it could be translated thus: “A basket full of holes that criticizes another basket with holes is analogously hilarious.”

As shown since 1987, addressing political dynasty through legislation is futile. Legislators would never curtail the reason of their being as traditional politicians. Apart from systemic, the problem of political dynasty is inherently structural whose ill-effects impact heavily on the country’s political system.

Instead in critiquing from the margin, I would usually air my views about the BBL like when the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago requested me to discuss “BBL: Sovereignty versus Sub-State.” That time, I used the scale of history with appreciation on the concept of horizontal and vertical relation of powers experienced in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago and the attendant constitutional implications involved.

With Sen. Zubiri’s invitation, I actually planned to pursue a simple task: to view BBL, federalism and parliamentary system (BFAPS) as a package of reform agenda in the debate for the change of political system that must be insulated from what I earlier referred to as “discordant politics.”

In that Senate Hearing on 23 February 2015, my argument focused on what I referred to as “disjuncture” between horizontal and vertical relations of power as a problematic arrangement in Philippine political system. The disjuncture, in my view, has posed enormous implications with communities in the margin particularly the Bangsamoro. It primarily explains intergovernmental problem between the National government and Moro areas.

Given the limited parameter in crafting the BBL under the Aquino Administration that was short of federalism and Charter change proposal, my view then was simply to harness sub-state potential of BBL within a unitary system. As such, the absence of said agenda limits my argument on sub-state arrangement.

Back then, I impliedly carried a view that unless there is a shift to federalism and parliamentary system, the BBL would only address half-way the disjuncture and simply increase the number of tiers experimented in the Muslim South.

Today, with Duterte Administration’s agenda on federalism and parliamentary system, I would argue that the shift would complete the remaining half of BBL’s attempt to address division of power disjuncture in Moro areas. Federalism would address vertical power problem while parliamentary system would address horizontal power disjuncture in the National government both of which have immense implications on the Bangsamoro.

All things equal, the shift would subject the BBL to a two-tiered legislative process. The first is to pass the BBL into a law; the second is to fit the BBL into the new Charter of the Philippine Federal Republic, if ever.

With the proposed shift, previous constitutional hurdle about incongruity between presidential system in the National government and proposed Ministerial government in Bangsamoro would dissipate.

The congruity of BBL with the two-mentioned agenda (i.e., federalism and parliamentary through Charter Change) does not only facilitate the passing into law of the former and addresses the disjuncture in Moro areas; it also surfaces the demand of other communities like Mindanawon and other indigenous peoples to have a place in the envisioned federal-parliamentary system.

More importantly, if the proposed shift is viewed as fundamental for national reform, it could be paradigmatic enough to change old ways in running the country’s political system. And if pursued relentlessly with unity and determination, it could resolve major ills in the country. Structural change is assumed to affect people’s behavior including their conduct of politics in both short and long term.

If Filipinos, their leaders and their institutions could not transcend their “discordant politics” as they continue to be polarized along partisan lines on issues, among others, like question of mode on how to go about such reform (i.e., Charter change either through Constitutional Convention or Constituent Assembly) as they prefer status quo and would rely on incremental reform (that is not happening per experience since 1987 with the country increasingly becoming a “fragile state”), the proposed shift to federalism and parliamentary system would remain a dream.

Moreover, the Bangsamoro question would continuously be entangled amidst “discordant politics” among Filipinos. Reform in Moro areas would successively be stunted; Moro rebellion would persist and social, political, economic, and cultural dysfunctions worsen.

To take status quo as a choice today would be unfortunate.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. The author is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines]

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