KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/26 April) – Elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will replace with a “new autonomous political entity,” will proceed as scheduled on May 13, 2013 if no peace agreement is reached by the peace panels this year.
“Government is very aware in terms of timelines of our political exercises and in terms of the political realities,” government (GPH) peace panel chair Marvic Leonen told MindaNews. He said the roadmap would take on a different shape if the elections were to proceed and a new set of ARMM officials is elected. The timeline, too, may change given that the elected officials in May 2013 will, under the present law, serve a three-year term until 2016, he said.
“It’s possible you’ll wait until 2016 but in 2016 what is the political reality?” he asked
Declaring that the “status quo is unacceptable,” the GPH and MILF peace panels on Tuesday agreed to work for the creation of a “new autonomous political entity in place of the ARMM” as one of ten “decision points on principles” they signed that day at the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel.
The present ARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan,Sulu and Tawi-tawi.
Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen, an expert on Constitutional Law, is confident there is no need to amend the 1987 Constitution to create the new entity that would replace ARMM.
He said many of the proposals of the MILF are contained in the Organic Act (RA 9054) although he acknowledged that the MILF views this differently.
“From the GPH point of view as of the moment, a Republic Act is more doable. But of course in so far as the Constitution is concerned, no Constitution is always permanent but the constitutional exercise requires a lot more than amending a law. And it’s always a balance between you change the rules first of the game before you mobilize the leaders. Is it exclusive? Mauna ito bago ito? Di ba pwede magsabay (Should this come first? Cannot they go together) and then later the political realities might be more favorable towards greater political exercise?” Leonen told MindaNews on Wednesday afternoon.
MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal has yet to be convinced that there is no need to amend the Constitution to accommodate their demands. “The government says no need, but we hope they can demonstrate graphically how they do it without amending the Constitution. Our belief is this cannot be done,” he told MindaNews a day on Wednesday.
The peace negotiations adjourned at 3:50 p.m. Tuesday, two days ahead of scheduled, after the parties signed the “GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles as of April 2012.”
The panels will resume talks next month. Congress on the other hand will resume sessions on May 7 and will go on sine die adjournment June 8 until it reopens with the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the President on July 23.
The GPH peace panel in a press conference via Skype with the Malacanang Press Corps Wednesday noon, was repeatedly asked how soon the two panels can forge an agreement and how this would impact on the May 2013 elections in the ARMM.
“If there is no agreement in due time then the elections of ARMM will continue (in 2013),” as provided for by law, Leonen said.
Panel member Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, explained to the press corps that the peace agreement that will be signed “will not automatically suspend the ARMM or suspend the elections. Ibig sabihin maski magkapirmahan tayo bukas, marami pang requirements yan para ma-put in place. (This means even if we sign tomorrow, there are still many requirement for that new political entity to be put in place). For instance, we will need to generate support from Congress, from both the Senate and the House, to actually pass the law that will make it possible for some kind of implementing mechanisms to take place.”
Ferrer acknowledged that the longer the negotiations take, the “normal political timetable” of elections in 2013 and Presidential elections in 2016 will set in “if all these steps are not done early enough.”
She said signing the agreement does not mean it will be implemented immediately because there are many legislative requirements “that’s why we’re working closely with Congress, we’re working closely with the public so that they will be able to support all the requirements that will implement elements of that agreement.”
The filing of certificates of candidacy for all elective positions in the May 2013 polls is on October 1 to 5 this year, according to the Commission on Elections’ Resolution 9385.
Congress, after reopening on July 23, goes on break from mid-October to mid-November and Christmas break from mid-December to mid-January, leaving only a limited number of session days before the official campaign period for the May 2013 polls begins.
The 90-day campaign period for senatorial candidates and party list groups is from February 12 to May 11, 2013 while the 45-day campaign period for candidates for the House of Representatives, provincial, city and municipal officials as well as the ARMM is from March 29 to May 11.
The MILF in February last year proposed a Bangsamoro substate, an “asymmetrical state-substate relationship, wherein powers of the central government and state government are clearly stated, aside from those powers they jointly exercise, which are also defined in this draft.”
The MILF summarized it as “less than independence but more than autonomy” apparently referring to the present ARMM.
Government handed its proposal on August 22 last year,18 days after President Aquino met with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan and both agreed to fast-track the peace process so that a peace agreement can be forged within the first half of the President’s six-year term, or by June 30, 2013, so that implementation can be done immediately. The President’s term of office ends noon of June 30, 2016.
The GPH proposal was a “three for one solution” which involves three components: massive economic development, a peace accord, and cultural-historical acknowledgment.”
The MILF peace panel rejected the GPH proposal, prompting Leonen to say, “We reject your rejection.”
The talks went on an impasse with Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed shuttling between the panels until they resumed talks in December. The panels have been meeting every month since.
In a press conference in Cotabato City in late August last year, Leonen said amending the 1987 Constitution was not a priority of the present administration.
“The proposal of government to the MILF does not contain a proposal for constitutional amendment,” he said.
“Autonomy as practiced by the ARMM in the past is a failed experiment. However it does not necessarily mean we do not learn from that experience,” he said, adding the autonomy they are proposing “comes close to the idea of self governance also of the MILF.”
“We read sub-state also as autonomy. We do not see sub-state as a separate republic,” Leonen said then.
He also noted in August that many of the fundamental aspirations of the MILF “can be fitted into the provisions of the current Constitution.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)