DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 July) – The political arena for the Bangsamoro will now shift from the 17th Congress to the 2017 Constitutional Convention (ConCon) following President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement that his peace roadmap would be to push first for the change of political system to federalism by incorporating provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) into the new Constitution but if it is rejected in the plebiscite, “then I am ready to concede whatever is there in the (proposed) BBL.”
Duterte made this announcement before hundreds of Moro religious and political leaders attending the Mindanao Hariraya Eid’l Fitr 2016 at the SMX Convention Center here on July 8.
“The arena is moved to the Constitutional Convention,” lawyer Benedicto Bacani, Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) told MindaNews. He said if federalism is not adopted, “I go for BBL with surgical Constitutional amendments. This is not the BBL version filed with Congress but one that will clearly and unequivocally empower the Bangsamoro minus the Constitutional constraints.”
Bacani said federalism “cannot be the be all and end all just as BBL is not.”
What is needed, he said, is charter change to effectively implement the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsmaoro (CAB) that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed.
“This can be done either through federalism or surgical amendments by the ConCon,” Bacani said, adding the Bangsamoro “must have a strong and common position in the ConCon.”
Duterte, the country’s 16th President and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation, said he hopes to have his federalism framework in place by the end of the year.
Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 has been filed in the 17th Congress calling for a Constitutional Convention whose members shall be elected by January 2017. Presumptive House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had earlier said they are eyeing the midterm elections of 2019 as the plebiscite for the shift to federalism.
“If I could convince my MILF brothers and Nur Misuari of the MN (Moro National Liberation Front), there will be a reconfiguration of the territory and most of them will occupy the regional or state positions” in a federal system, Duterte said.
“But if the Filipino nation in a plebiscite would not want it (federal form of government) then I am ready to concede whatever is there in the BBL,” Duterte said, adding, “we will see to it that it will pass.”
He also added that “in fairness to Nur (Misuari),” the founding chair of the MNLF and his personal friend, “we might also configure his territory of the Tausug nation.”
Duterte’s proposed roadmap “makes sense, assuming the situation on the ground in ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) can wait,” said former Ateneo School of Government dean Tony La Vina, a former member of the government peace panel in the negotiations with the MILF.
“It does not make sense to pass the BBL now for it to be superseded by a federal system of government. We will have more options for a better Bangsamoro under a federal system. I am also open to have two Bangsamoro regions or two Bangsamoro states (in a federal system),” he said.
Professor Rufa Guiam, Director of the Institute for Peace and Development of the Mindanao State University in General Santos City thinks it is “more difficult to push for federalism but relatively easier to pass the BBl.”
Duterte, she told MindaNews, “can use his persuasive and coercive power to push for BBL.”
Guiamel Alim, executive director of Kadtuntaya Foundation and a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, asked: “Shouldn’t it be the reverse? If he is committed to CAB and the way to do it is much easier than overhauling the Constitution, why make conditionalities?”
For lawyer Camilo “Bong” Montesa, former Assistant Secretary for Peacemaking and Peacekeeping at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process from 2008 to 2010 said “the practical consequence will be a ‘hiatus’ of 35 months as the plan would require the MILF to wait patiently for the results of the plebiscite in June 2019.
He told MindaNews that Plan B or BBL will only be initiated in case of the failure of Plan A so “the design challenge must provide answers to the question: ‘What will the GPH-MILF peace process do in the next 35 months?’
“What mechanisms will secure stability on the ground, the accelerated delivery of basic services, normalization, etc.?” Montesa asked.
What about FPA?
Randolph Parcasio, spokesperson of MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari, said “ok sa federalism” but if it is rejected in the plebiscite, “asa na FPA?” (what about the FPA)?
Parcasio was referring to the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) the MNLF signed with government in 1996 which has not been fully implemented.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the 57-member nation pan-Islamic body that brokered the 1976 and 1996 peace agreements between government and the MNLF, had initiated the setting up of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) comprising the MILF and the factions of the MNLF so they can move forward in “harmonizing the tracks of the peace agreements they signed separately with the Philippine government.”
Muslimin Sema, secretary-general to the MNLF when it signed the 1996 FPA and now chair of one of the factions of the MNLF, told MindaNews that their expectation of the Duterte administration was that it would implement first the peace agreements signed with the Moro fronts.
“That’s the reason we initiated with the MILF the convergence and harmonization of the peace tracks so it would be easy for the new administration to move on. The background and result of the peace agreement the Moro fronts signed with the government is far different from merely decentralizing administration. So implementing this agreement ahead of the federalization plan might be better part of wisdom rather than let it wait until federalization is decided,” Sema explained.
“So many people had been involved in finding peaceful solution to the century-old problem in Mindanao and we found it at last. The compromises accepted by the Moro fronts must be honored and respected,” he said.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim last month told MindaNews that the draft BBL submitted to Congress in 2014 will be “improved” through a convergence of the 2014 CAB and the 1996 FPA before it is presented to the 17th Congress.
He expects the “convergence” to be done through the BCF.
Like Sema, Murad also expected that the BBL would be passed first and made the template for federalism as Duterte promised during his visit to the MILF’s Camp Darapanan on February 27 this year.
Duterte told the MILF Central Committee then that he would work for the amendment of the 1987 Constitution to change the system of government into federalism but “if it takes time, and if only to defuse tension, in my government I will convince Congress to pass the BBL then make it as a template for federal states.”
In his inaugural address on June 30, Duterte said his administration is “committed to implement all signed peace agreements in step with constitutional and legal reforms.”
“I am elated by the expression of unity among our Moro brothers and leaders, and the response of everyone else to my call for peace,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)