COMMENT: Bangsamoro Gayud, o ARMM Na Lang?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 July) — Must it be Bangsamoro or just ARMM? That is the naughty question regardless what has transpired at the 38th Exploratory Talks of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Bangsamoro is the only option. Both Parties have repeatedly expressed their resolve to entrench it – finish their negotiation of the Annexes, consolidate this with the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) into the CA (Comprehensive Agreement) as the basis for the TransCom (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) in drafting the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law). GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer says that President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III wants to give Bangsamoro a solid foundation.

Don’t Doubt, But …

The resolve of both Parties and the desire of the President should not be doubted. But there are converging factors seen and unseen that are just as resolved or resolute to abort the entrenchment of Bangsamoro. Both Parties are very much aware of spoilers waiting in ambush. They are within or outside of the government; they are Moros within or outside of the MILF.

Most probably, what took the Palace three months in studying the initialed Annex on Wealth-Sharing with due diligence was, in truth, its consultations with leaders in the government and in private sectors to preempt potential spoilers. Are these consultations or study with due diligence a firm guarantee against spoilers?

Not in reality! Yes, the amendments in the initialed Wealth-Sharing Annex are results of the consultations — the spoilers included and mollified — and so are the amendments in the other annexes. The Parties will consolidate the Annexes and the FAB into the CA; the TransCom will translate these into specific provisions of the BBL. It is the CA and the BBL that the spoilers will ambush to pounce on whatever deviations there may be from the Annexes as amended.

Drafting, Crafting BBL

The TransCom may propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution if necessary. There are provisions in the FAB that call for constitutional amendments – among them, the asymmetric relation of Bangsamoro with the Central Government, the Bangsamoro ministerial or parliamentary form of government. Any provision in the BBL needing constitutional amendment will be challenged in the Congress or the Supreme Court.

The spoilers are just one among the factors that can abort the Bangsamoro – time constraint being the most severe. Even if the Parties can sign all the Annexes on the last day of their 38th Exploratory Talks, the CA may be signed in August, at the earliest. The Transcom will be able to start drafting the BBL only by then – eight months delay. That will mean an eight-month lag for the other stages in the FAB road map. With no delay, the BBL should have been ready for submission to Congress this month.

Can the TransCom draft the BBL in 150 days? The Regional Consultative Commission in 1989 did not finish drafting the ARMM Organic Law in 150 days. But the RCC, just assisting the Congress, did not have to submit a full draft. The TransCom is different; it has to submit a complete BBL draft for the Congress to enact.

Can the Congress enact the BBL by the end of 2014? The Congress was expected to enact the 1996 Final Peace Agreement into a law amending RA 6734 before President Fidel V. Ramos ended his term in 1998. It passed RA 9054 in late February 2001. In his press comment, Sen. Francis Escudero (Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 15, 2013) said the BBL to conform to the FAB “should be crafted quite carefully despite its urgency; things must be done right”. This is predictive of what can happen in the Congress.

Critical to Transition

Most critical in the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro is the transition proper under the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) which can take place only after the BBL has been ratified and promulgated. This may not happen immediately after the signing of BBL by the President. The BBL might be questioned before the Supreme Court for similar reasons that befell the MOA-AD.

In a comment published last June 27, former Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Pinol said the FAB will divide North Cotabato into two provinces. Like what he did against the MOA-AD, he can file a complaint with the Supreme Court. He can be joined by leaders in other provinces adjoining the ARMM that can lose considerable number of barangays to the Bangsamoro. This can happen and will shorten further the transition proper.

Without proper transition, what is the sense of entrenching the Bangsmoro. Or, with the resolve of Government and MILF, the Bangsamoro will be entrenched before President Aquino steps down on June 30, 2016 despite the spoilers, time constraint, etc. What kind of Bangsamoro will it be?

ARMM an Alternative

Should the spoilers and other converging factors succeed in aborting Bangsamoro or in rendering it insignificant, the naughty question becomes a serious one: Will the ARMM suffice?

In their rally in Cotabato City last July 8, the Bangsamoro women said that “reverting to ARMM is not an alternative” – reiterating the MILF position (MindaNews, July 8, 2013). But a careful reading of the FAB would show that the ARMM is indeed an alternative since should the transition proper not happen, the ARMM will continue being in place.

It should be noted that while President Aquino III considered the ARMM as “a failed experiment – the unacceptable status quo”, he did not have it abolished. Instead, he had it reformed. In Government’s first peace proposal to MILF, the “3 for 1 Formula”, the MILF, the Government and the Moro leaders in the ARMM were to jointly reform the ARMM. With the “Formula” abandoned, the reform of the ARMM has continued.

With only 36 months remaining of the Aquino presidency, the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro envisioned by MILF is imperiled. Even if the Annexes were signed during this 38th Exploratory Talks, the TransCom cannot start drafting the BBL until August. That will further reduce the time table to 34 months.

Can the Transcom draft the BBL in six months? If it can, that leaves 28 months.

How long will it take the Congress to enact the BBL draft as Bangsamoro Basic Law? The Congress has its own calendar to follow. If it can be done in 12 months, that will leave 16 months.

It will take three months to ratify and promulgate the BBL. That will leave 13 months for the BTA to undertake the transition proper. Can the Bangsamoro transition properly in 13 months to the political entity envisioned by MILF?

The shorter the time the Transcom can draft and the Congress can craft the BBL the better. That is granting that the BBL will not be mired in contentious issues during its drafting and crafting. That is granting that drafting and crafting of the BBL will not require more time than six and twelve months respectively. That is granting no one will question the constitutionality of the BBL before the Supreme Court.

The Aquino Government and the MILF are battling time and other converging obstacles to entrench the Bangsamoro that will solve the Bangsamoro Question. Should the entrenchment fail, the reformed ARMM still stands as the option — by convenience and as implied in the FAB

But that Bangsamoro women’s rally in Cotabato City sounded the warning: It must be Bangsamoro, not just ARMM — Bangsamoro gayud, dili lang ARMM. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at