Mind da News: Don’t Augur Well

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, July 13, 2013 – Partial reports from Kuala Lumpur on the 39th Exploratory Talk of Government and Moro Lslamic Liberation Front don’t augur well for Bangsamoro, the political entity agreed to solve the Bangsamoro Question. Set to adjourn last Thursday, July 11, the talk was extended for a day to try to reconcile what looked like immovable positions of the Parties on the Wealth-Sharing Annex. As of last night, latest online media reports were clueless about any agreement.

“We’re heading for an impasse,” MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (July 12, 2013). MILF cannot accept the 50-50 wealth sharing offered by Government, down from the 75-25 already agreed in the initialed document. However, it is not clear from the reports whether the 50-50 refers to the sharing in general or only to energy sources or strategic minerals.

“We seem to be caught up in the trees and missing the forest,” GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said (Inquirer Mindanao, July 12: Bangsamoro talks extended by one day). She clarified her analogy in another July 12 Inquirer report. She said: “What I can say is that the government’s offer is fair, it’s very good, it’s much better than what other autonomous regions or states are enjoying. I think that’s the kind of appreciation that we hope the MILF will understand.”

Iqbal and Ferrer are viewing the “50-50” issue differently. The misunderstanding is mutual. It’s bad to be “caught up in the trees” and “fail to appreciate the forest” – to recast the phrase; but it’s worse to be enrapt in appreciation of the forest and lose sight of the much-needed tree or trees.

Iqbal sees an impasse. That will put to a standstill the FAB roadmap. As time ticks by, the 36 months left of Aquino’s presidency will inevitably fade out. And by the FAB, the Bangsamoro has to be entrenched before Aquino steps down on June 30, 2016. Either there will be no Bangsamoro entrenched or there will be one — Bangsamoro in name but not as MILF has envisioned.

Ferrer’s justification of the “50-50” sharing lets out the true thinking of Government: As long as what Government gives Government deems better than what ARMM or “other autonomous regions or states” have, that is best for the Bangsamoro. Hence, for whatever Bangsamoro is established, MILF must be grateful to the Aquino Government. That Bangsamoro, even if not as MILF has envisioned, should solve the Bangsamoro Question.

The Philippine panel chairs, then Marvic Leonen (now Supreme Court Justice) and now Ferrer, have imprinted in media this rhetoric: The Aquino Government can commit only what it can give; it will give what it commits. Obviously, Ferrer committed with mandate from the Government the 75-25 wealth sharing in the initialed Annex on Wealth-Sharing document that MILF is sticking to. Why is Government now offering 50-50 instead of giving the 75-25 it has committed and initialed?

This, too, does not augur well for the Bangsamoro: President Aquino III is not really free to commit and to give what he commits. He is not the strong-willed and decisive Manuel L. Quezon or Ramon Magsaysay. He is just like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – seeking popular support to maintain his popularity. On receiving the initialed document for his review, he must have made extensive official and private consultations. The 75-25 was unacceptable; instead of defending it firmly, he yielded to the 50-50.

Here are two scenarios that will either boost or doom the Bangsamoro:

(1) He will certify the BBL bill to Congress. Will he prevail upon the House and the Senate to expedite its enactment virtually as certified? Will he stake his presidency to prevent the bill from being mangled?

(2) Should he prevail upon the House and the Senate, he will sign the bill into law. Will he stake his presidency to defend the BBL against critics and local government leaders who might want to question the law before the Supreme Court?

But this is jumping very much ahead. Before these scenarios can happen, the impasse that Iqbal sees must first be averted. As MindaNews reported very early this morning (July 13, 2013 12:39 am), quoting Iqbal, nothing positive happened yesterday: “Not yet. No breakthrough yet. We will return (to the negotiation table) tomorrow. Very harsh nego.”

The 39th round of talk has been extended for the second time — until today, Saturday, July 13.

Even if a compromise is reached on the wealth sharing impasse, that will not translate to a Comprehensive Agreement in August. The Power-Sharing and Normalization Annexes are set to be further discussed in August. Can the Comprehensive Agreement be signed by September or October?

Even so, the pre-transition and transition proper of the Bangsamoro will further shrink from the present 36 months. Even without any snag in the drafting and enactment of the BBL, only about ten months will be left for the transition proper. But the BBL can be more controversial than the Annexes.

The looming impasse that Iqbal sees is real; the signs of hard road ahead are not just phantoms. All these don’t augur well for the Bangsamoro. But Government and MILF are committed, not only to their own people but to the international communities, to entrench the Bangsamoro. Will they allow the FAB to end in a nightmare? (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)