COMMENT: An Option to Consider (4)

IV. Crucial Stage

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 28 August) – The statements of the chief negotiators and of their principals should be noted for their significant differences. On the part of Government, the focus is the establishment of Bangsamoro and the election of its first regular officials in May 2016. On the part of MILF, it is awareness of the contentious issues in the remaining annexes and of the adverse impact of more time-delay on the transition of Bangsamoro.

Take note of what the President said in his SONA: (1) Peace in Mindanao is within reach. (2) He asked the Congress “to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014” once the Bangsamoro Transition Commission has finished the draft”; (3) so that “we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government” in the May 2016 election.

Noticeably mindless of the delay in the drafting of the BBL, now in its eighth month and may extend to one year or longer, he presumed the FAB timetable as up-to-date. The “ample time” he had in mind was the time to prepare for the 2016 election, not for the proper transition of Bangsamoro.

Take note of what Chairman Murad said four days after the SONA: (1) The MILF Central Committee is aware of the contentious issues in the power-sharing annex, more contentious than in the just signed annex on wealth-sharing; (2) will explore “all other possible means in order to hasten the process”; (3) knows “that further delaying the process will have a very negative impact on the timeframe we have set for the transition mechanism”; and (4) sees that, most significantly, “once we cannot catch up with the time frame, then it will affect the entire mechanism that would install the Bangsamoro government by 2016”.

MILF is concerned about “further delays” in the negotiations – in fact, more than the delay due to the expected difficulties posed by the power-sharing annex can mean all other delays, foreseen and unforeseen. These delays would adversely affect the “entire mechanism” – meaning, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority which is tasked to do the transitioning of Bangsamoro the vision to Bangsamoro the reality.

Significantly Different

How significantly different are the statements of President Aquino and Chairman Murad, in reality the end-positions of Government and MILF? To Government, installing the Bangsamoro and holding its first election in May 2016 will satisfactorily fulfill its commitment seemingly oblivious of the dire implications of the snag on the FAB roadmap. To MILF, time is essential to the proper installation of the Bangsamoro government by 2016”.

This is not to alarm but to show the implications of the statements of the principals. This reiterates what we stated at the outset that the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro is at a very crucial stage noting how Government and MILF had been stuck in the roadmap over the sticky Annexes to set back the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law – eight months behind schedule already. Under the apparently evolving realities will the eventual Bangsamoro finally solve the Moro problem or perpetuate it?

After all, until proven otherwise by June 30, 2016, the statements of the two principals have affirmed the poles apart realities in the GPH “3 for 1” Proposal – Government’s “This is the autonomy for the Moros we want” opposite MILF’s “We reject that autonomy” – to be water under the bridge flowing back. How the differences will be reconciled is critical in shaping the Bangsamoro to be installed by June 2016.

The Road Ahead

Excluding this month, August, there are 34 months left in the FAB roadmap. The vital frameworks of the agreement to entrench the Bangsamoro are (1) drafting of the BBL; (2) the enactment by Congress of the draft into an organic law; (3) the ratification and promulgation of BBL; and, (4) the establishment of the Bangsamoro transitional government by the BTA or Bangsamoro Transitional Authority. The first framework, supposed to have been started January 2013, has not started full-steam.

To MILF, according to Murad’s statement, the fourth vital framework is the most vital that will need time. How much time will it have after the ratification and promulgation of the BBL will depend on how long it will take to finish vital frameworks (1), (2) and (3). Will (1) not exceed six months? Will (2) not exceed twelve months? Will (3) not exceed three months? At a glance, unless the timeframes for the first three can be shortened, (4) will have to do with thirteen months. Correct?

But, barring more delays, the drafting of BBL will most probably start fully in January 2014 after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, its principal reference, is signed – granting that within the next four months (September through December) the four Annexes, with two more to be negotiated, can be consolidated with the FAB into the CPA. That will leave the BTA only nine months to transition the Bangsamoro. The daunting question: What, if the peace process suffers more delays?

Let’s Face It

It’s not a matter of “What, if…?” but of anticipating the impending delays from within and outside of the FAB. The peace teams of Government and MILF have to face the road blocks to avoid what can be avoided and mitigate the impact of the unavoidable.

To say the least, the assurance from Government that the FAB is within the Constitution is specious. If so assured, why empower the Bangsamoro Transitional Commission to propose, if necessary, constitutional amendments?

To the point:

(1)  The ministerial form of government will free the Bangsamoro from the unitary system and establish its asymmetrical relation with the Central Government. Is this possible under Article X, Sections 15 to 21 of the1987 Constitution?

(2)  The exclusion of Annex on Wealth Sharing from of the bounds of the regalian doctrine has already been questioned. And so has the establishment of the Bangsamoro security or police force.

Just as specious is the assurance of Government that the FAB is defensible in any forum: the Congress, in the Supreme Court, before civil societies and in the media.

To the point:

(3)  The guarantee of the congressional leaders for an expeditious passage of the BBL is premised on the presumption that the government and MILF negotiators can explain satisfactorily the BBL draft. This hardly eases the anxiety and fear. Can – and will – the Congress railroad such an act so sensitive and revolutionary that can trigger a change in the country’s political and economic status quo?

(4)  The “spoilers” are waiting in ambush. They can strike at three points: (a) take to the Supreme Court the Comprehensive Agreement once signed; (b) oppose in Congress the passage of BBL; and (3) take the law, once passed, to Court.

(5)  The legal impediment of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement should not be pooh-poohed. The legal ground is there. The opposition of MNLF Chair Nur Misuari with the diplomatic backing of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation must not be underestimated.

The burden is heavier on the Bangsamoro Transition Committee – how to draft the BBL in order to avoid the roadblocks.

The 39th exploratory talks has been held. Earlier seen as portentous, it really proved to be. It reaffirmed the crucial stage the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro is in; and, by accident, it hinted how the Congress might think of the Bangsamoro. This is not to alarm but to state the evident: The MILF may inevitably be in a dilemma so as to consider a tough option.

[Author’s Note: Much as we last indicated to conclude this series we have to extend it to another issue since factoring the inputs from the 39th exploratory talks into the conclusion – the option that may be considered – would make this installment long. – PPD]

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently 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 [email protected])