MIND DA NEWS: FAB One Year: Road Blocked

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 October) – Today is the first anniversary of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro.  At the signing last year, glowing speeches, all hail Bangsamoro! Today, pep talk, glum no gleam! The FAB road has lain idle, blocked.

The extended 41st exploratory talks of the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ended last Sunday without agreeing on the Annex on Power-Sharing, one of the two – the other, Annex on Normalization – annexes still pending that together with the two already signed are needed to complete the FAB into the Comprehensive Agreement (CA). Without the CA, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) cannot draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) — the main pillar of the Bangsamoro.

In a nutshell: Without the Annexes, no CA; without the CA, no BBL; without the BBL, no Bangsamoro; without the Bangsamoro, no solution to the Bangsamoro Problem.

Of the impasse, the Parties jointly stated:

The Parties made substantial progress on the remaining Annexes on Power-Sharing and Normalization. They have proceeded in exhaustive, honest discussions in order to identify the best formulations for an agreement that would respond to the aspirations of both Parties.

“The remaining challenges and the time constraints demand that the Panels remain focused on completing the annexes following a break for Eid’Ul’Adha. Both sides have a full understanding of their responsibility as they strive towards a sustainable and inclusive solution for the benefit of all people in the Bangsamoro.”

Let’s believe them, even if this has been their standard form to rationalize their failure to resolve contentious issues. That they are sticking together, instead of walking out on each other, to reconcile their differences is reassuring. Until they break up for good, let’s keep faith; we are sure they will come to an agreement. When? Take comfort in what Leo Tolstoy says, “God sees the truth but waits.”

But the impact of lost time on the entrenchment of the Bangsamoro cannot be blown away or minimized by rationalization. The law of cause-effect is immutable; and so is that of antecedent-consequence.

The answers of GPH Panel Chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer’s six “WHAT IF” questions in her opening statement depends on the Basic Bangsamoro Law that the BTC will draft and the Congress will enact. And, to both, time is the essence!

If the BBL is most satisfactory, most probably, it will not be questioned in the Supreme Court (Q1); or if one is filed, it will not prosper. A well done BBL draft will make it easier for the President “to muster enough support in Congress for this urgent bill” (Q3); and, in all probability, it will dissuade Congress from mangling it (Q4). If the Moro leaders of the ARMM provinces see that the BBL will establish the Bangsamoro that all Moros had been longing for, they will, certainly, join the Bangsamoro (Q5).

Under the present time situation, with the prospect of more delays, the fear is “the Transition Commission [will be] unable to finish a draft law by early 2014” and the “Congress [will not] have enough time to work on it, when budget deliberations start once again next year (Q2). It is almost certain, the BBL will not be finished in early 2014; should one be, it would be haphazardly done. That the passage of a well done BBL could extend into 2015 is not an improbability.

That will impact significantly on the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) and the proper transition of the Bangsamoro. The BTA will need both a well done BBL and enough time to transition properly the Bangsamoro.

The BTA will be created by the President through an executive order.  How it will be structured and how it will function we can only surmise that it will conform to the ministerial form of government. The BTA will be the Interim Bangsamoro Legislative Assembly (IBLA). It will organize the ministerial government electing the interim chief minister from among its members and other interim heads of offices.

It must be expected that proper transition will involve not only the change of structure and devolution of official functions, responsibilities and accountabilities from the unitary to the ministerial forms of government but the process of re-orientation – re-orientation to the ministerial system and to new Bangsamoro values, ethics, policy options, etc. This will amount to political, social, and ethical reforms – the imperatives for the Bangsamoro to make the difference as the solution to the Bangsamoro Problem.

This process will take time and need the entrenchment of the proper leaders, MILF and non-MILF, to lead the way. During the transition period, the Bangsamoro people must see an era dawning different from the old. The Moros will reject the “traditional politicians” and entrench the MILF-led new political and social order. However, is there still time for this to happen in the election of 2016?

Had there not been a two-year — more or less — delay in the peace process under President Aquino, the Bangsamoro would have been well on its transition now.

There are two political features of the Bangsamoro that need clarification. Two matters are most relevant to the 2016 election: first, the Bangsamoro electoral system; second, the jurisdictional status of the local government units. Of the first, what are its features and will there be time to set it up for the 2016 election? Of the second, will the LGUs be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro.

As agreed in the FAB (I.2), the BBL will provide for the entrenchment of “an electoral system suitable to a ministerial form of government”. Conducive to the formation and development of regional political parties, national political parties should be banned from Bangsamoro politics. Will BBL do this?

Can the IBLA enact the Bangsamoro Election Code and organize the Bangsamoro election body to conduct the 2016 election? If not, the alternative is to provide in the “Transitional Provision of the BBL” the holding of the first Bangsamoro election in 2016 under the national electoral system. By this, will the Bangsamoro be starting on the right foot?

Will “Bangsamoro election” mean election of regional and local officials under the Bangsamoro electoral system? Real political autonomy must proceed from autonomous election. It means the development with integrity of the party system in the Bangsamoro upon the banishment and exclusion of the national political parties.

Despite the tightening time constraint – tighter and tighter should the signing of the Annex on Power-Sharing elude next month and that of the Annex on Normalization would go beyond December – can the Bangsamoro still be established in 2016?

Why not? But establishing the Bangsamoro just as a legacy of President Aquino without the proper transition for it to be the genuine solution of the Bangsamoro Problem could result in this: The traditional politicians would capture the Bangsamoro in 2016 to perpetually dominate it thereafter (Q6). Whether the MILF will accept that or not will be an enigma as fearful – if not more – as the enigma of the Russian Red Bear of old.

In all candidness, on the first anniversary of the FAB, the failure of the GPH and MILF peace panels to agree on the Annex on Power-Sharing – with the possibility of more delay in the negotiation of the Annex on Normalization – imperils the more the proper transition of the Bangsamoro and a big question mark hangs over its entrenchment. It might be asked: Bangsamoro, quo vadis?

But there is the GPH-MILF assurance that they “have proceeded in exhaustive, honest discussions in order to identify the best formulations for an agreement that would respond to the aspirations of both Parties” and they “have a full understanding of their responsibility as they strive towards a sustainable and inclusive solution for the benefit of all people in the Bangsamoro”.

[Author’s Note:  Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENT, is specifically an opinion on current news. [email protected]]