COMMENT: Bangsamoro: A Done Deal

GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews/20 March) — That the Bangsamoro will be established by the time President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III will step down on June 30, 2016 is a done deal. Will the ultimate solution to the Bangsamoro Problem as MILF was seeking in February 1997 also be a done deal? That big bold question mark looms against the glowing picture in the sky.

Honestly, much as we would like to see the final deal ultimately done, more deals will still have to be done. This is not playing on words but stating the plain fact. How the fact will eventually play out, to paraphrase Tolstoy, “history sees the truth but waits”. It took less than ten years for history to wait before revealing the truth it must have seen at the signing of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement. An unpleasant truth, the undoing of a done deal!

To Sign the CAB

Eight days from now, on March 27, the Philippine Government and MILF will sign the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro), their final peace agreement, in Malacanang to formally close the 17-year negotiation that opened on the seventh day of January 1997. MindaNews reported and dispatched the story to its subscribers including Mindanao-based newspapers on March 12. Reports published two days later referred to the MindaNews dispatch with OPAPP Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles confirming.

[As a footnote: MindaNews editor-in-chief Carolyn O. Arguillas learned of the exact date from His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, DD, the Archbishop of Cotabato, after his installation as Cardinal of Cotabato last March 11. President Aquino III, who attended the affair, personally invited the Cardinal to the signing.]

Actually, the negotiations ended with the signing of the Annex on Normalization and of the Addendum to the Annex on Power-Sharing last January 25. However, as a formal closure, the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and the four Annexes are to be consolidated into the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro. The Government and MILF peace panels, since January 25, have been in collaboration – not negotiation – mode drafting the CAB together in Manila, Cotabato City and Marawi City.

The FAB and the Four Annexes are the tiers of the delicately baked cake, Bangsamoro; the CAB is the icing.

Is there more the panels will agree? Luwaran, the MILF official online publication, in its editorial, (January 1, 2014: 2014 crucial year in peace talks), said that the CAB “is not just a piece of paper”. It will contain “principles, most likely on the following: how the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is going to be abolished; the conduct of the plebiscite for the ratification of the BBL; and the manner of amending the Constitution, if necessary”. These will be stuff for the BBL’s Transitory Provisions, not the substantive.

Even so, that makes the CAB, despite the obvious, more significant than just an icing of the five-tiered cake. Secretary Deles, presidential spokesperson for the peace process, proclaims:  “After 17 long years of arduous negotiations, we are finally arriving at a political settlement that will seal enduring peace and progress in Mindanao. The signing of the CAB is expected to benefit not only the Bangsamoro but the entire country, and will radiate beyond our borders to the regional community, and perhaps the whole world.” (OPAPP Website, March 14, 2014)

By “regional community” is meant the Southeast Asia Region. The CAB has already been acclaimed as a “world’s showcase in peace building”. A grand occasion, the signing will be graced by about 800 guests, among them foreign dignitaries.

BBL to the President

A week after the CAB signing, the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) will submit to President Aquino III the draft of the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) for certification to the Congress to be enacted into a law. Originally, the BTC’s deadline was May 31. But, to abide by the wish of President, the BTC has to advance the submission by two months – obviously, to give the Palace the time to review the draft in the light of the 1987 Constitution; and, more, to admit the fact that President is in direct command.

It would have been impossible to submit the BBL draft to the President on March 31 had the FAB and other related documents been followed to the letter – that with the CAB as the basis of the drafting of the BBL the BTC would wait for the signing of the CAB before starting work. However, as it turned out, the icing is not the cake.

After its formation in March 2013, the BTC must have started picking up pieces from the FAB and the Annex on Transitional Arrangement and Modalities signed on February 27, 2013. As revealed by Luwaran, it picked up momentum with the signing of the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth-Sharing on July 13, 2013 and went full blast with the signing of the Annex on Power-Sharing on December 8, 2013. The Annex on Normalization signed last January 25 would only be a post script to the BBL – the Transitory Provision.

With due respect, the task of the BTC is not as consummately and rigidly deliberative as that of the Constitutional Commission or of the Mindanao Regional Consultative Commission which drafted the 1989 Organic Law of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. That kind of deliberation was actually done by the peace panels and guided by the Malaysian Government facilitator with advice, as needed, from the International Contact Group. The BTC is like a construction group erecting the BBL with materials pre-fabricated by the negotiating panels.

In three editorials, Luwaran reveals how the BTC is going about its task of drafting the BBL with the pre-fabricated provisions from the FAB and the four Annexes. Like skilled welders and masons, they assemble into the BBL draft the delicately constructed negotiated provisions but cannot modify them.

[NOTE: Luwaran is the brainchild or baby of Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF vice chairman on information and also the concurrent head of the MILF negotiating panel and of the BTC. We believe that the editorials expounding policies related to the negotiations and the BBL are Iqbal’s or with his imprimatur and the MILF official position. – ppd]

One requirement in crafting the BBL is “parallel public engagements/consultation to factor into the BBL relevant and important inputs from the people”. (Luwaran Editorial, Sunday, December 1, 2013: Crafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law). Yet, the BTC ( Luwaran Editorial, March 2, 2014: Water cannot rise above its source)… is bound by the letter and spirit of the FAB as well as the four Annexes and the Addendum on Bangsamoro Waters (not to say of the other previously signed agreements by the parties)” as its “controlling templates or mechanisms”.

Explaining further, the editorial is emphatic: “It means … the drafters of the BBL will have to follow these documents as written” and “also know the intent behind what is written and follow that, too.” This is addressed to those who insist in their view of “autonomy within autonomy” and want to insert in the BBL draft provisions “clearly outside the letter and spirit” of the FAB, the four Annexes and other documents. This is reiterated in the Luwaran editorial of March 8, 2014:   Spoilers in the guise of helpers”.

Stated otherwise, the provisions of the FAB and the four Annexes are the final provisions of the BBL draft. The consultations are primarily to inform the people and discuss the draft with them; they cannot introduce into the BBL anything outside of or contrary to the provisions of the FAB and the four Annexes.

What is the ultimate implication? With the BTC absolutely adhering to the provisions of the FAB and the four Annexes – in intent and letter – and, with these provisions having been so carefully crafted as to conform to the 1987 Constitution, the BBL draft to be submitted to the President will be within the limits of the constitution.

BBL, the Organic Law

With the Palace legal staff reviewing the BBL draft, what the President will certify to Congress will pass the test of constitutionality. That will be one major hurdle out of the way. For sure, some constitutional questions will be raised at the committee level and at the plenary. But these will be easily clarified and overcome – the stubborn, if any, voted down.

Will the intent and letter of the agreements in the FAB and the four Annexes as embodied in the BBL draft pass through the congressional mill undiluted and unexpurgated? Congressional prerogative is absolutely the right of the representatives and senators but it may be bent by the persuasive power of the President. It may also be tempered by respect for the wisdom and wishes of the peace negotiators. What the Bangsamoro is will be shaped by the final act of the Congress, the BBL as the Organic Law.

In two editorials, Luwaran has urged the lawmakers to temper their congressional prerogative to enable the Moros to realize their aspirations through the Bangsamoro. Could the good will that the courtesy calls by the BTC commissioners to congressional leaders in late January and early February might have generated pay off?

 In Good legislation(February 8, 2014), Luwaran acknowledged thatCongress … now holds the key to solving the Moro Question by way of making a good legislation, without watering down the contents of the FAB and the four Annexes signed by the parties.”  Noting the “good sense of Congress” in endorsing Order No. 120 creating the BTC, it expressed the trust that by their “statesmanship” and “collective wisdom” the congressmen and senators will pass the BBL “that would finally put to rest the centuries of restlessness in Mindanao”. 

In In this case, enabler not arbiter” (February 22, 2014), Luwaran appealed anew, belaboring on the role of the Congress as the “enabler” or facilitator in ensuring that the “substance” of the BBL shall capture the essence and spirit” of the FAB and its four Annexes and reminding that as one of the three branches of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, the Congress is part of the peace process, not just an “arbiter” concerning the “grey areas” or controversies in the agreements.

In the Luwaran editorials, the MILF has manifested its apprehensions. However, with President Aquino III in direct command and his Liberal Party and allies in the majority in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, we are inclined to believe the BBL will be enacted within 2014 as drafted.

Expect the BBL to be questioned in the Supreme Court on grounds of unconstitutionality. But unlike the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, the BBL – as certified by the President and passed by the Congress — will get the nod of the Court within a time shorter than two and a half months it took to decide on the MOA-AD.  Or, maybe, no one will question it.

Unless there are constitutional amendments that will call for a national plebiscite, the BBL will be ratified within three months after it has been signed into law. We don’t foresee any post-plebiscite problems that will delay further the implementation of the BBL.

Bangsamoro Inaugurated

MILF has already braced itself to do what it must do within a one-year transition period, “too short by any standard” for the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) to accomplish two tremendous tasks to transition the Bangsamoro: (1) “to set up institutions, write the local government code, the administrative code, and the election code for the Bangsamoro;” (2) “to provide leadership and unify the Bangsamoro people and rally them towards the vision set forth more than 40 years ago by the late MILF chair Salamat Hashim.” (Luwaran Editorial, March 16, 2014: No rocky hill for an iron will)

By this Luwaran editorial, MILF is undaunted. It is ready to accept whatever condition the BTA could set up in the Bangsamoro – within its resources and very short transition period – by the time President Aquino III will inaugurate it before stepping down on June 30, 2016.

The Bangsamoro is a done deal – in fulfillment of the wish of President Aquino III. Will it also be the fulfillment of the vision of MILF Founding Chair Salamat Hashim? In bold words, the editorial expressed strong resolve not to fail while manifesting deals that have yet to be done.

(Next: Deals to Be Done)

[“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to]