COMMENT: Bangsamoro: Deals to Be Done (2)

II. Before and After

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, April 4, 2014 – In the first part of this article posted last March 26, we discussed the impact of the transition proper period on the future of the Bangsamoro. This period starts from the takeover by the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) of the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) and ends at the inauguration of the Bangsamoro under its regularly elected officials set on or before June 30, 2016 when President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III steps down. This is the timetable agreed.

In gist: The transition period is assessed by the MILF to be “one year” and is “short by any standard” within which to accomplish five tasks which are very vital in establishing a strong political, social and economic foundation for the Bangsamoro. We suggested: “The BTA is tasked to firmly establish the Bangsamoro before the election of its regular officials. Since time to do this is very short within the Aquino III term, wisdom dictates that the transition must extend to the next administration.” This can be easily provided in the Transitory Provisions of the BBL.

Downright Facts

By the establishment of the Bangsamoro under the BTA, President Aquino III is assured of his legacy. Let him be remembered in history for that. President Ramos will be remembered for starting the peace process of Government with MILF; President Estrada for changing its course and aborting it; and President Macapagal-Arroyo – despite the unkind thoughts and comments about her part – for reviving it and allowing the negotiations to take substance and form at the crucial time and stage. Without Arroyo, where could Aquino III be now?

[Aside, here’s the paradox: Aquino and his peace team had vowed to avoid Arroyo’s mistakes. Expected! Should they not be thankful to Arroyo for committing those critical mistakes at critical times for them to learn from? From what they have learned the Bangsamoro is about to rise.]

The inauguration of the elected Bangsamoro government does not have to happen under Aquino III. The first Bangsamoro election does not have to be synchronized with the national election.

In fact the Bangsamoro regional and local elections under the Bangsamoro Election Code “suitable to the ministerial form of government” (FAB.I.2) must be separate from the national. Making all these happen during Aquino III’s term to enhance his legacy at the sacrifice of proper transition but jeopardize the future of the Bangsamoro is short-sightedness.

The political settlement to solve the Bangsamoro Problem has long been the commitment of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). That it has evolved into “Bangsamoro” under Aquino III is historical incident; that the commitment does not stop with Aquino III’s stepping down on June 30, 2016 is inherent to government – obligations are passed from one administration to another. Aquino III has emphasized he could only commit what he can give. Administrations after Aquino III are obliged to continue assisting the Bangsamoro to maturity.

Whether the wisdom to allow three full years for the BTA to transition the Bangsamoro prevails or not, MILF – to use its own analogy — will have steep “rocky hills” to defy its “iron will” immediately before and after President Aquino III steps down on June 30, 2016. These are the deals MILF has to do with options not so reassuring.

MILF Fears

Luwaran’s editorial (March 25, 2014: Real partnership begins”) stresses the “partnership” that “has to be real and genuine” between Government and MILF to make the Bangsamoro succeed. In reality, however, it expresses fears of what could happen after June 30, 2016 – a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity.  

What does the editorial say?

First: While both Government and MILF “have to help one another”, it is “the MILF [that] has to be helped to stand on its feet so that it is fully capacitated to stave-off the challenges ahead”. Admitted: MILF is the weak partner7.

Second: “Only two capable partners can ensure the success of their peace endeavor.” Alluding to MILF, “… a weak partner will pave the way for anarchy to rule the day and chances that a more dangerous place is not farfetched in Mindanao.” Imperative: Make MILF strong.

Third: “This fear is compounded after the exit of President Benigno Aquino in 2016. If the new president does not follow through with the achievements of the peace process and genuinely adopts a policy of empowering the MILF and henceforth the Bangsamoro Government, then the future is truly bleak.” (Bold supplied)

Fourth: Of crucial significance, “… the 2016 presidential election is truly material to the future of the Bangsamoro. We can only hope that those who run for president will adopt a policy of fully supporting the Bangsamoro and not to undermine it in any manner or form.”

­This Luwaran editorial is the MILF statement referred to in the Inquirer Mindanao report of March 30, 2014, MILF: 2016 polls crucial to success of Mindanao peace process, datelined Iligan City. The report emphasized the significance of the statement as the MILF call “on the eve of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB)”.


There are options to avert what the MILF fears. These are premised on the expectations that the BBL is signed into law in December 2014 and is ratified in the first quarter of 2015; and, the BTA can immediately set up the Bangsamoro in transition. Should these fail to materialize due to possible oppositions against the BBL in the Congress and the Supreme Court, the options are different. [NOTE: We will discuss these possibilities in another article.]

May we point it out here that the MILF fears are quite misplaced. All laws, unless repealed by the Congress or voided by the Supreme Court, are binding to all governments, present and future. So will the BBL be. The policies and government assistance for Bangsamoro development that the BBL will provide all presidents after June 30, 2016 are bound to implement. They are not expected to adopt contrary policies and programs. But MILF has to be assertive.

Even so, MILF may have to make some compromises to have some deals done.

Political Gamble

As emphasized in the Luwaran editorial and reiterated in the Inquirer Mindanao report, the 2016 presidential election is “truly material to the future of the Bangsamoro” and “crucial to success of Mindanao peace process”. What is the “big deal” for MILF?

It will start Bangsamoro political autonomy on a big gamble. Like an untrained, inexperienced swimmer, it will plunge into the pool to compete with well-trained veterans. It will compromise its envisioned political system founded on an electoral code suited to the ministerial form of government. It will re-embrace the status quo it has so vehemently rejected.

Note 1: Granting the BTA can start the Bangsamoro transition by March 2015, it is very much in doubt if it can enact the Bangsamoro Local Government Code, the Bangsamoro Administrative Code and Bangsamoro Election Code and establish an electoral system suitable to a ministerial form of government – considered most vital, together with setting up the necessary institutions and providing leadership envisioned by Salamat Hashim to transition the Bangsamoro.

Most probably, the members of the BLA (Bangsamoro Legislative Assembly) will be elected as provided in the BBL and under the Omnibus Election Code. And so will the Bangsamoro local government officials. The Bangsamoro regional and local governments will operate under the local government and administrative codes of the Philippines – re-embracing the status quo.

Note 2: To lead the Bangsamoro and reap for the Moros the fruits of the peace process MILF has to do two “big deals”: first, continue its partnership with the national government after June, 30, 2016; second, win the majority in the BLA and of the elective local government officials. This is how crucial the May 2016 presidential election is to MILF and the Bangsamoro.

To achieve the “first”, MILF must steer clear of the “dirty” and “ugly” national politics of patronage and play coy and smart for the national leaders to woo at a price. But it utterly lacks the standing to be so. All it can do, it appears, is to support the Liberal Party or the dominant political coalition that President Aquino III will anoint hoping for the win to remain a “weak partner”. Yet, in a “hardly-win-win” situation, it can lose the partnership.

To achieve the “second”, MILF has to organize its regional party and field a complete slate of regional and local government slate. By January 2016, will it have the capacity and means to do so? Will there be an electoral system under an election code suitable to a ministerial form of government? The answers don’t look encouraging. MILF will be compelled to prematurely enter politics under the status quo – leaning heavily on the Liberal Party and pro-Aquino coalition and in alliance with traditional politicians. If the slate wins, who will be in real control?

Note 3: Leaning heavily on the Liberal Party and the pro-Aquino coalition and allying with traditional politicians is not only status quo politics but also unpromising. With little to offer and give, will MILF get much in return? Will traditional politicians readily give up their leadership and political agenda?

Note 4: As programmed now, the regular officials of the Bangsamoro regional government will be elected in May 2016 together with those of the provincial and municipal governments. That is certain. The uncertain: Will MILF candidates win the majority in the BLA? Will MILF control the local governments?

The cruel joke: Will MILF eat the cake it has been cooking for 17 years? Or: Will it finish cooking the cake for the Moros and others in the Bangsamoro to enjoy?

The Best Deal

There is no better deal than the best. It’s not too late. There should b no need for another round of talks in Kuala Lumpur. Convince President Aquino III and his peace team to readjust the FAB roadmap to reality and wisdom. Provide in the BBL Transitory Provisions that “the Bangsamoro transition period will be three years from the time the BTA takes over from the ARMM”.

What reality?

This must be the spirit of the compromise MILF Chair Murad Ibrahim made on July 9, 2012 to accommodate the desire of Government that the negotiation would be completed within the term of President Aquino III. At that time, there were only four years left of Aquino III’s term and the Parties had just tied the first knot of the string of the negotiation under Aquino III – the ten-point “Decision Points on Principle”. On the signing of the FAB on October 15, 2012 only three years and seven and a half months of that term was left.

That spirit is now completely lost. With the BTC still to finish the BBL draft and the Congress making the “best effort” promise to enact the BBL by end of 2014 so that it could be ratified by March 2015. MILF reckoned the BTA will have one year – ”short by any standard” – for the Bangsamoro transition proper.

Not good enough, the worse looms. The storm of opposition to the BBL and the CAB is now gathering. Unless dissipated on time, the storm can delay further the enactment and ratification of the BBL — if not, God forbid, abort it.

What wisdom?

The Bangsamoro should not just be entrenched soundly but assured of the means to fulfill the primary purpose of its being. There are two crucial stages: first, the transition proper which requires time and means to set up the Bangsamoro on sound political, economic, social and moral foundation; second, sufficient post-transition assistance to keep it strong until it can stand alone and develop on its own resources. This is Luwaran’s plea in its editorial on “partnership”.

Limiting the transition to 2016 is just handing over the ARMM to the BTA to be handed over to the ill-prepared regularly elected officials of the Bangsamoro. This formula of failure can be averted by giving the BTA the full three years – the succeeding government normally taking over from Aquino III’s. Wisdom dictates that because of limited time and assistance, Aquino III should entrust the full transition of the Bangsamoro to the president after him.

MILF should not worry about partnership. If the next government assumes the responsibility to continue the proper transition of the Bangsamoro, it will surely fully give its share of the post-transition assistance for its political, economic and social development. Of course MILF has to do its share of the partnership.

Should MILF propose the extension of the Bangsamoro to full three years and Aquino III and his peace team agree, MILF will be in a better position to lead the Bangsamoro to full maturity. It does not have to prematurely participate in the 2016 election. It will have three years to build its political base and the trust of the Moro masses. In the first Bangsamoro regular election under the electoral system provided in the BBL, its political party will be strong enough to compete with other regional political parties for the election of regional and local government officials.

If President Aquno III is sincere in his speech at the signing of the CAB, he himself should extend the Bangsamoro transition to the full three years after its establishment on the takeover of the BTA. Poor transition will spoil the Bangsamoro. The irony: He will be the biggest spoiler!

My reading of media reports and of statements from the President, the Palace and the OPAPP is: The Bangsamoro is a done deal; of the Luwaran editorials: The Bangsamoro is the fulfillment of the long, hard struggle but with the guarded feeling that “more deals still have to be done”.

With apologies to Tolstoy, “History sees the truth but waits. [“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]