COMMENT: BBL Concerns: Little, Nothing or Big? (4)

III. What Third Parties Say

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 23 July) – Through intensive and extensive information campaign from the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), the Moros most especially have been informed about the agreements between Government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Happy in foreseeing their good future, they welcomed triumphantly the CAB during its signing. Reports and pictures published by MindaNews are a testimony to these.

The great expectations of the Moros especially should turn to reality. But hopes are always mixed with apprehension. As it happened with the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between Government and the Moro National Liberation Front and with the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Doman between GRP and MILF, great hopes can end in great disillusionment – even tragically, as it did in 2008.

Guiamel Alim

Well-meaning Moro and non-Moro peace advocates have recalled the 1996 FPA and the 2008 MOA-AD episodes of the Mindanao peace process in pointing out some flaws in the GPH-MILF negotiations in order to avoid the repetition of history. Unfortunately, some of them have been labeled as “pessimists” or even “spoilers”.

Guiamel Alim, chair of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, revealed the concerns of Moros and non-Moros in his paper, “Challenges (and Hopes) in the Post CAB Bangsamoro: from the third eyethat he delivered at the Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao seminar-workshop in Hiroshima, Japan on June 23. While the challenges do not directly refer to the present BBL issues, they are critical depending on how the issues are solved.

Alim classifies the different groups and individuals into (1) the “hopefuls or re-affirmists”, (2) the “doubtfuls or uncertains”, and (3) the “pessimists” or rejectionists according to their various reactions to and thoughts about the CAB. Critical to the present issues on the BBL draft are what the first two groups say. [Note: We are quoting Alim in toto in italics.]

First Group

The hopefuls believe that:

1. The CAB offers a political framework that is largely seen as reflective of the Bangsamoro’s long aspiration and quest for self-determination and development;

2. They see it as a key framework in pushing the process of achieving a more durable solution to the conflict in the Bangsamoro which presents an important opportunity to transform violence to peace;

3. A framework that enshrines the Basic Rights of its people and provides adequate political authority to the Bangsamoro to govern and to explore, exploit and manage economic resources;

4. The CAB provides the venue for the Tri-people in the Bangsamoro to work together to chart their collective development and welfare; and

5. It opens an opportunity to improve the relationship between the National government and the BM towards national unity and reconciliation.

Towards this end, the hopefuls expect:

1. The congress to pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that allows the Bangsamoro the legal framework to exercise their right to self-governance and development;

2. Additional territories that will expand the areas of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM);

3. A Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that is able to build the foundation for meaningful reforms in the Bangsamoro;

4. A regular Bangsamoro government that is responsive to both the short and long-term aspirations and needs of its people.

These are the positions and expectations of those who support the CAB.

The Moros have seen the 5-point hope in the agreements explained to them during the more than a year of information campaign. They must have been expecting the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to embody in the BBL draft the agreements and the Congress to pass the BBL organic law as drafted. Should the Bangsamoro organic law or BBL turn out to be drastically different from the agreements that have been presented to them, they will surely be disillusioned. The same will happen if their 4-point expectation does not materialize.

Second Group

But the curious minds and the doubtfuls have to ask questions including the constitutionality of the BBL.

1. What happens if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a party to the negotiations finds the Basic Law passed by Congress not responsive to their right to self-governance?

2. What will happen if in the plebiscite other territories in the present ARMM will opt not to join the Bangsamoro?

3. Will ministerial form of government be a good alternative to what we have today?

4. What happens if in the post-agreement elections the MILF is politically excluded? Will they still pursue the agreement on normalization, particularly the decommissioning component?

5. Can there be two claimants of ancestral domain in the Bangsamoro?

Still [there are] many questions from the doubtful minds.

Those in the second group are not necessarily Moros. In fact, these are observations and questions ask by non-Moros outside the Bangsamoro territory. Only Questions 1 and 3 are related to the present BBL draft questions in the sense that the provisions in the BBL draft pertaining to them may be among those revised by the Office of the President (OP) legal team.

These two groups, especially the first, are reminders that the CAB is being watched and followed avidly. The Moros care most about how the CAB will eventually be implemented through the BBL and in the Bangsamoro that will be established. The “hopes” and “challenges” that Alim has observed and presented in his paper must be seriously considered

Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza

In his syndicated column, ADVOCACY MindaNOW, Atty. Jesus G. Dureza, in his article Miscalculations Fatal to Peace Pact, considers as “worrisome” the MILF concerns over the revision of the BBL draft by the OP. As the first chair of the GRP peace panel opposite MILF under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and later the Presidential Peace Adviser, he is writing from experience.

Regarding the firm position of the Aquino government to confine the BBL strictly within the 1987 Constitution, he says that from his personal knowledge, the MILF always REJECTED AND REFUSED to use – or even just mention – the Philippine Constitution as ‘reference’ in ALL the agreements signed since the first agreement was signed in July, 1997 in Cagayan de Oro until the last document was signed last January, 2014, or in all of 12 agreements already signed.”

From his personal knowledge he explains, “To the MILF, adherence to our basic law during the peace talks was premature ‘capitulation’ and would ‘canalize’ their options for redress, knowing that some provisions of our Philippine Constitution could very well be the reason for those historical injustices on the Bangsamoro which they wanted to be redressed.”

He is not surprised of the present GPH-MILF deadlock. “They fought to get concessions from government that perhaps could be beyond the ambit of the basic law. If you won’t believe me, go check for yourself those signed agreements. In short, it should not come as a surprise to us why there will be constitutional issues that will necessarily arise now! This must be expected.”

He sees President Aquino III in a dilemma. “While the President wants to give concessions to finally put an end to the rebellion by addressing historic grievances, he cannot give beyond what the Constitution normally allows. He is duty bound to keep within those rigid parameters. The most he can do is to do some ‘brinksmanship’ but then that was what happened in the MOA-AD with President Arroyo. I think the President is looking now closely at what was signed and now realizing that for him to adopt it in toto will put the presidency in jeopardy. So some last minute adjustments in the BBL had to be made.”

He also sees Chairman Murad in a similar dilemma. “The question is: will those adjustments be acceptable to the MILF? I may sound presumptuous, but I bet you, MILF will NOT capitulate and accept substantive variations from what was signed and agreed just to make the agreement constitutional. (This is now derisively called “watering down”).” 

He understands the MILF position. “During my time as peace negotiator, I can tell you that the MILF had shown flexibility and openness to re-adjust its positions from time to time as the negotiations progressed. But they had certain ‘non-negotiable’ points which, I am sure were carried through in the present CAB, some of which could be ‘constitutionally sensitive’.”

Will MILF re-adjust its position in the present BBL draft controversy? His take: “I doubt very much if Kagi MURAD will agree to allow a re-adjustment just to suit constitutional concerns of the government if it means giving up on some of those ‘non-negotiables’. But if he or the MILF leadership does so, it will be at their own peril – just like the equally problematic situation our own Philippine president must now be facing.”

He sees the obvious dangers of doing so from within the MILF and outside of it:

First: “The MILF is organizationally not that cohesive, like just any other rebel group where force of arms rule. They cannot even totally control their own forces on the ground with the BIFF and other so-called rogue, break-away elements operating. Some MILF base commanders are ‘autonomous’ and they can call their own shots. Then there are young MILF elements who have their own more radical aspirations and are more restive.”

Second: “This is not to mention the presence of Islamic fundamentalists and ‘terrorists’ whose bottom line is to establish an independent calyphate in this part of the world who succeeded in embedding themselves in MILF controlled areas. Of course, let us not forget that the Bangsamoro is factionalized and deeply divided, in various levels and MILF cannot claim exclusivity.”

To get out of the “fix” or dilemma, he suggests options which reiterate similar options being, in all probability, taken now or earlier suggested. He emphasizes the imperative for the President and the MILF chairman to “study their options well” since a “misstep at this crucial time”“a miscalculation will put to naught those milestones never achieved before”.

Fr. Mercado, OMI

Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI is not just an avid peace advocate but, above all, used to be the head of monitoring or cessation of hostilities groups between the military and MILF during presidencies of Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada. He was appointed head of the GRP peace panel by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but rejected it in deference to the objections of MILF. His observations and position in the ongoing GPH-MILF controversy over the BBL draft are significant.

In his commentary, “BANGSAMORO Real score: Are Charter changes needed?” published in the Philippine Sunday Inquirer last July 20, he enumerates the “six major agreements on the President’s watch” stating: “These major strides in the peace process between the government and the MILF were achieved without reference to the 1987 Constitution.”

Yet, with reference to the “six major agreements”, he sees “the need for constitutional amendments to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsamoro”, namely, (a) their unique identity; (b) their ancestral domain; and (c) the exclusive powers not only to govern themselves but also to have control and supervision over the resources within their domain.

He stresses: “Without constitutional amendments on the table, the Aquino administration remains, simply, on cloud nine. By any imagination (creative, flexible or otherwise), sans constitutional amendments, the government would be short in the delivery of its commitments.”

He hopes the President, in his July 28 State of the Nation Address will “with all honesty and sobriety, and admit with clarity that the previously articulated ‘flexibilities’ of the Constitution would not stretch enough to institutionalize the CAB both in letter and spirit.”

He observes: “Without changing the basic paradigm and framework of governance as stated in the Constitution, there can be no acceptable Bangsamoro basic law.

He sees the conflict is between the BTC and the OP. “The difficulty lies in the ongoing ‘conversation’ between the Office of the President and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that has been tasked with drafting the Bangsamoro basic law for submission to Congress. The Transition Commission’s draft seems to collide with some provisions of the 1987 Constitution. While the Office of the President’s draft law is constitutionally compliant, it is not faithful to the CAB.”

He sees the President’s limited option. “If the President departs from the four corners of the Constitution, he faces yet another specter of a Supreme Court rebuff.”

To compound the President’s limited option, “the MILF appears resolved not to accept the limitations of the Constitution and it refuses to renegotiate the terms in the comprehensive agreement already settled and signed.”

He sees the undesirable implication if the President forces the issue to his favor: “A ‘diluted’ basic law would simply repeat the previous legal arrangement akin to the creation of the ARMM but with no real substance being added to the package except for the new brand name—Bangsamoro.”

To Recapitulate: The respectable “third parties” see the Mindanao peace process and the Bangsamorosorely stuck in constitutional issues. The Moros are asking questions.

(Next: Hill or Mountain?)

(“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])