KISSA AND DAWAT: Subverting Subsidiarity

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 June) — The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) will be going through the crucial stage at the Bicameral Conference Committee (Bicam) next month. Will it come out recognizable as proposed and agreed through the peace process? Or will it come out unrecognizable, mangled or worse, less than what has been gained by the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)? How deep and extensive is the BBL reflected in the consolidated Bicam version?

While we believe in the institution of legislation, many in our midst are worried that at the end of the day, the consolidated version will be reflective of parochial interest rather than rising to the higher altruism.

As citizens, there is an urgency of lobbying and other forms of political engagement, i.e. appealing to the Bicam members to remember and put premium to the two decades of hard work, sacrifices and ups and downs of negotiation. Individuals and groups are encouraged to appeal and petition the concerned congresspeople. We can also use the quad-media to make our position, motivation and interest known. Congresspeople need to understand how the BBL constituency and stakeholders feel about the current situation, the apprehension over the outcome being less than the gains in the peace process.

As Muslim, we can make du’a (supplication) for guidance and success. We will be extremely humbled and grateful if things will turn out as proposed. We will be steadfast if it turns the other way around and remain faithful in the Qada’ (Power, Might) of the Almighty to chart our collective destiny. As we are reminded in the Holy Qur’an, people plan, Allah plans, too, and we Muslims believe that His plan is far better than we can imagine out of good intention.

As we look to the scheduled Bicam sessions, let us remind ourselves about why BBL is important, what is it we aspire to achieve and the principles that define its form and substance.  In the previous article, we took a look into the principle of the Parity of Esteem. Another principle highlighted in the BBL is that of subsidiarity. Why was this principle included? How does this operate? What is this?

The word “subsidiarity” has Latin roots and its usage originally from the Catholic social teaching. In the book “Social and Secure? Politics and Culture of the Welfare State: A Comparative Inquiry” (1996), Hans Bak et al pointed out that the corporate welfare state that is dominant in Western Europe came out of the principles of subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty. It came as a moderate response to the extremes of nationalist socialism and communism.

Gregory Beabout, professor of philosophy at the Saint Louis University, Montana, argues that subsidiarity may have come from the Roman “subsidium”, literally, to sit behind and contextually, to lend help and support in case of need.[Beabout, Gregory R. (2004), “Challenges to Using the Principle of Subsidiarity for Environmental Policy,” William and Mary Environmental Policy Review 28 (2004): 226]

For me, the Church view as explained in the Quadragesimo Anno (The Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Reconstruction of Social Order)[] really captures the soul of this principle: “It is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.”

In the United States, subsidiarity principle informed the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the national anti-poverty and social justice program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “where grassroots community organizing projects are supported to promote economic justice and end the cycle of poverty. These projects directly involve the people they serve in their leadership and decision-making”.

Moving from its Church beginning and riding from the success of its pioneering efforts in a non-government setting, this principle entered the political arena through the efforts of Christian Democrats across European countries and the world pushing for community issues and concerns to be handled at the lowest or least centralized competent authority, the frontier of public service and service delivery; instead of the conventional down-up resolution and top-down decision-making approach. Now, it has become one of the general principles of European Union law.

Finally, while there are those who argue that subsidiarity is akin to decentralization, thus a redundancy of what have been provided under the Local Government Code. Against this argument we need to point out that while decentralization is assignment of uniform powers from the central to the periphery, subsidiarity provides the expression of powers as needed at the periphery. In their paper “Decentralization and Subsidiarity: Toward a Theoretical Reconciliation”, Albert Breton et al[’lEcon.L.21(1998).pdf] use the “snow mill” example in explaining the homogeneity of preferences which differs greatly from the BBL’s subsidiarity which proposes an asymmetrical relation between the center and the periphery and allows for policy diversity and flexibility based on need and preference.

What the BBL is proposing is a reimagination of our politics within the framework of national integrity. I fear that if Congress fails to respond positively to the BBL challenge and render the grueling decades-long negotiation useless; this will embolden the narrative of those arguing that the only redress of the so-called “Mindanao” problem is through violence. We have seen the morphing of splinter groups skeptical of the value and benefits of the peace process and active non-violence. If Congress fails to rise to the BBL challenge, it will surface a dormant undercurrent, the original call for Bangsamoro independence, the white elephant in the room.

“There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.” – Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue).