Part 4 of 7: Judging the Product: Reviewing Certain Points in R.A. 6734 – An Act Providing for an Organic Actfor the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 9 October) – There are four items in political life that the autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao cannot do without: (a) the inhabitants of the autonomy; (b) the territory of the autonomy; (c) the political power of the autonomy, and (d) the resources of the autonomy.
Put in question form, these four items can be written, as follows: (a) For whom is autonomy? (b) Where is autonomy? (c) What is the political power of the autonomy? (d) With what does the autonomy sustain itself?
It must be clear from the very start that assessing the organic act along these four items is not possible without at the same time touching the 1987 Charter; it will also be evaluating the basic law of the land. According to Article X, Sec. 15 of the 1987 Constitution, it is the mold within which the organic act must be and was formed.
For Whom Is Autonomy?
Where Is Autonomy?
The nearest clue to this is Article X, Sec. 15, as follows: “… Muslim Mindanao… consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics….” Also, “ancestral domain” in Sec. 20 of the same article.
The second paragraph of Article X, Sec. 18 provides us with our final lead. It states: “The creation of the autonomous region shall be effective when approved by majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite called for the purpose, provided that only provinces, cities and geographic areas voting favorably in such plebiscite shall be included in the autonomous region.”
The clues cited are not in any way conclusive, as every working member of the RCC-MM’s Committee on Preamble, Regional Territory and Declaration of Principles would testify.
What is the meaning of “Muslim Mindanao?” It is open to at least nine interpretations, and each corresponds to a specified territory ranging from 23 to zero provinces.
Notice that the only clear lead we have is the word “Muslim” in Muslim Mindanao. Thus, if we have to answer the question “for whom” we are constrained to look elsewhere.
But if we look elsewhere, and this means the realities of the region, what do we see? The Christian population, and this meant at least 70% of the people in the 13 provinces and nine cities, has not expressed any interest in autonomy.
The Lumad groups for their part have only started to articulate their desire for self-determination in the mid-80s and have not been specific on the form. Statistically, they constitute about five percent of the total population in the 13 provinces and nine cities.
And this leaves us with 13 Islamized ethno-linguistic groups, the core of the MNLF-led Bangsa Moro struggle for self-determination, constituting about 25% of the total inhabitants in said region.
But the Constitution fell short of stating that autonomy was for the Muslims. So, for whom indeed?
We referred to “Muslim” as the only clear lead because the continuation of the provision “… consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics…” certainly does not square off with 13 provinces and nine cities.
As the territory expands from a base, say, of five provinces (Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) “Muslim Mindanao” progressively loses its appropriateness and must give way to cultural diversity.
In the five provinces, only the Teduray of the Lumad groups are included, confined to two adjacent towns in the province of Maguindanao.
In the 13 provinces, we have the 13 Islamized ethno-linguistic groups and at least 12 Lumad ethno-linguistic groups.
If we include the Christian population into the picture, then we have a situation that puts autonomy in an entirely different light.
The dominant presence of the Christian population becomes by itself a very potent argument against confining “for whom” to the Muslim population, and opens the way to giving serious consideration to a geographical autonomy within which the major segments of the population, in this case the Muslims, Lumad and Christians, will have to work towards a modus vivendi on the basis of equality of rights.
And it seems that by force of reality rather than by force of clear constitutional provisions, the Executive branch has favored geographical autonomy. Which is a departure from the usual twentieth century political arrangement of giving autonomy to minority groups.
The fact that we have to do a lot of speculation and elimination and stretching to be able to figure out the territory of the autonomy and for whom is autonomy is itself an indication of a basic weakness in the constitutional provisions.
And this inadequacy touched off a series of other problems, and I felt I understood what I talk about because the RCC-MM was the first deliberative body to try to find clarity amidst ambiguity.
But could the Constitutional Commission have done otherwise? Perhaps not, if we go by the following exchange between me and Father Joaquin Bernas.
In his column at the Manila Chronicle (3 January 1989), Father Bernas who was a member of the Constitutional Commission, strongly spoke in support of Muslim Mindanao. As a matter of fact, he entitled his column for that day: “What’s so bad about Muslim Mindanao?” He said in part:
“The name of the Mindanao autonomous region itself should reflect the rationale for the existence of the autonomous region. The constitutional provision is the formal recognition that there are regions in the Philippines where the Muslim culture is dominant. The constitution wants that culture preserved. Part of the process of preservation and enhancement must be a suitable name for the region, a name that can capture the color of Muslim culture….”
Then he closed with the exhortation: “Give Muslim Mindanao a chance to be truly native — and Muslim.”
No one would really argue with this provided that it did not mean 13 provinces and nine cities. I wrote to him in reaction to his column saying in part (5 Jan. 89):
“… when you say ‘Give Muslim Mindanao a chance to be truly native — and Muslim’ (underscoring mine), non-Muslims, the Tribal Cultural Communities are spontaneously excluded. And yet they, too, all 12 tribes of them in the 13 provinces, are native. Do they have less right to a name they can call their own in the areas of the region where they too are indigenous because they are less in number? And what about the Christian inhabitants who by a twist of colonial history became the majority in eight of the 13 provinces, have they lost the right to a name? Because they were born of migrant parents, most of them?”
His reply to this letter appeared in the same column of the Manila Chronicle on 20 January 1989, said in part:
“Let me just say that I am not firmly wedded to the name Muslim Mindanao. But I am wedded to the conviction that the autonomous region must be given a chance to choose its own name.”
Father Bernas’ change of tone is actually no less than a shift in position from Muslim-centered autonomy to a geography-centered one.
Which inevitably arouses the suspicion that the Constitutional Commission (ConCom) delegates as a whole were not appropriately informed about the social realities in the 13 provinces.
And a reading of the ConCom proceedings confirmed this.
What they had in abundance was goodwill and an honest to goodness desire to bring about the Bangsamoro self-determination to an end.
But what the implementers of the Constitution discovered was that such an end cannot be attained without giving due consideration to the other major segments of the population.
So, how did Congress try to resolve the problem in the organic act? It adopted the proposal of the RCC-MM but attached a clause allowing for a change of name, as follows:
“The name of the Autonomous Region shall be the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao unless provided otherwise by Congress upon the recommendation of the Regional Legislative Assembly.”(Art. I, Sec. 1)
And in recognition of the basic differences of the three major segments of the region’s population, Congress combined Sections 7 and 8, Art. III (Declaration of Principles and Policies) of the RCC-MM’s Final Report and entered it as Sec. 5, Art. III of the Organic Act (R.A. 6734), as follows:
“The Regional Government shall adopt measures to ensure mutual respect for the protection of the distinct beliefs, customs, and traditions among its inhabitants in the spirit of unity in diversity and peaceful coexistence: Provided, That no person in the Autonomous Region shall, on the basis of creed, religion, ethnic origin, parentage or sex be subjected to any form of discrimination.”
Before we proceed to the section on political power, let me just point out that the basic design of R.A. 6734 is for 13 provinces and nine cities, geography-oriented, and calculated to accommodate all the three major segments of the population.
But if the Constitution had been more definite about the Muslim character of the autonomy, then the design of the organic act would have been made to fit the Muslim-dominated areas. This of course is now wishful thinking, a post mortem, and an academic discourse. (My thoughts in 1990!)
[Si Prof. Rudy Buhay Rodil ay aktibong historyan ng Mindanao, tagapasulong ng kalinaw (Bisaya sa kapayapaan). Kilala siyang espesyalista sa paghusay ng mga gusot sa Mindanao-Sulu. Naging Komisyoner noon ng Regional Consultative Commision sa siyang nagbuo ng draft organic law ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao noong 1988. Dalawang beses siyang naging miyembro ng GRP Peace Negotiating Panel. 1993-1996, pakikipag-usap sa Moro National Liberation (MNLF), at noong 2004-2008 sa pakikipag-negosasyon sa Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Naging visiting propesor sa Hiroshima University, Oktubre-Disyembre 2011. Nagretiro noong Oktubre 2007.]