“Heartbreak Hill” and the road to Bangsamoro: 38.5 months to 30 June 2016

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 April) – April 15, 2013 marked exactly six months to the day the Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), leaving only 38.5 months more to June 30, 2016 when the Aquino administration bows out of office and its “legacy” — the “Bangsamoro” — is expected to be inaugurated.

The “Bangsamoro” is the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The “Roadmap to the Creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Political Entity” prepared by the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office in time for the signing of the FAB on October 15, 2012, listed 15 steps to 2016.

These are: 1. Signing of the FAB by both parties; 2. Parties adopt Annex on the Transitional Arrangements and Modalities (the illustrated roadmap does not mention the annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization but they should be on this Step); 3. Transition Commission (TransCom) is formed via Executive Order (EO); 4. Congress passes resolutions supporting the EO; 5. TransCom drafts Bangsamoro Basic Law bill; 6. Bill is submitted to Congress; 7. Bill is certified urgent by the President; 8. Congressional action on the bill; 9. Bill submitted to the President for approval; 10. President signs the bill into law; 11. Plebiscite is held for the ratification of the law; 12. Promulgation and ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law; 13. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is created. ARMM is deemed abolished; all devolved authorities are vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; 14. Ministerial form and Cabinet system of government will commence once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place; and 15. Bangsamoro Transition Authority is replaced upon the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government.

Under the FAB, the parties were supposed to have signed the four Annexes –Wealth-Sharing, Power-Sharing, Normalization and Transitional Arrangements and Modalities – by yearend 2012.

Steps 1, 3 4

Six months after the FAB signing and four months past their deadline to finish the annexes, the GPH and MILF peace panels have signed only one annex — Transitional Arrangements and Modalities; three Terms of Reference — for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP), and the Sajahatra Bangsamoro; and a certificate extending the tours of duty of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team up to March 2014 and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group until February 14, 2014.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews at the end of the talks in Kuala Lumpur on April 11 that they were ready to sign the Annex on Wealth-Sharing, which had been initialled by the GPH-MILF Technical Working Group during the February talks but government, he said, wasn’t ready.

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer acknowledged to MindaNews that the Wealth-Sharing Annex had been “initialed at the TWG level but as agreed, it will be subject to the review of our principals.”

Why the review has taken so long, Ferrer told MindaNews: “it’s really getting the whole picture, it’s the fine-tuning and getting the sum total of all the obligations that will be committed by government.”

Quarter step

The panels have gone through Steps One, Three and Four of the roadmap but only a fourth of Step Two.
Under Step Two, the three Annexes have yet to be finished. The panels agreed last week to meet again after the May 13 elections but “exchange notes” between.

The panels have 11.3 steps more to go: the remaining ¾ of Step Two, before it could move to Step Five where the TransCom begins drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Without the Annexes, the TransCom, created under Executive Order 120, cannot proceed to the substantive issues. At best it can only set up office, come up with internal rules and create committees, said Iqbal, concurrent TransCom chair.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) says otherwise. In its “Frequently Asked Questions” on last week’s talks, it said that while awaiting the finalization of all the annexes, “we believe that the (FAB) can serve as a lift-off point that will allow the (TransCom) its substantive work.”

But Iqbal, who is TransCom chair, told a press conference during the body’s first meeting in Pasig City on April 3 that “we cannot proceed to discuss the substantive issues unless the three remaining annexes will be discussed and signed by the parties.”

A month’s delay is a month taken away

The panels hope to finish the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law by 2014 so that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) can take over from the ARMM hopefully by late 2014 until the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro in May 2016 and their assumption to office by noon of June 30, 2016.

Peace panel members from both sides acknowledge that every month’s delay in the completion of the three Annexes is a month taken away from the Basic Law drafting or viewed from another angle, a month taken away from the BTA.

The TransCom’s work is the backbone of the future Bangsamoro. It is tasked to “draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law;” and whenever necessary, may “recommend to Congress or the people, proposed amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution” and “assist in identifying and coordinating development programs in the proposed Bangsamoro” in conjunction with the MILFs Bangsamoro Development Agency and the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute and “may likewise coordinate with such other relevant government agencies and/or non-government organizations.”

EO 120 added these tasks to the TransCom: “coordinate and conduct dialogues and consultations with the National Government and various stakeholders in furtherance of its functions; and perform such other relevant functions as the President may hereinafter direct.”

The TransCom has yet to decide on a time frame for drafting the law although the panels had earlier targeted 2014 as the completion of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The TransCom, which will hold office in Cotabato City, has not been able to convene again after April 3 as the budget for the office has not been released.

Best-case scenarios

There are only 38.5 months left between April 15, 2013 and June 30, 2016.
In the best case scenario that the Annexes are completed by June 30, 2013, the panels will be left with only 36 months to June 30, 2016.

Granting the TransCom sets and sticks to a timeframe of one year to draft the Basic Law, inclusive of consultations and possible proposed amendments to the Constitution, 36 months less 12 will leave only 24 months.

Once the bill is submitted to Congress (Step 6), the President will then certify the bill as urgent.

MindaNews asked Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez how long it will take for the Comelec to prepare for a plebiscite that would ratify the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the proposed areas of the future Bangsamoro which includes the present five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and he said “best preparatory time would be six months” inclusive of the information campaign.

Take away six months from the remaining 24 months for the plebiscite preparation, and that leaves the two panels only 18 months for congressional action on the draft Basic Law and the transition governance itself.

While the administration party appears confident it will have the numbers in the Senate and the House, the final count will be determined only after the May 13 elections.

But granting it will still have the numbers and the bill on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law is certified as urgent, how soon can it pass?

President Aquino certified as urgent last year House Bill 4146 to synchronize the ARMM elections with the national mid-term polls. The bill was filed on March 23, 2001 and passed on June 6 and 7 that same year in the House of Representatives and Senate. The bill was signed into law on June 30, 2011.

In the best case scenario that the bill on the Bangsamoro Basic Law is acted upon similarly as the synchronization law — three months – then 18 months less three leaves only 15 months for the BTA to install its ministerial form and Cabinet system of government, reorganize the bureaucracy and “ensure the continued functioning of government in the area of autonomy.”

But given that the bill that will be certified as urgent is not as simple as synchronizing an election but a Basic Law of the new autonomous political entity, deliberations in the committee and plenary level may take, again in a best-case scenario, six months. Hence, 18 months less six months would leave only 12 months for the BTA.

More delays

Given that the estimates are based on best-case scenarios, more delays between Steps 5 and 13 mean a transition governance of less than a year, if at all it reaches Step 13.

The MILF had earlier proposed a seven-year transition governance – a year-long pre-interim period and a six-year interim period.

An MILF panel member noted that steps taken by GPH have not been sequential contrary to the roadmap.

The source told MindaNews that it could be government’s strategy to “force the MILF into a trap to further force them into making further concessions.” The source added that “the deliberate delay from GPH is obvious. You can just count the instances that they have caused the delay. This is to force MILF to make further concessions by dangling period or time for BTA. Of course if we hate the MILF, the surest way to kill it is by giving them very limited time to govern and deliver and constraining them with lesser powers and subject them immediately to an election. Definitely, if they cannot deliver, they will be routed in the elections in 2016.”

In her opening statement on April 9 at the KL talks, GPH peace panel chair Ferrer said, “If it would seem that the process is taking more time than what our counterparts might expect, this is because, our President, this government panel, are not the type who will promise the moon, the sun and the stars, only to leave you later in the dark, or to your own resources, when the going gets even tougher.”

Ferrer said their mandate is “to negotiate with you, not on the basis of false promises, rather, to negotiate with you on a solid foundation that would withstand the scrutiny of the skeptics, the misgivings of the unconvinced, the cynicism of the critical, especially among those whose view of past peace negotiations and autonomous regions is less than pleasant.”

But time is fast running out on the peace President Aquino described two months ago as “abot-kamay” (within reach).

On February 11, at the launching of the socio-economic development project, Sajahatra Bangsamoro, at the MILF turf in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, President Aquino said “abot-kamay na po ang bunga ng kapayapaang kay tagal nating inaasam-asam” (The fruits of peace that we have long cherished are now within reach).”

“Heartbreak Hill”

The President likened the stage of the peace process then to the “Heartbreak Hill” of the Boston Marathon.
The President’s family lived in exile in Boston for a couple of years during the Marcos dictatorship.

He said that on the last mile of the marathon, when the runner already sees the finish line, the terrain goes uphill.

But there is no stopping, he said.

“While nearing the peak of ‘Heartbreak Hill’ there will be more intrigues, more difficult process. But our trust for each other will get us through,” the President said.

Ferrer, who quoted what the President said about “Heartbreak Hill” in her closing statement in the KL talks on February 27, said the President repeated “Heartbreak Hill” to them during a “small meeting” after the formal launching” and the President said “that’s where you are now. That’s why it’s so difficult because you have to go through this hill in order to actually complete the marathon.”

Ferrer said she recalls having told Iqbal then that “siguro naman hindi tayo bibigay hangga’t andito tayo, nandito sa Heartbreak Hill. And I remember distinctly his response which was magbibigayan tayo. And I think that’s how we got this far. Hindi tayo bumigay at nagbigayan tayo. In English? We did not give up, but we gave, and that’s how we got this far.”

“So we’re halfway through that heartbreak hill and soon we will finish the marathon. And after the marathon, of course, there will be another marathon. So it’s not goodbye, it’s still hello to everyone,” she said.

Two months later, the panels are still stuck at “Heartbreak Hill.”

It used to be that those who get past “Heartbreak Hill” are certain to reach the finish line.

But last Monday, thousands of  Boston Marathon runners who survived “Heartbreak Hill” didn’t reach the finish line. Two bombs exploded just as it was “abot-kamay.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)