Murad: Senate version “clearly violated the peace agreement” but “will wait until the final process”

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 30 August) –House Bill 5811, the substitute bill to the GPH-MILF draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has been criticized by various sectors, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for allegedly envisioning a Bangsamoro that is “less than the ARMM” (Autonomous Region in Muslim) that it seeks to replace. But MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said the Senate version, SB 2894, is a “clearly violated the peace agreement” because it will reduce the future Bangsamoro into the level of a province.

“It clearly violated the peace agreement… more than the House version because basically, it is not an autonomy at all. It is a local government unit similar to the province. Murad told MindaNews at the conference room of the Central Committee Convention Hall on August 25 (see Q and A)

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim discusses scenarios on the passage or non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim discusses scenarios on the passage or non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

“Let’s say a complete violation of the agreement itself because the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) is intended to provide an autonomous government for the Bangsamoro (but) this is not an autonomous government,” he said.

The 1987 Constitution, under Article X, Section 15 envisions an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras “consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”

He said they had brought up these concerns with President Aquino and are still hoping that a BBL “compliant with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB)” can still be passed this month “so we will wait until the final process.”

Murad had earlier cited three scenarios – the first on the passage of a BBL that adheres to the FAB/CAB; the second, that no BBL is passed under the Aquino administration; and the third a BBL is passed but not compliant with the FAB/CAB.

HB 5811 and SB 2894, both titled “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” have been criticized by various sectors as providing for an autonomous region that is “less than the ARMM that it seeks to replace.”

Proponents and supporters of the House and Senate versions, argue that HB 5811 and SB 2894 ensure that the provisions do not violate the 1987 Constitution.

But critics of the House and Senate versions say providing an autonomous region less than the ARMM would also violate the Constitution’s mandate on the autonomous regions.

Mandate from Constitution

At the Dialogue on the House and Senate bills on the BBL initiated by the Institute of Autonomy and Governance at the Dusit Thani hotel in Makati City on August 20, Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna, a member of the 1986 Constitution Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, and one of the authors of the provision on the creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras, clarified that the creation of an autonomous region is “not a grant from Congress to the autonomous region (but) a mandate by the Constitution.”

Power granted to the autonomous region, he said, “does not come from Congress. It does not come from the national government. It comes from the Constitution.”

It is up to Congress to provide for framework of legislation, Azcuna said, “but Congress has no choice but to grant or recognize the grant of powers given under the Constitution to the autonomous regions.”

“That is very important because it does not come from Imperial Manila, because the Constitution is the Constitution of the entire nation… it is the entire Philippines that is the author of the Constitution and the powers and the creation of the autonomous regions come from the Constitution,” he said.

Azcuna recalled that during a Senate hearing, one of those who opposed the BBL said, “imagine under this proposal, education will be given to the autonomous region?”

“Excuse me,” Azcuna said, “the Constitution says so! It’s already there in the listed powers of the autonomous region. The autonomous region shall have the power over education.”

He urged the public to “start with the Constitution,” for the powers of the autonomous region listed there, adding “this is a chance for peace.”

“I come from Mindanao. I know what it is s to suffer absence of peace,” Azcuna said.

He noted that the Department of Justice’s motto means “Peace is the product of justice.”

“There must be justice first before we can have peace.. This mandate to create an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao is a matter of justice,” Azcuna said, explaining that they provided for this in the Constitution because “we wanted to right an injustice that had been long fostering in our country, the injustice to the Muslims in our country.”

“We wanted them to be able to shape their own future here within the country. Self-determination, yes, within the context of a single nation, single state, not secession. There’s nothing wrong with self-determination consistent with the Constitution. So that is the basis: justice and with that, development.”

Fine balance

In the same Dialogue, Titon Mitra, Country Director of the United Nations Development Prograame (UNDP) noted how the Philippine Constitution empowers a unitary state “to provide for the rights, freedom and prosperity for all of the country’s citizens” but at the same time, “holds out the promise of meaningful autonomy for Muslim Mindanao and for the Cordilleras.”

Mitra said there are “many unitary as well as federal systems in the world that have autonomous regions, including the United Kingdom, Spain, the Russian Federation, India, and Indonesia” and that in all these systems, “a fine balance has been found between the prerogative of the national state to protect its territory and provide for all its peoples on the one hand, and the aspirations of a people with a distinct history and identity to meaningful autonomy on the other.”

“It is perhaps worth reflecting the Philippines is where it is now because of the commitment of both panels working long and hard to find a way to lasting peace, because of trust that has been developed over time, because of expectations from those that have been under arms that there will be an alternative for them and future generations.”

The Philippines, he added, “is at a pivotal moment and from the perspective of UNDP, we hope that the pivot is in the direction of lasting peace and not further decades of conflict.”

Benedikt Seeman, Country Representative of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, spoke of his observations that Filipinos are “scared … of the peace process and of the BBL and of what that might mean for an autonomous region…”

Be not afraid

“People are scared because recently I’ve been reading, and people were saying ‘Oh my God, the BBL is a Constitution. See, they’re trying to build another state.’ But be not afraid. California has a Constitution. New South Wales has a Constitution. The German state of Bavaria has a Constitution. Even the European Union tried to well, have a constitution for itself. And still those people and those entities I am talking about are not separatists, they’re not a danger to their respective countries or administrations.”

Seeman pointed out that the BBL “is also a reflection of a distinct regional identity as a people.”

“The Bangsamoro or BAR (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) is not an LGU. The Bangsamoro is not a separate state. Is it something in between? Technically speaking, maybe yes. But we must not forget that what we are looking at is the establishment or an improved establishment of an autonomous region, not a separate state, not a threat. It must be more than the ARMM and it must be less than a State and that is how autonomy can work and that is how autonomy will work.”

On questions of Constitutionality, Seeman said, “Yes of course, any BBL version has to be aligned with the national Constitution. But let’s not forget that first and foremost that same national Constitution actually demands the (establishment of) autonomous region not only in the Bangsamoro but also in the Cordillera.”

The MILF had earlier dropped its bid for independence and opted for an autonomy that MILF peace panel chair and Bangsamoro Transition Commission chair Mohagher Iqbal described as “less than independence but more than ARMM.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)