Bangsamoro in federal system: not template but more of exception

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 17 January) —  The future Bangsamoro state cannot be the template when the country shifts to a federal system of government because “that is more exception than the rule” but it can be treated asymmetrically, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno said at hearing Wednesday of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

“Perhaps if we had accommodated them (Moro people), we would not have had Marawi,” Puno said as he stressed the need to “accommodate their diversity and you can only do that in a federal system.”

“This problem is a ticking bomb.  If we are not able to solve this problem immediately….” Puno said, adding the shift to federalism will “help prevent the secession of our Muslim brothers” and avoid having “more and more Marawi situations.”

The five-month Marawi Siege started on May 23 last year. President Rodrigo  Duterte declared martial law in the entire Mindanao evening of May 23.

Duterte, who had said during his Presidential campaign that he would push for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and make the Bangsamoro a template for federalism, has repeatedly said nothing short of federalism could address the Moro Question.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte receives a copy of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) from Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chair Ghazali Jaafar in a turnover ceremony at the Rizal Hall in Malacañan Palace on July 17, 2017. Also in the photo are (from left) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Government of the Philippines Implementing Peace Panel Chair Irene Santiago. King Rodriguez/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

But he also pushed for the passage of the BBL ahead of the shift to federalism.  He told MindaNews last Friday that the Bangsamoro law should be passed first because “pagka i-amend mo ang Constitution, wala na yan. Wala ka nang barahang ibigay for Mindanao. Mahirapan kang lumusot” (once you amend the Constitution, that’s a goner. You won’t have a card left for Mindanao. It will be difficult to push for its passage).

Lawyer Antonio La Vina, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and a member the government peace panel that negotiated with the MILF in the last months of the Arroyo administration said “you can’t have a good BBL under the 1987 Constitution.”

“You can get something but not enough,” he said.

In accordance with the October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014,  the Aquino administration created a 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to craft the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but Congress adjourned without passing the law.

President Duterte in November 2016 expanded the composition of the BTC from 15 to 21. The expanded BTC, composed of 11 members nominated by the MILF and 10 by the government, submitted its draft BBL on July 17 last year to President Duterte in Malacanang, in the presence of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. It took a month for the Office of the President to transmit the same to the two houses of Congress and in Congress, the House filed the BTC draft into a bill in late September while the Senate filed the BTC version only this week.

Committee hearings on the proposed measure started only in December last year.

At the start of 2018, Congress was deliberating on six versions of a Bangsamoro law: four in the House including the BTC draft, and two in the Senate, which did not include the BTC draft. Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri withdrew the bill he filed in December and filed the BTC draft only this week after the BTC declined to attend its scheduled hearing, noting that the BTC draft was not on the agenda.

In a press statement on Wednesday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the President reiterated he would push for the passage of the BBL ahead of the shift to federalism and “will even go to the extent of resorting to an executive issuance to hasten it or if Congress itself fails to approve it.”

“Stressing that he can use the inherent powers of the Presidency,” Dureza said Duterte told leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim late Monday afternoon here that he is “ready to carve out through an executive order the area for the Bangsamoro for their self rule.” (Read: Dureza says Duterte “ready to carve out area for Bangsamoro self rule” via EO)

Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel noted that he received a text message from a Moro friend that there was no Moro representation at the Senate Committee hearing.

“In matters that affect their lives, they seem to be excluded,” he said.

Datu Michael Mastura, who has been pushing for federalism while a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, told MindaNews, “Trouble sa Senate hearing is no Moro voice is heard. As if experts are the monopoly of brains of Christians!”  He said he used “Christians” to refer to “the majority or dominant voice.”

Mastura was a senior member of the MILF peace panel that negotiated the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Pimentel recalled that he was one of the authors of RA 6734, the Organic Act creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and its amended version. He said they went around for consultations with the Moro people but  inspite of that consultations,  there were still several complaints after their passage.

“Even with the adoption of the ARMM, you still have the ongoing problem there in Marawi,” he said.

Pimentel added that in his conversations with rebel leaders, imams and academics, “to the last man or woman there, their stand is that unless you adopt the federal system where they can enjoy a federal state they can call their own, their own culture and tradition are fully respected, we will never have peace in our country.”

Pimentel’s proposed federal structure is 12 states, including the Federal State of the Bangsamoro which will have two autonomous regions for mainland Moro (Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur) and offshore Moro (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi).

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday presented its proposal for a five-state Federal Republic of the Philippines composed of the states of Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, Metro Manila and Bangsamoro.

“If we adopt a federal system for the Muslims in that federal state, their culture and tradition must be fully respected which means the most determinant factor would be adoption of the Shariah as the operating principle not only of political but also of spiritual life of the Muslim people in the federal state,” Pimentel said.  But quickly added it will apply only if both offenders are Muslims.

He said this will be subject to modifications and practices against cruel and unusual punishment and litigation between Moro and non-Moro will be under the national law. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)