SPECIAL REPORT: Who’s afraid of a Bangsamoro sub-state? [Part 5]

Part 5: Doing business in a “Bangsamoro sub-state”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 April) –  “We are a national franchisee operator for our trucks. In other words, we are franchised to operate anywhere in the Philippines. Our trucks operate from Luzon to Mindanao.What happens to our franchise when there is the Bangsamoro area … how will a grant of national franchise affect our operations?,” Gabriel Atega, vice-president of Ansuico Incorporated, asked the peace panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair, replied that the Philippine government and the MILF agreed on July 29, 2009 to reframe the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD)  of 2008 following the Supreme Court’s decision declaring it unconstitutional, “and the answer to your question specifically refers to that section which is reframed in the present draft of the MILF which states that franchises granted by the government shall be respected by the future Bangsamoro juridical entity. But if the franchise expires, then it will be subject to guidelines in accordance with the basic law of the Bangsamoro subs-state.”

MILF senior panel member Datu Michael Mastura stressed trading in the Bangsamoro sub-state would be “borderless.”

“There is no restraint.. That’s why, again, we are reformist to the Philippine government.  Bakit wala tayong ganon na mga patakaran? There is monopoly. Kasi ang answer dyan, walang anti-trust. May monopoly. Bakit walang anti-trust?. Because the chairman of the committee in the Senate has vested interest. (Former Senator Manuel) Roxas was there for a long, long time. Manny Viallar… And they’re protecting their monopoly of franchise or business…”

Even the flour industry is monopolized, he said. “When Turkey came to the peace process, they brought in supply for flour and may bumara. Bakit? Kasi di makastand ng competition and therefore we need also this anti-trust and in the case of the utilities sector, don’t worry because borderless. There will be no restraint in intra-trade or services and flow of goods. Ngayon may monopoly on transportation. I can go on and on but I may sound griping.”

He said the MILF panel “would like to offer more, and if you feel uncomfortable, as Chairman Iqbal said, you  tell us. If you want to stick to the unitary set-up and tolerate according to our good friend Vic (Lao, chair of the Mindanao Business Council), Imperial Manila, kami gusto naming maghiwalay sa ganyan na mga  patakaran.”

Atega later suggested “if the (draft) can include provision on interstate commerce that will clarify operations of business.  I would be happy to see a provision on interstate commerce.”

Atega was referred to a section in the MILF’s working draft that states “there shall be no legal impediment to interstate commerce or the flow of goods and services, capital, or labor between the Bangsamoro State and the other regions.”

Lao said “the aspirations of the business sector in Mindanao have always been to try to see, if we can carve out some degree of independence from Imperial Manila.”

He acknowledged the difficulties caused by a highly-centralized government where regulations are controlled by Manila.

“Maybe this will be a good opportunity for us to hitch a ride on this initiative which the MILF is doing because this might be a shortcut way for us. Maybe if you will ask for a federal agreement, they will not give it to you, but if you say, okay, I have read the autonomous region’s law and it’s a beautiful law. The problem is there is no financial independence in that law because Malacanang still holds on to the purse. So maybe on the basis of that, if we can, let’s open our mind and look at that provision, If we can adopt that and make those provisions adaptable to the whole of Mindanao, then that would be good for all, for everybody in Mindanao whether you’re a Christian, an IP or a Muslim because we will be able to achieve what we have been trying very hard to get, now through the efforts of the MILF, the central government might give it to us. So let’s keep an open mind and look at the discussion because it might be a way out of that quagmire which we are in for so many years and we are having a hard time getting out of it,” Lao said.

At the start of the consultation, Manuel Orig, Vice President for Mindanao of Aboitiz Power, said he was “very appreciative of efforts taken by the MILF to conduct peace dialogue with the  business sector,” because “if there is any factor that affects growth of business, certainly it is the absence or lack of peace.”

“I am not going to discuss on the merits of the specific proposals but we are especially appreciative of the process” because “you are giving everyone the opportunity to express views and concerns.”

Orig wanted to know “what process will be adopted or considered in deciding which inputs will be taken into account. Will you submit to the people for ratification?”

Jonallier Perez, director and corporate study of the Mindanao Tourism Council said they have “no specific stand yet on the matter” but said this is his “first time to read in full this working draft and I am very happy. It’s very comprehensive and I salute the MILF for conducting this dialogue” with the business sector and with the bishops a day earlier.

Perez asked the most number of questions:

First, “how will this working draft respond to dismantling of armed groups and lost command forces and even clan-based warlordism which is very pronounced … in areas under that proposed Bangsamoro jurisdiction?”

Second, “how are the Lumads (indigenous peoples) being consulted on this one?”

Third, “how will this working  draft respond to … national laws on  property, inheritance, family, sales, contract?”

“I have not seen a very specific (provision in the working draft),  probably in the basic law someday, but I have seen only a generic reference on these in the working draft,” he said.

Perez also asked the panel about the “approach on constitutional amendment.”

Stephen Antig, Executive Director of the Philipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association who teaches strategic management in one of the local universities, said: “my concern is, it’s good if the present leadership will be around all the time but what if they’re gone? What’s next?”  [Last part tomorrow: Will conflict take a backseat?] (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)