SPECIAL REPORT (1): Who’s afraid of a Bangsamoro sub-state? (Questions the Bishops and Business execs asked of the MILF peace panel)

ILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal is flank by Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga (left) and Datu Michael Mastura (right), during their meeting with the members of the Bishops-Ulama Conference in Davao City on Wednesday. Mindanews Photo by Gigie Bueno
(Questions the Bishops and Business execs asked of the MILF peace panel)

Part 1

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 April) –  What is this “Bangsamoro sub-state” the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is proposing? What is its composition? Who will lead it? What happens to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao? Are you speaking for the entire Bangsamoro people? What about the Moro National Liberation Front?  What about the practice of religion? What happens to our national franchise in a “Bangsamoro sub-state”? How do you deal with constitutional issues?

These are but a few of the questions asked of  the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel by Mindanao’s Catholic bishops and Mindanao’s business executives during consultations held separately on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We in the MILF are not afraid of ideas related to the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao. We are willing to debate ideas, even those hurting ones,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said in his opening remarks in the dialogue with bishops.

He said they came to this city to “reach out to you and explain the side of the MILF on the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao” and they want the bishops to examine the draft peace pact “very closely” to see “whether our proposal signals the demise of other groups, or whether it is framed on extremism that defies logic and moderation; or it is a menu that honestly prescribes living and letting others live in peace, love and harmony.”

“Other groups” refers to religious groups or the business sector, for example.

With Iqbal in the MILF peace panel were senior panel member Datu Michael Mastura, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, and B’laan Datu Antonio Kinoc, alternate panel member.

Contents of draft pact

Lingga, who was tasked to present the “salient features of  the MNLF Final Working Draft on Comprehensive Compact” listed 20 articles in five parts: Principles and Transitions; The Bangsamoro Structure of Governance; Bangsamoro Basic Law; Wealth Sharing and Land Ownership; and Implementing Period.

He said the draft compact is a “formula of peace through the exhaustion of all democratic remedies to solve a home-grown sovereignty based conflict;” a formula “that perfectly blends modern day democratic principle that sovereignty resides in the people and the ingredients of Islamic principles of shura (consultation);” and that it is a proposal “to correct and solve the one-sidedness or imbalance of totality of relationship between Filipinos and Moros.”

Lingga clarified that the draft compact provides for an “asymmetrical state  sub-state relationship” that “balances the issues of state’s sovereignty and people’s right to self-determination.”

The draft compact also gives “modest recognition to the Moro aspiration for a separate national identity as Bangsamoro, while retaining their Filipino citizenship.”

Mastura would simplify this before the business sector on Thursday, by saying, “we are not asking for parity rights. We are asking for parity of esteem,” Mastura said, adding, “we are no longer talking Bangsamoro Juridical Entity or BJE. In other words, very nebulous, very generic. We are now saying Bangsamoro State. We are asking for a Bangsamoro State,  not a separate state but a sub-state. It can be like Queensland of Australia, it can be like that of Massachusetts, or it can be like Kelantan or Sabah or Sarawak in Malaysia, in a federation. But since you do not like, the rest of the country does not like federal – we go for associative and therefore it will be an asymmetrical relationship.”

On wealth-sharing and land ownership, Lingga said the draft compact allows the Moro to “have a modest share and taste of the remaining lands, wealth and resources of what used to be 98% at the end of the last century” but also ensures that “vested and proprietary rights will be respected.”

“If you have land which you own, this will be respected. There will be no confiscatory element here,” Lingga assured.

“We are not claiming the whole of Mindanao,” he said. “Gamay ra gyud na dili gyud na dako – ang kadakuan man sa inyo,” (that’s really small, that’s not big. You have the big part), he said as he pointed to a map of Mindanao where the proposed areas of the Bangsamoro state are shaded.

He explained there would be a transition period of around six years before a regular election will be held.

The draft compact, Lingga concluded, is a “win-win formula that benefits not only the Moros and the indigenous peoples but also the Filipinos and the government in Manila. The dividends of peace and the lack of war itself will reach every home not only in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao but Mindanao as a whole and the Philippines in general.”

Iqbal said the MILF is “not interested in any position in government if ever there is a signing (of a peace agreement).”
But Lingga said the MILF will lead the administration of the six-year transition period until the holding of the elections for the regular Bangsamoro sub-state.

“The general election is free for everybody. If the MNLF wants to lead, they can run, or any Moro, any resident of the state. The regular government is for everybody. What is envisioned is it will be the MILF that will lead in the transition” because it negotiated the agreement.

After the signing  of the peace agreement in 1996, the MNLF led the transition period. (Tomorrow: MNLF, MILF, ARMM)