Prop up the ARMM, water down the BBL

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

The title sums up what could be a devious game plan for the Aquino government as it seeks a conclusion to its peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The negotiations have produced a Framework Agreement and a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro as the basis for creating a new political entity to replace the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.

The objective of the Aquino administration seems to be this: to ensure that the MILF will not, and cannot, control the new political entity (the Bangsamoro); or, to retain control over the ARMM anyway if the Bangsamoro project is aborted.

In 2011, P-Noy took the first step to control the ARMM by postponing the scheduled elections and appointing his political ally, Mujiv Hataman, as acting governor. Using DAP (disbursement acceleration program) funds, Malacanang ensured Hataman’s subsequent election as governor, along with his team, in 2013. As incumbents, P-Noy’s allies are set to challenge the MILF should there be Bangsamoro elections in 2016.

On the Bangsamoro project, this is how the plan has played out so far.

The signing of the CAB in Malacañang on March 27 raised the following expectations:

• The CAB would provide the essential elements of a charter that would, after enactment by Congress this year and ratification in a plebiscite in early 2015, install the Bangsamoro to replace the ARMM, which P-Noy has derided as a “failed experiment.”
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• The MILF would be given one year to administer the Bangsamoro through a Transition Authority. In 2016, elections would be held for the regular government.

To realize these expectations, a 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission appointed by P-Noy drafted the charter, titled the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and last April 22 submitted it to him purportedly for his certification to Congress as an urgent legislation.

At this point the developments took a sharp turn.

P-Noy didn’t certify the bill to Congress. Instead, it was returned to the MILF two months after — with 298 revisions and comments.

Promptly the MILF rejected the revisions, saying they “heavily diluted” the BTC draft and deviated from the CAB. If enacted by Congress, it added, the Malacañang version would be worse than RA 9054 which created the ARMM.

After meeting in Malaysia and in Manila, the GPH and MILF panels failed to produce a mutually acceptable draft BBL that P-Noy could present in his fifth state-of-the-nation address on July 28.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, also the BTC chair, blamed the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process, which had overseen the peace negotiations for the government, for having led the BBL review. Describing the Palace review as a “conservative interpretation” of the Constitution, he lamented: “You cannot find the flexibility of the Constitution in their interpretation…”

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government chief negotiator, defended the OP revisions. She argued that to get the BBL passed in Congress, it “must fall within the parameters of the Constitution.”

Here’s the root of the problem: The MILF avers that it agreed to forgo political independence and opted for autonomy upon the Aquino administration’s explicit promise that it would not impose the Constitution as the framework for the peace talks.

Thus, throughout the negotiations on the framework and the comprehensive agreements no reference was made to the Constitution. However, the authorization given to the transition commission in drafting the BBL includes this: whenever necessary, it can recommend constitutional amendments.

Apparently the BTC-crafted BBL includes provisions requiring constitutional changes, which Malacañang has rejected.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI, who had assisted the government peace panel under a past administration, has taken the view that P-Noy must accede to constitutional amendments if he is to fulfill his administration’s commitments under the two agreements.

In an article published in another newspaper, Fr. Mercado categorically stated:

“There are no ifs and buts, (P-Noy) has to face the challenge of constitutional amendments… (otherwise) there can be no acceptable Bangsamoro basic law… A ‘diluted’ basic law would simply repeat the previous legal arrangement akin to the creation of the ARMM but with no real substance being added to the package except for the new brand name — Bangsamoro.”

Fr. Mercado also criticized P-Noy’s having “poured billions into the ARMM, beginning with the P8.5 billion dubbed as the ARMM Stimulus Fund as early as 2011,” and doubled the ARMM annual budgetary allocation “from a little over P10 billion in 2010 to more than P20 billion in 2014.”

Yes! That P8.589 B came from the DAP which last July 1 the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional. A DBM Oct. 12, 2011 press release, posted on the OP website, said that the DAP fund would finance a “Comprehensive Peace and Development Intervention package” (a counterinsurgency plan). A June 30, 2014 ARMM status report, however, refers to the program as the “Transition Investment Support Plan for ARMM.”

Whatever the name, Fr. Mercado is asking what happened to the P8.589 B and the hiked ARMM budget. “Why is there very little impact on the actual development of the ARMM, with practically no impact on the poverty and unemployment rates, much less on the actual delivery of basic services…?”

Should we be surprised that the funds were used basically for partisan political interest?

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Published at The Philippine Star
July 26, 2014

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