“The basic question is: will the BBL address the basic problems of right to self-determination, poverty and ancestral domain?”
By DEE AYROSO
To begin solving the conflict in Muslim Mindanao, the issue of the right to self-determination must be addressed, basically: the ownership, control and management of the Moro lands and natural resources, and genuine participation of the Moro people in government.
It means giving economic and political power back to the Moro people.
“It is to restore back to the Moros their right to govern themselves, which they lost when they were made part of the Philippines – against their will – in the grant of independence in 1946,” said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its editorial “What a diluted BBL brings to us” in luwaran.net.
But everything now hinges on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which will be the governing law of the Bangsamoro political entity.
For the progressive group Suara Bangsamoro, for the BBL to have any effect, it must carry the genuine interests of the poor and oppressed Philippine Muslims.
The BBL is supposed to contain the essential elements of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (Cab) signed by the Aquino administration and the MILF last year, after 17 years of peace negotiations.
Drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), it was revised by the Office of the President, then submitted to Congress last year for approval. After enactment by Congress and the President, it will be put to a vote in a referendum by voters in its covered areas. It will replace the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“Suara Bangsamoro is very critical about the content of the BBL, if we will base it on House Bill 4494 and Senate Bill 2408,” said Amirah Ali Lidasan, national spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro, in an interview.
The proposed BBL constraints the Bangsamoro political entity to the framework of the Philippine Constitution, as well as to national government policies which had caused the oppression and poverty of Moros, she said.
“Self-determination is the creation of a nation,” said Lidasan.
“The reason that the Moro people waged war is government, not just this administration, but the past administrations that refused to recognize the rights of the Moro. But now they say that this is the government setup, this is what the Constitution says, and it limits us. If everything that the Moro people fought for so many decades boils down to that, the essence of the jihad, the struggle, is lost,” she said.
Lidasan said that although the Bangsamoro government are given exclusive powers and authorities to certain resources, the national government still prevails in major aspects. “There is supposed to be power-sharing and all, but these are offset by other provisions,” she said.
“First, we criticize the sell-out of the national patrimony, because although it provides a 70-30 sharing between the national and Bangsamoro government, a big portion of the national patrimony is still controlled by the national government,” Lidasan said.
She cited Lanao Lake, which, she said, is considered part of the national grid, and thus, cannot be given as Bangsamoro patrimony.
“Of course, this angered the Maranaos, because that hydroelectric power could energize the whole Bangsamoro territory if it is part of the Bangsamoro natural resources,” Lidasan said.
In Article 13, Economy and Patrimony, sec. 8, on Natural Resources, the Bangsamoro government is given the power and authority to declare natural reserves and parks, and can even amend laws, such as the Mining Act of 1995.
“But on the exploration, development and utilization of fossil fuels and uranium, there’s supposed to be sharing, but, the Department of Energy is still there, and the national government is the one to approve exploration permits. Bawi-bawi din ‘yun talaga,” she said.
Lidasan said the development plan for the Bangsamoro is based on the overall development plan of the national government, which pushes liberalized mining and foreign investments.
“If it means Public-Private Partnership, the policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization, then we can still lose our lands. Like what is happening now, public lands are being sold and privatized,” she said.
She cited the proposed privatization of the Agus-Pulangi hydroelectric power plants, which government announced last year.
“If foreign interests will prevail, because they said development is equal to foreign investment, and vice versa, the Moro people will suffer. Let’s say that there will be plantations — and there already are plantations – but the farm workers’ wages don’t even reach minimum level. If the people will face the same thing under a Bangsamoro government, then they will resist, and the government will face a new challenge.”
In Section 4, “Other exclusive powers,” the Bangsamoro government has the exclusive power to “regulate and exercise authority over foreign investments within its jurisdiction.” Still , the national government may still intervene “if national security is involved.”
Lidasan also said the provision on the “preferential rights of bonafide inhabitants” does not actually put the Moro people as priority, and can still lead to displacement and landgrabbing of Moro lands.
“That’s open, as long as you’re a bonafide resident. It’s not exclusive to Moros. Anybody, even Tingting Cojuanguco, who owns a house in our neighbourhood, will be allowed. Anybody can invest,” she said.
Even the Bangsamoro parliament does not ensure participation of the majority, but gives “privilege for the ruling elite,” said Lidasan.
“The BBL makes such nice promises for its parliament, that it will be of political parties instead of individuals. But it only allows regional parties. Even the partylist system has been distorted, because those who have the capacity to form parties are the ruling elite,” she said. “It’s still not levelled.”
Lidasan criticized how the Bangsamoro government has no choice but to follow onerous agreements, in accordance with Section 8 of the General principles and policies, which says: “The Bangsamoro government shall respect and adhere to all international treaties and agreement binding upon the Central government.”
“We are tied to Edca, to VFA and other agreements that are resisted by Moros. What kind of right is that, when you’re already tied down?” Lidasan said.
Edca, or the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and the VFA or Visiting Forces Agreement have been criticized by progressive groups as a violation of national sovereignty as these allow the entry and basing of US military troops, weapons and vehicles.
“We worry about the normalization,” Lidasan said. The government and the MILF peace panels have agreed on the normalization protocols, which involve the decommissioning, demobilization of weapons and reintegration of the MILF forces.
“The MILF will be surrendering their weapons, but the private armies, the civilian volunteer organizations are still armed to the teeth,” she said.
Even before the Mamasapano clash, many civilian Moros, including unarmed MILF commanders are getting killed by suspected state forces, but these are attributed to “rido” or clan wars, Lidasan said.
Suara Bangsamoro said that although the Bangsamoro will have its own police, the national government can still send in the Armed Forces of the Philippines on a matter of national security.
“The Moro people are antagonized by this, because of the human rights violations. They don’t want to be still under the AFP control,” Lidasan said.
In the wake of the Mamasapano fiasco, which fuelled Islamophobia, many lawmakers wanted the BBL watered down, if not totally scrapped, because they argued that it violates the Constitution.
On the other hand, since last year, the MILF leadership had stated that an amendment in the Constitution is required for the BBL to be realized.
“We respect the Philippine Constitution, but it is too shallow and limited to fully address this problem,” said the MILF.
In the editorial “Moro question is political “posted July 8, 2014 in the MILF website luwaran.net, they said:
“This is the reason that up to now the MILF is firm on its conviction that the current Constitution would require an amendment to finally put to rest the conflict in Mindanao. But the government side is equally firm on their stand that this Constitution has the flexibilities to accommodate and implement legally the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”
Now, amidst calls to amend and even scrap the BBL, the MILF said in luwaran.net’s editorial, “What a diluted BBL brings to us:”
“This grant of genuine autonomy is already a compromised solution. It is below independence and above integration as previously pushed by government. It is an improvement of the administrative region arrangement in what is in the ARMM now, which had been rejected by the MILF.”
ARMM in the making?
Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan said that at the onset of the hearings, the chairman of the Ad hoc Committee on the BBL, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez started out saying that it “will be passed” as it was presented. But after the Mamasapano clash, Rodriguez and other lawmakers began “to see provisions that are questionable and unconstitutional.”
Ilagan cited that among the provisions that the committee members wanted removed was the formation of the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission under Article 9, section 7. She said this is an important body, but other lawmakers found it against the Constitution.
“If it will be passed, it will be a mutilated BBL,” she said. “The Bangsamoro cannot have its own auditing process, because under the law, it’s only the national Commission on Audit and the national Civil service that’s allowed.”
“With all the dilution, the BBL is shaping to become the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) law, it will be the same as ARMM,” said Ilagan. From the committee level, the BBL will take its final form upon approval of the plenary.
“The basic question is: will the BBL address the basic problems of right to self-determination, poverty and ancestral domain?” Ilagan said.
“As a member, we can still propose amendments that will strengthen the BBL. We can go to the real direction of providing the real answer, the real response to the problem, that land should be in the hands of the poor majority. It’s the reason why there is the feudal system, because land is controlled by the few elite,” she said.
“If the resources are not properly distributed, the problem remains. We want the resources to really benefit the people,” said Ilagan.
Suara Bangsamoro said “the future is worrisome” if the ARMM experience is repeated.
Lidasan shared lessons from the peace agreement between the Aceh people and Indonesian government: “They were able to resolve their conflict with Indonesia, but when the new government took power, the women were first to speak out. The women who were part of the struggle resisted because they said that there were provisions inserted that were not part of the unity. It has to do with the interpretation of the Shari’ah, which the Aceh government leaned on the strict side. Women were not allowed to go out without a companion.”
So many women who were part of the social movement questioned why they were being repressed, she said.
“Let’s hope that the BBL will not create another layer of suppression, oppression,” she said.
“Will there be no more national oppression, if government will only be copied from the national to the Bangsamoro? Whoever will lead the new bangsamoro government will face the conflict between the privileged Moro and the underprivileged Moro,” Lidasan said.