“Those who would reject it will continue the struggle. The tragedy here is we are repeating history.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Experts on Islamic studies and peace advocates fear Congress would pass a law that will fail to end the armed conflict in Mindanao.
In a roundtable discussion, April 22, Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr. said the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will come out of Congress will be “constitutionally compliant” and far from what has been originally proposed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Mercado, who has long been involved in the peace talks in Mindanao, explained that the BBL in Congress is already the third draft. He said 30 percent of the current BBL may be deemed unconstitutional and Congress is poised to remove those provisions.
Mercado said some in the MILF would accept it and the others would not. “Those who would reject it will continue the struggle. The tragedy here is we are repeating history.”
Mercado said the Mamasapano tragedy exposed the “perceived incompetence, inexperience and amateurism of the Philippine government negotiators, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the President himself.”
“Any BBL will do? Do they know what they are talking about?” Mercado asked, referring to Malacañang’s recent statement that President Benigno Aquino III will accept any version of the BBL.
The so-called multisectoral Peace Council, according to Mercado, will not only “deodorize but also camouflage the struggle of the Bangsamoro.”
Mecado said the BBL should be better than Republic Act No. 9054 or the Act To Strengthen the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). “It should be better, even one inch or one millimeter or one foot better.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate agrees with Mercado. He said the BBL is “supposedly an enhancement of the organic act” but it offers nothing new other than sharing of resources.
“If members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission would look at the final outcome of the BBL, they would no longer recognize the draft they submitted to Congress,” Zarate said.
Mercado said the 1987 Philippine Constitution should be amended in order to have enduring peace in Mindanao. He explained that under the present Constitution, powers are reserved to central government. He said the principle of subsidiarity — that competent political authority belongs to the region — should be upheld.
Amirah Lidasan, president of the partylist group Suara Bangsamoro, recalled how the Aquino administration boasted of “out-of-the-box” approach to peace. “They said they will not talk about the Constitution and we will not talk about secession.”
Now, the BBL is being revised to comply with the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which Lidasan described as “discriminatory against the Moro people.”
“The essence of our right to self-determination is already destroyed because they dictate how you rule, how you govern your territory,” Lidasan said.
For Julkipli Wadi, dean of University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies, the BBL is yet another political experiment just as the ARMM is branded as a failed political experiment.
He said the ARMM is controlled by traditional politicians and it is likely that the Bangsamoro political entity would also be ruled by traditional politicians close to Malacanang.
“We could not move on,” Wadi said. “For 117 years, Mindanao and Sulu have been subjected to a series of political experiments.”
Mercado said that for the Aquino government, if you are for BBL, you are for peace; if you are against the BBL, you are not for peace. “The struggle of the Bangsamoro has been reduced in a myopic paradigm that is BBL.”
In the same vein, Wadi criticized the Aquino administration for the absence of strategic engagement with all Moro groups. He cited how the Aquino administration never pursued talks with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which resulted in standoff in Zamboanga in 2014.
Rey Claro Casambre, executive director of the Philippine Peace Center, said the Aquino administration does not want peace but pacification. “The Aquino administration wants the MILF to enter into an agreement which will not give them their right to self-determination.”
In a separate statement emailed to media by multi-sectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), its secretary general, Renato Reyes, Jr., said, “President Aquino gave the MILF the assurance that the reactionary institutions like Congress, the judiciary and the entrenched political elites would easily grant the Bangsamoro the kind of autonomy they wanted. What is clear now, however, is that the BBL is fast turning into a tool for the pacification of the Moro people’s struggle,” he said.
Mercado concluded: “Definitely, the struggle of the Bangsamoro is much bigger than the BBL. It is even much bigger than the peace process.”