How to water down an already watered-down Bangsamoro Basic Law

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

Malacañang’s damage-control measures for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) after the Mamasapano fiasco is going full throttle. No less than President Benigno S. C. Aquino has applied carrot-and-stick pressure tactics on his congressional allies. This has resulted in the passage of the latest Malacañang-stamped version by the House ad hoc committee by a vote of 50 to 17. The railroading in the lower house is nothing new. We’ve seen this before during the impeachment hearings against Mr. Aquino and the investigation into the Mamasapano incident. Not even a modicum of serious discussion and debate transpired and herd voting (likely fed by hefty doses of Malacañang largesse) was again the norm.

The Senate is turning out to be a bit more difficult, what with feisty Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s committee report, already signed by at least six of her colleagues, holding fast to the conclusion that the BBL is unconstitutional, requiring no less than Charter amendments.

“Civil society” endorsements were put into high gear with the creation by Mr. Aquino of a supposedly “independent” National Peace Council top heavy with representatives from big business, the Catholic Church hierarchy, legal experts, and assorted NGOs. The pro-BBL chant is that it is pro-peace, pro-development and pro-social justice.

Now the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is being hailed as law abiding (proof is its having killed wanted “terrorist” Basit Usman, although the military earlier disputed the claim), business friendly (photo ops with top honchos of the local corporate world), respectful and submissive to Congress, and all but pacified after the crescendo of anti-MILF commentaries from many quarters.

Thus the battle to pass the BBL has shaped up to be mainly between the Malacañang-led proponents on one hand and the anti-Moro opposition on the other. What these two groups have in common is that both are driven by strategic vested interests (which have nothing to do with the Bangsamoro’s aspirations for the right to self-determination) and narrow immediate interests more related to winning in the 2016 elections than to putting an end to the armed conflict.

Which ever side prevails, the BBL will be a far cry from what the Bangsamoro Transition Commission drafted and submitted to Malacañang for approval. More so with what the MILF had fought tooth and nail for before it settled for the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

The most formidable legal obstacle to the BBL’s passage comes from the view that many key provisions of the original draft bill submitted to Congress are inconsistent with, contrary to, or even undermine the Philippine Charter.

This should not come as a surprise. All revolutionary movements of the Bangsamoro, from the Moro National Liberation Front to the MILF, challenge and are inherently an affront to the status quo as reflected in the Philippine Constitution. In fact, the MILF split from the MNLF when the 1976 Tripoli Agreement under the Marcos regime clearly subsumed the government-MNLF peace process and the agreement itself to the Philippine republic’s legal framework as well as legal and political processes. This fatal flaw, as pointed out by the late MILF founding chair Hashim Salamat, was then affirmed and sealed in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF under the Ramos regime.

The MILF had been persistently batting for Charter amendments to reflect the key provisions in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain negotiated with the Arroyo government, and later the FAB and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro under the current administration. These are on ancestral domain (later denoted simply as territory); on self-governance (not only within the confines of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM autonomy, ergo the use of such terms as “substate,” “associative relationship” and “asymmetry”); on control of the use of natural resources; and on control over government instrumentalities such as the Commission on Elections and police deemed crucial in reforming, if not overhauling, the extremely depraved political setup in the ARMM.

Too bad that at some point and with heaps of “expert advise” from the US government’s Institute of Peace and the cajoling if not deceptive assurances of the government, the MILF gave in and no longer pressed the issue. What has come to pass is that the objections based on constitutionality have been the leverage used to water down an already watered-down BBL.

The ad hoc committee BBL draft is essentially a rehash of the ARMM law. The ARMM, admitted by no less than Mr. Aquino to be a “failed experiment,” has now reemerged as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR), touted as a “bigger and better” ARMM. For example, BBL proponents point to an “opt in” proviso: aside from the provinces and cities listed as covered by the plebiscite, the political exercise could also cover all other contiguous cities and provinces where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10% of the registered voters asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to ratification. But this can only take place on the fifth and 10th year after its enactment. Moreover, the core territory of the ARMM will have to undergo a plebiscite once more to ratify inclusion in the BAR.

A higher share of revenues from natural resources for the BAR was wangled into the BBL, and there is assurance of a bigger share in the national coffers through a “block grant.” The ad hoc committee draft, however, takes away the autonomous government’s right to contract and receive grants and donations from foreign governments, as these would require national government concurrence. There is also the novelty of a parliamentary form of government that is touted to be more representative and ergo democratic, but such a form is also more easily controlled and manipulated by long-entrenched political dynasties in Muslim Mindanao.

With the strong anti-Moro prejudices, distrust and chauvinist bias unabashedly displayed, and with arguments from both pro- and anti-BBL camps, it is difficult to imagine how the BBL could still be a product of an intelligent discourse on how a just and lasting peace can be achieved for the Bangsamoro and the entire country.

But more important, the prevailing anti-Moro sentiments and deep-rooted national chauvinism on display in the national discourse on the BBL clearly and concretely prove why it is impossible for any national minority such as the Bangsamoro to exercise its right to self-determination through an autonomy granted under a state where the majority does not consider or treat minorities as equals.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
May 24, 2015

Share This Post