In 1995, the Republic concluded a peace treaty with one Moro Front – the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) not realizing that there was still the much stronger MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to contend with. Six years ago, had the Republic signed the peace with the MILF there was still no BIFF (Bangsa Islamic Freedom Fighters) to deal with as there is now. Today it is not a small problem that there is a new Front – the BIFF – which is not included or excluded itself from the newly signed treaty. The same can be said on the Philippine government side. The executive will now have to “include” the legislature and maybe even the judiciary to make the whole pact a fully government-owned deal.

One senator, Miriam Santiago, a former judge and law professor at the University of the Philippines, said she could be removed as chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments but stressed that “while I am chair, it will be extremely difficult to convince me, as a student of constitutional law, that the Bangsamoro Agreement respects the Philippine Constitution. On the contrary: the Agreement violates the principle of constitutional supremacy.”

‘Them’ are fighting words, one would think. She adduced four reasons for her stand: one, the agreement is between the executive branch of government alone and the MILF; two, what is being granted is “not a mere autonomous region… but a substate;” three, it “diminishes the sovereignty of the Philippine Government by listing what are the powers that the central government can retain;” and fourthly, it “embodies the consent of the executive branch to amend the Philippine Constitution in order to accommodate the Agreement.” Of course, Senator Santiago is not the Supreme Court or all of the Senate but her stand will be one hurdle – maybe a small one or maybe a big one – to overcome for the new pact to be feasible at all.

There is no doubt that the Bangsamoro  is being envisaged as a new autonomous political entity – to be put in place the very day President Aquino’s 6-year term ends, June 30, 2016. The signed pact “obliges” the legislature to pass an enabling law, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, as the organic statute for Bangsamoro. Now, that, too, could be a big hurdle in itself.

Secondly, the Basic Law must be ratified by the people in a plebiscite of voters in “contiguous areas,” by “political units directly affected [i.e. cities and provinces],” and in “geographical areas” with “common’ ‘characteristics,” as noted under both our present constitution and these agreements – old and new:

  1.  Agreement for the General Cessation of Hostilities, signed on July 18, 1997.
  2.  General Framework of Agreement of Intent Between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF, August 27, 1998.
  3.  Agreement on the General Framework on the Resumption of Peace Talks, signed on March 24, 2001.
  4.  Agreement on Peace between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF, signed June 22, 2001.
  5.  Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF, signed June 3, 2010.
  6.  GPH-MILF Decision Points on Principles as of April 2012 signed on 24 April 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

7. Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro initialed on 12 October 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and signed on 15 October 2012 in Manila, Philippines.

8. Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities signed on 27 February 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

  1.  Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing signed on 13 July 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  2.  Annex on Power Sharing signed on 8 December 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  3.  Annex on Normalization signed on 25 January 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  4.  Addendum on the Bangsamoro Waters and Zones of Joint Cooperation signed on 25 January 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

From their titles and dates alone, one will have to conclude that a lot of patient work was poured into these papers that everyone now prays may yet come to life as testimonies to justice and freedom.

But one will also note that definitions of core territory include the same cities and municipalities which voted “No” in the 1989 plebiscite, opting not to join the ARMM 20 years ago. Have there been any developments that could now possibly allure them to ratify the Bangsamoro Basic Law, assuming Congress will enact it in timely fashion  – given that the President, no less, called his mother’s ARMM a ‘failed experiment’ rather than being positive and merely calling for its transformation and expansion? His mother took the stance of “active neutrality” during the campaign for the ratification of the Organic Act that created ARMM. Hence, so very few ratified it. PNoy may be different as he tends to run roughshod over any and all opposition.

Let’s not even start talking about wealth sharing, power sharing, decommissioning, and water rights that are still also subject to further congressional and political scrutiny. The roughshod-runner PNoy wants the Bangsamoro Basic Law passed this year, and the plebiscite held as soon as possible. It is interesting to observe how this can be done without the PDAF “big stick” in his hand. Oh, we almost forgot – there’s still the dubious promise of including loyalists in the “hocus pcos” embrace of the 2016 election. If the honourable legislators believe him they could yet rush the law as they want to be assured that they are on the right side of the electoral machine.

After all that, however, there is still a third hurdle — whether the Comprehensive Agreement, Bangsamoro Framework, Bangsamoro Basic Law, and all their annexes and transitional procedures will be approved by the Supreme Court. Now, of course, you can only cross that bridge when you come to it. Those who expect an “RH” type win-win judicial solution are smart: they expect “not unconstitutional” but riddled with unconstitutionalities. This will not be the first time a big horse suddenly loses all its teeth.

One hopes that is not how the CAB cookie will crumble – for the sake of peace and less and less violent confrontations in our land.

Some optimists

 From one Miriam to another, Secretary Coronel-Ferrer,chair of the government panel that negotiated the CAB with the MILF sought to discuss with Senator Santiago the agreement’s provisions to show that the peace talks were deliberately governed by the Constitution.

Former U.P. President Jose V. Abueva was emphatic that that the recognition of the Bangsamoro as a united Muslim ethno-linguistic-cultural community and a distinctive political entity is a great historic achievement.

It recognizes the Moro self-identity and the unity of Muslim Filipinos who also belong to various ethnic communities, such as the Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug, etc. and compete with, and even fight, each other.” By self-ascription, the non-Muslim lumad or indigenous peoples in contiguous areas in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will also form part of the Bangsamoro and are to be guaranteed their ancestral land and their rights as indigenous peoples.

 Abueva’s satisfaction is that we should anyway be going in the same Federal direction pointed out by the Bangsamoro achievement. To him, “the reality is that our republic is made up of various ‘bangsa,’ each comprising distinctive ethno-linguistic-cultural communities and political, economic and social structures that have their own identities.” The Philippines has a “Bangsa-Iloco, a Bangsa-Cordillera, a Bangsa-Tagalo, a Bangsa-Bikol, a Bangsa-Bisaya, a Bangsa-Ilongo, a Bangsa-Waray, and a number of ‘bangsa’ in Mindanao. These ethno-linguistic-cultural and political communities happen to coincide with some of the existing administrative regions in our highly centralized unitary system.”

In the darkest years of martial law some activists used to quip that we should all secede from the Philippines anyway. Now they are saying we should struggle for the same autonomy or quasi-independence outlined in the comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro – without the latter’s long history of struggle and warfare? In fact, it is quite likely that these last chapters of the MILF struggle may be the most difficult for them – the congressional, the judicial and the electoral. They may realize once again that the Philippine oligarchy is a much worse enemy than any foreign invader. Didn’t their predecessors many times in the past – not too long ago – prefer the American colonizer to imperial Manila?

Abueva again: “What is good for the Moros is good for all other Filipinos nationwide! The proposed Bangsamoro is a most welcome model for the fundamental reform of our unitary system, under which our administrative regions of differing ethno-linguistic-cultural and political communities gravely suffer from the lack of powers, authority, and resources as poor dependents of the national government in Imperial Manila.”

If, indeed, the CAB will push through, as hoped for, then we will see an experiment in the ministerial (parliamentary) federal form of government in an incipient stage. But before all that, we may have to be forced at last to go for honest-to-goodness constitutional change. The euphoria of this year’s peace agreement should not wane too fast – but neither should a healthy political realism be thrown out the window. The task is to adopt an illusionless persistence in what is right and good for all. FINIS.

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