Will an autonomous Bangsamoro work?
PEACE AT LAST?: The government is taking another bold step toward a just and enduring peace in Mindanao by forging an agreement embracing rebellious Muslim elements into the political mainstream and granting them autonomy.
The big question is: Will it work this time?
The scheduled signing on Oct. 15 of the 13-page Framework Agreement, with details in still unpublished annexes, between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will set in motion the creation of an enlarged autonomous “Bangsamoro” in Mindanao.
The process, which includes legislation by the Congress and a plebiscite, is expected to see the new Bangsamoro in full operation before the end of President Noynoy Aquino’s term in 2016.
The administration has committed to amend the Constitution to make the 1987 charter conform to the government’s upcoming compact with the MILF!
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ENLARGED ARMM: The Bangsamoro will be created through an organic act drafted by a Transition Commission, enacted by the Congress, and effective upon ratification in a plebiscite of all people affected by it.
The proposed Bangsamoro consists of what is now the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao — plus the cities of Cotabato and Isabela; the towns of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte; and all barangays in the towns of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite.
Also to be included are all contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months before the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
While the Bangsamoro shall have certain powers of local application such as taxation and the administration of its own Shari’ah courts, the central (national) government retains exclusive powers over defense and external security, foreign policy, common market and global trade, coinage and monetary policy, citizenship and naturalization, and postal service.
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TRANSITION: The Transition Commission will be created through an Executive Order and supported by Congressional Resolutions. It will be independent of the ARMM and all government agencies.
The commission’s 15 members will all be Bangsamoro, the majority (8) of whom, including the chairman, will be selected by the MILF. The government will pick the minority seven members.
Promising to certify the Bangsamoro Basic Law to the Congress as an urgent bill, President Aquino said “it brings all former secessionist groups into the fold, no longer does the MILF aspire for a separate state.”
The ARMM, which the President described as a “failed experiment,” is abolished upon ratification of the Basic Law creating the Bangsamoro Transition Authority. The BTA itself will be replaced in 2016 upon the assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government.
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QUESTIONS: President Aquino has asked that affected parties read the documents and join the discussion. With that, and with the annexes still inaccessible, we pose some questions.
The creation of the Bangsamoro will be completed after its approval in a plebiscite. Will the plebiscite be only in the bangsa territory, or should it be submitted to a national poll since it affects the entire nation?
Did the MILF negotiators present their credentials before the start of the talks? Did they affirm they are Filipinos? (There would be a substantive difference if the government was talking to foreigners or stateless individuals.)
Do the MILF representatives recognize the 1987 Constitution? If any question (arising from the agreement and its annexes, or the final document) is raised before the Supreme Court, will they reply and then respect the ruling of the Court?
For that matter, will the Shari-ah courts, which the parties agreed to expand, be under the supervision of the Supreme Court? Are Shari’ah decisions appealable all the way to the Supreme Court?
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P-NOY OPTIMISTIC: Is the government talking to the right party? Is the 12,000-strong MILF the authentic voice of some five million Muslims (five percent of the 100-million population)? By what process did it emerge as the legitimate representative of that ethnic sector?
What is the guarantee that after the ink on the signed documents has dried, no other Muslim bands will demand that they be also recognized, and new “peace talks” held all over again? The MILF is itself just a splinter of the older Moro National Liberation Front that had forged agreements that did not last.
But President Aquino, brimming with optimism, said: “This agreement will ensure that the Philippines remains one nation and one people. The Filipinos of Bangsamoro will be assured a fair and equitable share of taxation, revenues, and the fruits of national patrimony.”
The Bangsamoro will reap royalties from deposits of oil, gas and mineral resources in the area, part of Mindanao’s estimated $312 billion in mineral wealth. Mitra Energy Ltd. of Malaysia, which facilitated the talks, has partnered already with Total of France to explore oil and gas fields in the Sulu Sea.
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DISARMAMENT: The agreement says that “all law enforcement functions shall be transferred from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to the police force for the Bangsamoro.”
Is the transition by mere “best effort” or will there be a timetable and mechanics for the phased disarming and disbanding of MILF fighters and other armed groups in the area?
What if the MILF merely absorbs all its fighters, as well as allied armed bands, into the Bangsamoro police force?
Why does the agreement talk of “all law enforcement functions shall be transferred from the Armed Forces” when law enforcement is basically a police function and not a job of the military or the armed forces?
Will the Bangsamoro police operate under the Philippine National Police or follow the AFP chain of command?