POSTSCRIPT / October 16, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Signing rite buoys hope, but road to peace is long

ROUGH ROAD AHEAD: Everybody must be reminded that the Framework Agreement signed yesterday between Malacañang and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is NOT yet the formula that will bring just and lasting peace to Mindanao.

The true test of the Framework Agreement is in the fleshing out of the structure it envisions for an enlarged autonomous Bangsamoro entity.

The Framework is just a preliminary roadmap for a long journey leading to peace and prosperity in Mindanao by the end of the term of President Noynoy Aquino in 2016 — assuming no land mines explode along the way.

It looks rather early, if not presumptuous, to nominate Mr. Aquino for the Nobel peace prize, as has been suggested in some quarters. Not yet, anyway.

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MUTUAL TRUST: But we are not to undervalue the good faith and optimism generated by the signing ceremony that was marked by public statements of mutual trust and good intentions on both sides.

Some of the poignant speeches, especially that of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Ging Deles, tugged at the heart, which was good.

The hype and solemnity have raised hopes that the generations-old strife in Mindanao, especially in the Muslim areas, will stop soon and usher in development to a land that has so much resources and promise.

Indeed, we all should give peace a chance. Let us pray that the mutual trust holds out.

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TIGHT TIMETABLE: However, the annexes spelling out the Framework’s details are still to be finalized and published for an informed public discussion.

Not a few observers wondered why the signing was rushed yesterday even without substantive discussions based on the annexes. The reason may be in the fact that Mr. Aquino is running on a tight timetable whose end-point is 2016, when his term ends.

The peace process has to contend with the cynicism of those who have seen so much betrayal. It must also hurdle possible challenges in court, and walk tricky procedural steps, including enabling legislation and a plebiscite.

But as I see it, if there is anybody in our generation who can give Mindanao the measure of peace it deserves, it is Noynoy Aquino obsessed with peace and emboldened by widespread support.

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PALACE DEAL: There are still some basic details, however, that must be resolved to give the proposed Bangsamoro stability as a juridical entity.

First off, although my opinion will not matter, I prefer to call the agreement a Malacañang-MILF deal. The parties are actually the Executive Department (not the Philippine government) on one hand, and the MILF (not the Muslim population) on the other.

Two of the three departments of government are out of it. The Congress was not a party to the negotiations and the signing. The Judiciary is also not engaged — until a proper suit is brought before the Supreme Court possibly on the issue of constitutionality.

Without meaning to hint at equivocation, this purely Executive effort may be for the good. In case the Framework Agreement fails or is, say, rejected by the SC as unconstitutional, only the Aquino administration – not the Philippine government – suffers embarrassment.

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FAILED EXPERIMENT?: It is odd that President Aquino on his own dismissed the ARMM as a “failed experiment” – after he had appointed Officers-in-Charge and impliedly recognized it by nominating candidates in the 2013 elections.

The ARMM founded on an Organic Act may be a “failure” in the subjective assessment of the President, but it is certainly not just a passing experiment. It is a Constitution-based entity that nobody should trifle with.

The ARMM is a creation of the Congress, via RA 6734, in compliance with a constitutional mandate that the ARMM (as well as the Cordillera Autonomous Region) be created within 18 months of the convening of the first Congress under the 1987 Constitution.

The ARMM is not to be abolished by mere Executive Order or pushed aside with the signing of a “Framework Agreement” with a rebel band supported by foreign powers waiting in the wings.

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ORGANIC ACT: That may be the reason why the Malacañang-MILF deal requires its being referred to the Congress for the enactment of an Organic Act for the new Bangsamoro entity.

But the time for the enactment of an Organic Act creating an autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao is long over. That should have been done, as we said above, 18 months after the convening of the first Congress.

What the present Congress, whose leaders attended yesterday’s signing ceremony, can do is amend the existing Organic Act to incorporate the new features of the enlarged region — assuming the envisioned Bangsamoro can legally replace the ARMM.

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PLEBISCITE: The rules for amending the Organic Act has been made stricter. Amendments must now be approved by a ¾ vote of both the House and the Senate, each chamber voting separately.

Then the amendments must be approved by majority vote in a plebiscite in the affected area. That raises a question: Should the plebiscite be only in the Muslim areas or should it be held nationwide since the entire nation is affected?

It is reasonable to ask Bangsamoro people if they want autonomy, whatever “autonomy” means under the Organic Act and the still to be written annexes. But should not the rest of the national population be asked what they think?

The original RA 6734 was already amended by RA 9054 and ratified. But it can be amended again by a Congress that bends with the wind blowing from junto al Pasig.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 16, 2012)

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