POSTSCRIPT /April 6, 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Will Congress correct all Bangsamoro flaws?

MOVE ON: Having gone this far in our search for peace in rebellion-racked Muslim Mindanao, we would be creating a bigger problem if we just dropped at this late date the flawed Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro then start all over again.

Whatever we think of it, nandiyan na yang CAB as hammered out by Malacañang negotiating with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its foreign handlers.

If we believe that the CAB has fatal defects — and there is consensus that it has — let us fix the document more carefully this time so we can move forward, not slip back and waste the decades of hard work that has gone before it.

But how do we cure its legal infirmities and clarify the ambiguities? Who will mop up the mess left by an Executive speeding on with reckless imprudence, as if impelled by a secret personal timetable?

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CONGRESS CLEANUP: The repair job is best performed in the deliberative body that is the Congress. The Bangsamoro Basic Law creating the ministerial-type sub-state for the secessionist MILF will be submitted to the legislature anyway.

We can only block, not repair, the CAB at the Supreme Court. The tribunal will simply uphold or reject it – also possibly point out its constitutional and legal flaws — but not correct them for us.

But in the Congress, the Basic Law measure can be dissected down to its minute details, and its substantive and structural flaws corrected. There in the legislature, the creation of the Bangsamoro can be validated by the people’s representatives – not by a rebel band backed by foreign pressure groups.

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CONDITIONS: But this corrective process can happen only if:

• The Executive will drop all pretensions as the sole repository of wisdom and admit that the CAB it has signed and sealed under pressure is flawed in some parts.

• The President and his majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives will not treat the Bangsamoro issue as an urgent political party matter, but a matter of conscience beyond politics.

• The President, as leader of the administration party and coalition, will not crack the whip or dangle pork-like incentives to rush and force a party vote on the amendments, debate issues and the final approval.

• Malacañang muster enough will to reject foreign meddling in what is actually a domestic affair.

• Senators and congressmen are more studious and discerning. They must vote according to their best lights and not according to the best offer. The sight of lapdogs yelping and salivating in excitement at the smell of dog food coming is revolting.

• Research organizations, the academe, the media, civic and professional groups, ethnic and indigenous communities engage lawmakers individually and at the committee level to make known their views and discernment – and put pressure if necessary.

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ROTARIAN ROLE: When I spoke Thursday before the Rotary Club of Manila, the oldest and biggest Rotary club in the country, I appealed for civic and professional groups like the RCM to help educate the public on the Bangsamoro issue.

Rotarians and other influential entities should talk to their congressmen and senator-friends to drop partisan considerations and go into the Bangsamoro debate with nothing but the national interest in mind.

Among those in the meeting at the Manila Polo Club were RCM president Rudy Bediones, Art Lopez the emcee, Fausto Preysler who introduced me, Roy Zosa, Benny Laguesma and Jimmie Policarpio the chair of the program committee.

It is timely, btw, that US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg will address the Rotary next Thursday. The US and the Philippines are about to conclude an agreement for the enhanced rotational presence of American troops.

US President Obama is visiting Manila late this month to cap his Asian swing that will also take him to South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia. Having lived in Jakarta from age six to 10, Obama can have on the side a reunion with his Indonesian friends and relatives.

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QUESTIONS: Some of the questions on the Bangsamoro that the Congress should resolve to the satisfaction of the public (for the plebiscite) and of the Supreme Court (for the constitutionality challenge) are:

• Were the two signatories to the CAB — namely, the MILF and the Executive branch — qualified to sign for and commit the parties they claim to represent?

• Can the President by himself agree to the creation of a Bangsamoro invested with governmental functions and possessing the elements of territory, population and government of a new state in the making?

• Can the ministerial-type of parliamentary setup intended for Bangsamoro fit into the presidential republican system mandated by the Constitution for the entire country?

• May the Bangsamoro organize and maintain its own police force apart from the Philippine National Police?

• Can the Bangsamoro be allowed to retain revenue shares from mineral resources greater than or different from the shares legally given to other local government units?

• Can the President’s control and general supervision over all executive departments, bureaus and offices as provided under the Constitution be diminished in the case of the Bangsamoro?

• Can the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), whose creation was mandated by the Constitution, be scrapped by the President as a “failed experiment” and replaced by a new entity with enlarged territory, population and powers?

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BIG QUESTION: Assuming the Congress rises to the occasion and does correct the constitutional, legal and political flaws, that would mean a rewriting of the Basic Law measure.

Will the MILF, quiet and tempered until now, accept substantial amendments, especially on those portions that it made sure were in the document signed with the Palace panel?

Is the MILF willing to accept the amendments, if only to save their common handiwork from being thrown out again by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional?

Another question: If the Bangsamoro Basic Law is approved intact but thrown out by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, will the MILF accept that judgment? Have the rebels committed themselves in writing to honor the Constitution?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 6, 2014)

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