POSTSCRIPT / March 30, 2014 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Palace deal with MILF must pass 3 acid tests

TESTS: Filipinos who are worried of or opposed to the creation of a ministerial-like Bangsamoro for the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front can fall back on the fact that the experiment must first pass the tests in the Congress, the plebiscite and the Supreme Court.

But the conscientious objectors will have to muster enough faith in the independence of the Legislature and the Judiciary, as well as of the Commission on Elections.

Substantial flaws and ambiguities in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) must be corrected by the Congress. Otherwise the deal may fail the constitutionality test in the Supreme Court – and pull the decades-old peace process back to Square One.

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NO PARTY VOTE: Congressmen must realize that this is not a Corona impeachment type of political party action where they sign documents without reading them, but a matter of national survival where decisions are not to be dictated by party or pork, but by patriotism.

It cannot be overstated that both chambers of the Congress must vote not according to what Malacañang or the ruling party wants, but according to what conscience and the higher national interest dictate.

Legislators must not feel bound to just stamp their approval on the agreement, because the Congress was not officially consulted before the Executive embarked on talks that led to the sealing of a deal with the MILF.

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LIMITED CONTRACT: From the very beginning, the CAB was exclusively a Malacañang vehicle driven by President Noynoy Aquino swayed here and there by the back seat driving of his tight coterie.

There was no prior formal consultation with the Congress, no resolution or guidelines passed by it to give direction to the Executive. The CAB was something like a colorum bus, operating without a congressional franchise.

Now the CAB is being passed off as a binding agreement between the Muslim community and the Philippine government. Actually, the document is just a limited contract between the MILF rebels and Malacañang, not between the Muslim minority and the government.

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LEGAL BASIS: So now, belatedly, after the merriment and the staged expression of support from allies at the CAB signing, Malacañang is going to the Congress to give the Bangsamoro a legal basis for its existence.

What if, waking up to their patriotic duties, congressmen and senators now demand some amendments to the contract and their revisions do not jibe with what the MILF wants?

Will this reopen negotiations? That will be costly, even for Malaysia, which has embedded itself into the domestic Philippine process to the exclusion of other countries that can be a more objective and credible facilitator.

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NATIONWIDE PLEBISCITE: While President Aquino has said in a speech at the opening of the talks that approval of all AFFECTED communities would be sought for the CAB, some parties are now saying that the plebiscite will be held only within the new Moro state.

With the carving out of the Bangsamoro from the Republic and giving it its own distinct government exercising extraordinary powers not granted other local governments, the ENTIRE nation must be asked in a plebiscite if it approves of this.

The hurt of a finger is as much the pain of the injured hand as it is of the entire body.

As for other ethnic sectors of Mindanao, how can the MILF convince them of its bona fide inclusive intentions when it has grabbed the majority (eight seats) plus the chairmanship of the 15-member Transition Commission drafting the Basic Act (the Bangsamoro Constitution)?

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NOT INCLUSIVE: It is significant that the same MILF-dominated commission will serve as the transition government/administration of the Bangsamoro until a new set of officials is elected.

Once the MILF has installed its own nominees for Chief Minister and the rest of the key government officials how can other parties coming in at this late stage be able to squirm in?

This is one of the problems resulting from the exclusively MILF complexion of the negotiations. How will other stakeholders who had been left out in the negotiations now accept the proposed Bangsamoro?

In the same way that Malacañang sallied forth without first involving congressional and local leaders, the MILF hogged the discussions without first ascertaining if it had the mandate of all significant sectors of Mindanao.

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DISARMAMENT: Malacañang, the MILF and Malaysia emphasized during the signing last Thursday the central element of trust. Why then were the royal houses, traditional leaders and ethnic minorities in Mindanao not in the talks? They were not trusted enough?

And why cannot the MILF yield its weapons to the government as part of the decommissioning part of the settlement? They do not trust the government enough and must get an outside party as weapons repository?

What will happen to the arsenals of non-MILF armed groups and powerful families who feel naked and vulnerable without their usual weapons of war? Who will disarm them?

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WALANG IWANAN: Why the absence of a firm commitment of the MILF and its successors that they will stay forever with the Philippine Republic, honor the Constitution, and will never spin off the Bangsamoro into a separate state?

And why this federal-ministerial Malaysian-type of government that might not even fit into the presidential system that the Constitution mandates for the entire country?

These are just some of the myriad questions that can only be mentioned, not fully discussed, in this limited space.

We are one with the universal support for any move for peace and prosperity for our people. But we note sadly that in forging this contract with the MILF, there was no earnest prior consultation with affected stakeholders.

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MYTHER’S FRIENDS: If you have not been going to the usual lunches of our friend Myther Buñag at his place in Malate, come this Thursday and boost his morale. By the way, the weekly gatherings of friends have been limited to the first and fourth Thursdays of the month.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 30, 2014)

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