POSTSCRIPT / September 11, 2014 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Bangsamoro: Noy’s good-or-bust game

HIGH STAKES: By the same token that President Noynoy Aquino asks critics not to allow politics to derail passage of the basic law creating the Bangsamoro in Muslim Mindanao, we plead that he not crack the administration party whip to railroad its approval within his tight deadline.

Let a free and full debate rage, devoid of partisan and personal considerations, so the people’s representatives in the Congress can vote freely on the measure and, afterwards, the people can decide intelligently in the plebiscite for its formalization.

The high-stakes good-or-bust gamble that President Aquino is playing is fraught with perils and promise.

At its best, the creation of an enlarged Bangsamoro boosted with greater power and resources than other local governments in the rest of the Republic could bring peace and prosperity in strife-torn Mindanao.

At its worst, however, the insertion of a parliamentary-type Bangsamoro into our presidential system could lay the basis for a separate Muslim state spinning off under the principle of the self-determination of peoples.

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SECRET GAME: The big problem facing the national constituency is that the people generally do not know what happened behind the closed doors of the negotiations, except what was selectively fed them in paltry press releases.

Even the senators and the congressmen now being stampeded to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law have not read the text of the measure and the annexes. They were kept out of the negotiations.

After years of secret talks on the comprehensive contract with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front and months of delay in the rewriting of the final BBL, President Aquino turned over the documents to legislative leaders only yesterday.

That is one basic weakness of the compartmentalized exclusive process. From the very beginning, it was only Malacañang (not the government as is being made to appear) talking to the MILF (not to a representative panel of the Muslim community).

Now suddenly, the President wants the Congress and the public at large to peek into the documents and approve the creation of a Bangsamoro that could well transform itself into a separate state notwithstanding its promise to the contrary.

This undertaking that could change radically the course of Philippine history should not be rushed. After all it is already too late for the Nobel peace prize. Let us not force it if the terms of the contract with the MILF are lopsided against national interest.

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MILF ISSUES: The President and MILF chair Al Haj Murad met last week to resolve remaining contentious issues in the draft BBL that the rebel group claimed departed substantially from the comprehensive peace agreement signed last March with fanfare in Malacañang.

Sources said the smoothing out of the irritants would have taken longer were President Aquino not preparing to leave this weekend for a 12-day trip to Europe and the United States. It was not clear what arguments he gave the MILF leader to simmer down.

The MILF panel has been insisting on a draft BBL based on previously agreed provisions in the annexes on the sharing of power, wealth and revenues, as well as the phased disarmament of MILF fighters.

The team of lawyers belatedly consulted by the President had objected to many of these sections, warning about the probability of a constitutional challenge. Mr. Aquino cannot bear being slapped down again by the Supreme Court.

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GUNS, WEALTH, POWER: We can only guess the final version of the annex on the decommissioning of MILF forces and the surrender of their weapons, or if there is an unwritten understanding over their retaining access to their guns.

Another question (because the draft is unavailable) is the agreed ratio in the sharing among the MILF, the national/central government and other local government units in the revenues from mineral and natural resources.

If they have not changed the ratios agreed upon earlier, the MILF will get shares bigger than what other local governments are normally given. This looks like class legislation or discrimination which local governments outside the Bangsamoro may question.

(Btw, we refer to the Bangsamoro as the MILF, because in the transition commission which is to run things before the formal adoption of the new setup, majority of the 15 members, including the chair, are all MILF and the rest must be acceptable to them.

In short, the unfolding Bangsamoro extravaganza is and will be mostly an MILF show – which is one of the reasons why other Muslim factions, most of them heavily armed and also liberation-bent, are sure to object. Just watch.

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LET’S SEE: President Aquino will be away Sept. 13 to 24, visiting Spain, Belgium, France, and the United States. His trip is billed as an attempt to enhance the country’s diplomatic relations and trade and investment links with these countries.

He will be in Spain Sept 14-15, Belgium Sept. 16, France Sept. 17 to 18, and in Germany Sept. 19-20. From Europe, the President will proceed to New York where he will speak at the Global Climate Change Summit.

His boys left in the Palace should busy themselves reproducing the BBL documents and distributing them. Although his focus is supposed to be diplomacy, trade and investment, he is likely to mention the Bangsamoro project as if it were already a done deal.

In his speech during the turnover in Malacañang of the draft BBL to congressional leaders, whom he asked to expedite its passage, he allayed fears that the Bangsamoro will run against the Constitution.

That we have to see.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 11, 2014)

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