POSTSCRIPT / June 4, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Congress OK of BAR crucial to Noy defense

CONGRESSIONAL approval of the basic law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) – whether in its original or watered down version – is crucial to the defense of President Noynoy Aquino against possible charges in court.

There is likelihood that Mr. Aquino will be hauled into court for alleged high crimes, including treason, arising from the Bangsamoro deal that he had packaged for the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He has to plot his defense this early.

Approval of the basic law for a parliamentary Bangsamoro (Moro nation) — a constitutional anomaly and a political oddity in our presidential setup — will bolster his legal defense.

If the BAR basic law’s constitutionality is questioned, the President could attempt to dilute and deflect the blame on him by pointing out that the creation of the Bangsamoro was an act of the Congress.

In such a situation of crisis proportions, prosecuting President Aquino could raise the specter of his bringing down with him the entire government – an eventuality that could prompt the Supreme Court to proceed with caution about ruling against him.

Whether this constitutional challenge before the High Court occurs before or after the May 2016 presidential elections, the damage to persons and institutions would be incalculable.

This is how serious is the problem that President Aquino has brought upon the nation by embarking, without regard for law, protocol and prior consultation, on this misadventure of carving out a nascent Islamic state from the heartland of Mindanao.

• MILF set to return to rebellion mode

RESUMPTION of hostilities is expected if the BAR basic law is not approved to serve as the Constitution of the Bangsamoro replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

But whether it is approved after substantial revision or just left to hang unapproved by the Senate, the Palace attempt at appeasement disguised as a search for peace is likely to trigger more strife in Mindanao.

President Aquino and the rest of officialdom could not have missed MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal warning that if the BAR basic law is not approved as originally drafted, his group (estimated by the military as 7,000-strong) would go back to its revolutionary campaign.

Its war-readiness must be one of the reasons why the MILF has refused to lay down the bulk of its weapons. It appears that the rebels cannot trust the Palace panel across the negotiating table misrepresenting itself as the “GRP” (Government of the Republic of the Philippines).

The public watching the Senate inquiry into the Jan. 25 Mamasapano massacre of elite PNP Special Action Force commandos still remember Iqbal serving notice that:

• Weapons of fallen combatants are bounties of war — meaning there was no need for MILF fighters to return the guns and battle gear they stole from the 44 SAF casualties.

• If any dispute arises regarding the conduct of MILF and SAF combatants, such “acts of war” (between states!) should be raised before the International Court of Justice or World Court, and not before domestic or Philippine courts.

Their talking directly with the “GRP” has gotten into the rebels’ heads. They have started to think of themselves as a co-equal state, their ultimate goal.

How would President Aquino now coax the MILF not only to return the SAF weapons but to also present for investigation their fighters who participated in the Mamasapano carnage?

But the President would find non-passage of the Bangsamoro bill easier to handle. Most likely, no Bangsamoro law, no charges in court against him. As for the MILF getting mad for his failure to deliver, Mr. Aquino can always tell them: “Don’t look at me. I tried!”

• How many reasons for Rodriguez flip?

THAT POINT about securing justice for the SAF-44 should also be addressed to Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez whose seeming resolve had impressed the public monitoring the inquiry of his ad hoc committee on the BAR basic law.

He vowed that the House would not vote on the BAR bill unless the MILF surrendered its men responsible for the SAF massacre. “That’s really the deal breaker if they will not cooperate to achieve justice,” he said last March.

Rodriguez also declared that the bill would not pass without the deletion of eight provisions that he said were unconstitutional and another one that would make possible creeping inclusion of areas contiguous to the ARMM region.

In hindsight, the congressman looked like he was raising the ante for what he and his cohorts wanted to do. After two meetings with President Aquino for some haggling, he and his committee retained the sections he had vowed to remove.

Details of the meetings were kept from the public. Until now, people have been guessing how many million reasons were given to convince the Rodriguez troupe that the Bangsamoro law was the only key to peace in Mindanao.

Mabuti na lang there is the Senate, where more principled lawmakers have been holding the line. The committee headed by Sen. Miriam Santiago reported that the Bangsamoro bill is constitutionally defective, that it will pass only if it is revised or the Constitution itself is amended.

There is also the committee chaired by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who threatened to totally amend the measure by replacing it with a new version that is more compliant with the Constitution.

Compare these remedial moves of the senators with that of President Aquino in the early stages of negotiations with the MILF.

Despite his solemn oath to “preserve and defend” the Constitution, the President agreed with the rebel band to amend the charter if it conflicts with provisions in the Bangsamoro basic law. In his hierarchy of values, the Bangsamoro is superior to the Constitution!

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 4, 2015)

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