Bangsamoro, the notion of an autonomous region within a sovereign nation is common place. California is an autonomous region. It is part of a federal form of Government practiced in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and India. In this system, the central Government handles foreign relations, the currency, and national defense while the regional Government administers local issues like peace and order, education and taxes.
Where Bangsamoro is different is that it is adopted, exclusionary and the outcome of armed struggle. It was not present at the birth of the nation, it references a particular ethnic and religious group and is the result of a drive for self determination. In these aspects it is more akin to Northern Ireland, Palestine and Kurdistan as an autonomous entity.
The Government and the MILF signed a Framework Agreement for the creation of Bangsamoro. It calls for a Transition Commission to draft a Basic Law that will govern the region.This attempt for “a just and final peace” in Mindanao is the fourth of its kind: There was the Tripoli Agreement in 1976, the ARMM in 1989 and 2001, the 2009 MO-MOAD (declared unconstitutional) and now this.
Why and how will Bangsamoro be different from its failed predecessors? It is said the new framework will be more participative unlike the ARMM and the Tripoli agreements which focused essentially on the politics. It will be more encompassing to include dispute resolution and the Shariah Law. The Basic Law will be approved by the Legislature and the people in a plebiscite thereby dispelling any questions as to its constitutionality. The target date for implementation is by 2015 to allow it to gestate before P-Noy’s departure. The timetable is not as liberal as it sounds.
The success of the Basic Law will depend on its final form as well as the ability of the Government and the MILF to deliver their side of the bargain. The very universality of its coverage is what presents its challenges. Particularly sensitive will be its provisions for legal and financial independence, the decommissioning of arms, territorial coverage and police powers.
Bangsamoro is envisaged to be Shariah law compliant. This raises issues of jurisdiction with say the Revised Penal Code and the Constitution. The Administration has said local security will remain under the Central Government. If so it will be a unique arrangement: In all federal systems as well as in N. Ireland, Palestine and Kurdistan, the police is controlled by the regional Government.
The foundation of any negotiation is the parties’ ability to deliver on their commitments. It is not clear this is the case for either the Government or the MILF. For the former, there are several obstacles. One, the document will have to pass public and media scrutiny. Two, can P-Noy convince 309 Congressmen and Senators to approve a bill not of their making? The re-electionist Senators will want to use their affirmation as leverage for 2016 and the crucial “Mindanao Vote”. Congressmen will be concerned the higher budget allocation to Bangsamoro will mean less pork barrel for them (the MILF as asking for 75% of its Internal Revenue Allocation versus the current 40% accorded the provinces). Three, the Christian, Muslim, business and political interests marginalized by the new arrangements will fight the bill. Lastly, P-Noy will increasingly be a lame duck as we approach 2016. In this sense, it is critical the President win a majority in both houses of Congress in 2013 if he is to assure passage of the legislation.
On the MILF side, can they deliver on their commitment to peace? Will its members break away from the leadership in the way the MILF junked the MNLF when the latter went mainstream? Some MILF commanders are already objecting to the decommissioning of their arms. Nur Misuari, head of the MNLF, has said 17,000 MILF members have switched to his side. The Bansamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other fringe groups will almost certainly rattle the cage and ramp up the violence.
Long term there are issues of stability and sustainability.
Notwithstanding the complications, the Framework Agreement should be welcomed if it means a cessation of hostilities with the MILF, the halt of whatever international funding there was for the conflict, a window however temporary for a peace dividend in terms of investment and economic growth for the region; and if it means hope. For ultimately, whether via Bangsamoro or otherwise, the ultimate goal should be the improvement of the lives of our Muslim brothers through social justice, peace, good governance and economic progress.
One last thing. President Aquino has extended our “collective thanks” to MILF chair Ebrahim for partnering in the Agreement. Yet through the jubilance, we have forgotten those who made it possible. I refer to our Armed Forces whose countless deaths in the jungles of Mindanao is what now allows for the prospect of peace. They too, if not more, deserve our recognition and gratitude.