Due for publication next week, the Bangsamoro Agreement and Basic Law report by the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (CenSEI), headed by this writer, will discuss legal, political, and practical issues facing both the peace pact and the proposed law.
The 200-page analysis also includes chapters on Muslim Mindanao’s entrenched political, social and economic problems; the foreign nations and international bodies involved in the peace process; lessons from the 1996 final peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front; and copies of the MNLF and Bangsamoro accords.
Copies of the report may be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This article will provide a sampling of comments on key provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which incorporates the Framework Agreement and its annexes; and the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law which Congress is deliberating.
Changing the status quo
Section 3, Article I of the BBL affirms the declaration in Section 1, Part I of the CAB: That the status quo is unacceptable. The title itself states that the BBL would replace the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the new Bangsamoro entity.
While Congress can create political subdivisions, the Bangsamoro must strictly comply with the “autonomous region” cited in Section 15, Article X of the Constitution is “within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Also of great significance is the need to ensure the commitment in the Comprehensive Agreement, that the BBL must still be “consistent with all agreements entered and that may be entered into by the Parties,” including the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, both with the MNLF.
Notably, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation recently brought together the Front and its splinter group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which negotiated the CAB, to reconcile their two peace accords.
What exactly is ‘asymmetric’?
The Comprehensive Agreement does not provide a precise definition of the stipulated “asymmetric” relationship between the national and Bangsamoro governments. The government’s peace panel chairperson, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, gave her opinion of what it is not: “a ‘mixed’ system that is precisely neither straightforward, symmetrical federal, or outright, highly-centralized unitary.” which didn’t really clarify the matter.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process explained further: “An asymmetrical relationship implies a special status of the Bangsamoro vis-a-vis the Central government that is different from that of local governments and administrative regions. The autonomous regions for Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera contemplated in the Constitution partake of this special and distinct status and can thus be described as asymmetrical.”
If the BBL adopts this definition and makes it legally binding (OPAPP pronouncements don’t have the force of law), then there seems to be nothing in the asymmetric term that makes the national government’s relationship with the Bangsamoro any different from the one with the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Who is Bangsamoro?
The BBL provision on the Bangsamoro identity suggests that it is an exclusive concept that applies only to the descendants of Muslims and indigenous peoples who occupied Mindanao prior to colonization. Hence, Christian settlers who now dominate much of Mindanao are not Bangsamoro. Right there is the idea of exclusion, notwithstanding the BBL provision allotting at least two seats each for non-Moro indigenous communities in the regional parliament.
It is therefore not farfetched that sometime in the future, those excluded from the concept of Bangsamoro identity would complain about marginalization by the Bangsamoro Government. This is a possible risk, considering that the territory is not just inhabited by those who identify themselves as Bangsamoro, but also by indigenous communities and Christian settlers who now comprise majority of the population in some areas within the proposed entity.
Shari’ah law and justice
In 2012, peace process expert Judge Soliman Santos fretted over the “expanded jurisdiction” of Shari’ah courts ruling on Islamic law, as laid down in the Comprehensive Agreement. Under the provisions of Article X of the BBL, the jurisdiction of already existing Shari’ah District and Circuit Courts were expanded.
The BBL would also create a “Shari’ah High Court” as the entity of final appeal. Section 7, Article X states: “The decisions of the Shari’ah High Court shall be final and executory.” However, these decisions are still subject to the Supreme Court’s exercise of its expanded certiorari powers under Section 5, Article VIII of the Constitution.
The OPAPP has stated: “the Bangsamoro will be a secular government.” However, we are left to wonder how the present constitutional mandate of a secular government on one hand, and the religious character of Shari’ah law and courts, on the other, can co-exist.
Keeping the peace
The whole point of the CAB and the BBL is, of course, establishing lasting peace in Mindanao. Hence, provisions on security and disarmament are crucial. While the Agreement covered the decommissioning of MILF forces, the draft Basic Law does not.
It would have been more prudent had the BBL covered the normalization process and brought the entire peace process to closure all the way to decommissioning and disarmament of rebel forces, granting of amnesty, and ultimately, the assimilation of former rebels with society.
Regarding concern over the possible emergence of a separate Bangsamoro police, the BBL states categorically that the Bangsamoro Police would be part of the Philippine National Police and under the control of the National Police Commission. There is also a reported provision allowing the PNP Chief to overrule the Bangsamoro Chief Minister in police matters with impact outside the region.
There is also an issue regarding the Chief Minister’s prerogative to “request” the President to exercise his weakest commander-in-chief power: the “calling out power.” Under Section 16, Article XI of the BBL, the Chief Minister may request the President to exercise his calling out powers, “to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion, when the public safety so requires.”
There is no genuine issue here because the President can use his calling out powers anytime he deems fit. After all, the BBL does not stipulate that the Bangsamoro Chief Minister’s “request” is necessary before the Commander-in-Chief can call out the armed forces in the region.
There are more issues and concerns detailed in the CenSEI report on Bangsamoro. We hope and pray that the Agreement and the Basic Law will indeed lay the groundwork for lasting peace within the framework of the Constitution and Philippine sovereignty.
(The Bangsamoro Report, publlished next week by the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (CenSEI), may be requested by email at email@example.com.)