Reaction to my Occupy experiment last Thursday, where in I allowed one reader’s comment to occupy this slot in the Times (“Aquino all branding and no substance,” The Manila Times, April 16,2015) was swift and copious, comments poured in from all fronts. Many readers’ comments were appended at the end of the column. Others wrote me via my e-mail address. And still there were others, those personally known to me, who rang me up by phone to express their reaction.
As was to be expected, most comments were in agreement with the points raised by Reader Anonymous. A few took up the cudgels for President Aquino, charging me with complicity in a conspiracy against the President.
One reader was so enthused over my experiment, he/she proposed that Anonymous should henceforth become a regular columnist of the Times.
Anonymous himself wrote to express his thanks for publication of his comments, his thanks for publication of his comments, and he gifted me with another commentary that is similarly trenchant and persuasive.
Did I stumble here on a less mentally taxing way of producing a column – letting readers do the lifting? Perhaps, but I will not abuse the occupy strategy, lest my publisher-editor exile me from this citadel of Philippine journalism.
Meeting the test of relevance
The test of relevance for the stuff from Anonymous, like the test for most opinion journalism, is how relevant its points are to the debates and contentions of the day, and how long they survive before becoming ephemera.
Anonymous’s diatribe meets that test superbly in my considered judgment. And one telling proof is that it has supplied me the subject of today’s column, which is certain to become a lively topic of debate in coming days.
Anonymous, so far as I know, is the first to formally declare that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is a Trojan horse.
He warned: “BBL has always been a Trojan horse. People are only now beginning to connect the dots, but better late than never. A strong peace is not achieved from a weak agreement — it would simply be the springboard to a raft of other problems.”
The charge has now been echoed by the NGO TanggulangDemokrasya, which posted its own warning about BBL as a Trojan horse on the Showbiz government website, complete with an illustration of the bogus horse under construction.
That makes three of us who will presumably swear by this equine analogy before any forum, including Congress, should it summon us, Trillanes style, to testify to the soundness and sanity of our apprehension.
Tale of the Trojan horse
Those who recall their college studies and comic-book pleasures – or who watched Brad Pitt as Achilles in the movie epic “Troy” – know that the Trojan horse is a tale from the 10-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans.
The classic tale relates the subterfuge that the Greeks employed to enter the city of Troy and win the war. It is told that after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks on the advice of the wily Ulysses (Odysseus) constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.
The main ancient source for the story is the Aeneid of Virgil, a Latin epic poem from the time of Augustus.
Virgil’s line “I fear Greeks, even those bearing gifts” has become as familiar as the Trojan horse.
Philippine retelling of the tale
In the Philippine retelling of this classic story, the Greeks are personified by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, its leaders and negotiators. Mohagher Iqbal takes over the role of the wily Ulysses
The Filipino majority are the Trojans. The king of Troy is played by President Benigno BS. Aquino 3rd. Helen of Troy (preposterous as it sounds) is jointly played by chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and peace adviser TeresitaGing-Deles.
When the Aquino government and the MILF began negotiations soon after Aquino acceded to office, our people believed that the talks would proceed as a mutual search for solutions to the conflict in Mindanao, much like the earlier negotiations of the Tripoli agreement, and the GRP-MNLF agreement of 1996.
We expected the talks to proceed confidently from a framework agreement on shared goals, to a comprehensive peace agreement that would conciliate the negotiating positions of each side and produce a new order of peace in Mindanao.
Yet surprisingly, the comprehensive agreement signed in March 2014 contained language that asserted Moro rights to an ancestral homeland and the right of self-determination, as my colleague BobiTiglao has perceptibly noted in several columns:
Why our negotiators and President Aquino would agree to this language is gross betrayal of our people. They cannot excuse them by saying that they only mean the autonomy of the Bangsamoro political entity.
What really happened, I believe, is that the MILF negotiators were clearer and resolute about their negotiating position, more than our government negotiators about theirs.
As Iqbal has been quoted as saying, he views negotiations as a means to extract drop by drop concessions from the other side. Negotiation in his view is war by other means.
Poor Miriam Ferrer and her team were no match for Iqbal and his team. And with Malaysia as the referee, it was not surprising that the comprehensive peace agreement committed the government to the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and many other odious provisions (like wealth sharing, Bangsamoro police force, decommissioning of forces, etcetera) that no self-respecting negotiating team would agree to.
To fully understand why Congress is now being harried into passing the proposed BBL, it is vital to ask again what was the underlying, driving purpose for the government in negotiating peace with the MILF. It is imperative to ask why the government talked only to the MILF to the exclusion of other Muslim communities.
It is useful to ask the Philippine panel, why, as former Philippine negotiator Jesus Dureza has charged, Ferrer, etcetera, never bothered to study the Supreme Court decision on the MOA-AD, and Ramos’ detailed narration of how the 1996 peace agreement was successfully negotiated.
Note this: Indonesia served as the referee in the 1996 accords. Malaysia is the referee for the flawed handiwork we see before us now.
To state the point bluntly, the 2014 comprehensive agreement is full of holes. The proposed BBL is even more flawed, because no less then 8 provisions violate the Constitution.
Why will a sane and responsible Philippine government agree to invest resources and political capital in this law?
Some columnists and analysts have opined that if the BBL is passed, the Philippines will pave the way for the almost certain secession of the Bangsamoro entity as an independent state, with its own territory carved out of sovereign Philippine territory. I totally agree.
The peace agreement and the BBL do not end the prospective secession of Muslim Mindanao from the republic. The BBL should either be radically altered to conform to our Constitution, or the government and the entire Filipino Muslim community should engage in new negotiations to forge a comprehensive peace, and to create a constitutional Bangsamoro entity.
Absent this new peace process, I submit that no BBL is better than a Trojan horse.