There has been much rejoicingcunderstandably so—after the completion and signing of the Annex on Power-Sharing to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) early this month. There remains for the negotiators only one more Annex to hurdle (on Normalization) and the addendum on internal waters before the desired comprehensive peace agreement is finally concluded. The next step will be the drafting by the Transition Commission of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which, if subsequently enacted by Congress and approved in a referendum by qualified electors in the areas, will formalize the creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro region.
This piece will not dwell on the suggestion that the FAB will bring the Bangsamoro entity closer to “statehood”. The author earnestly believes that the negotiators have deftly addressed it, and have enshrined in separate items the primacy of the Central Government (asymmetry?) on issues where sovereignty and territorial integrity matter.
In reading the articles on Wealth-Sharing, however, one gets stark images of the Zimbabwean experience in Africa. It will be recalled that after the battle for independence from British colonial rule in the 1970’s, the war veterans, who felt entitled, began squatting on properties owned by white farmers. In 2002, President Mugabe ordered all white farmers (4000 of them controlling 60% of arable land) to give up their properties without compensation. Aside from precipitating a political storm, his edict in large measure helped drive inflation to mind-boggling levels, reaching 231,000,000 % in 2008, up from an already ridiculous 7000% the previous year. The country until now, her political credibility adrift for one reason or another, has not risen from the depths of her economic misery.
This is not to submit that the Zimbabwean narrative will definitely find replication in the Bangsamoro story. There is much reason to hope that it will not happen in the country. Nonetheless, there are certain provisions in the FAB that unless properly cleared up can serve as precursors towards a similar dreadful scenario. Take for example the provision that purports “to rectify what they perceive as historic wrong committed against them by Christian-dominated colonial and post-colonial government and restore to them the lands which are theirs by historic right”. Transpose British for Christian and what does one conclude from it? Of course, it is conceded that the circumstances are not totally identical.
Furthermore, under “Basic Rights”, a provision states that, “with respect to the legal grievance of the Bangsamoro people arising from any unjust dispossession of their territorial rights customary land tenure or their marginalization shall be acknowledged. Whenever restoration is no longer possible, the Central Government and the Bangsamoro government shall take effective measure for reparation, collectively beneficial to the Bangsamoro people xxx”.
Leap of faith
Additionally, the Bangsamoro government is granted the exclusive function to administer land registration in its territory. Juxtapose this authority with the provisions earlier cited and it will take a giant leap of faith to hold that the whole idea will have no chilling effect on property owners who may have acquired their properties through what they believe as legitimate business deals.
Luckily, there is still time and space to put on paper a truly ‘milestone’ document. The process for “Normalization” is just about to start, and the Transition Commission is yet to draft the Basic Law. Congress, if necessary, can still put clarity to opaque declarations that tend to complicate issues instead of serving to provide implementable remedial measures to chronic problems.
Among others, the proposed legislation should address the following concerns: how will the government provide iron-clad guarantees that the Bangsamoro people who feel aggrieved will regard the law not as a green light to unilaterally occupy settled lands but as a means to put order in the community? Will the perceived settlers, under the declared policy, be now stripped of their properties and duly compensated for them? What is the legal scope of “historic rights” and will its assertion require supporting documents besides verbal claims? Who determines the elements of “customary land tenure” and whose customs and in which areas are covered? In case of inconsistency, whose custom prevails? Remember, the lumads were ahead of everybody else in the area. In sum, how will the government practicably implement this highly combustible aspect of the FAB or (eventually) Basic Law? As a postscript, how will the Parties carry out the wealth-sharing program such that it does not form a basis for parallel demands from other “aggrieved” communities?
It is reasonable to expect a conclusion of the comprehensive agreement by the indicated timeline. The remarkable resilience already shown by the negotiating panels and the exceptional bloom in President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s name are certainly a big plus moving forward But in order to broaden stakeholder support for it – a must for peace in the region to endure-it is important to establish the critical balance in the competing interests of the affected communities. As stated earlier, it is possible to contain their necessary elements in the remaining documents. It will be admittedly tough work for both sides during the negotiations. It will perhaps help if from within them they can summon Nelson Mandela’s towering sense of justice—selfless, forgiving, and liberating.
Ultimately, the people will demand an Agreement that can bear the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, one that the citizens of the Republic, especially the various communities in the Bangsamoro region, can live with, respect, and honor.
The blot in other people’s history need not similarly tarnish our own.
*Author is presently a Governor of the Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation, Inc. and a former Ambassador to the U.S.A., China, Australia, and Libya.