The completion of the peace process with the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 appears to be a priority task of the Philippine Government because the absence of peace and security has hampered Mindanao’s development and is one of the root causes of poverty in parts of Mindanao.
The early conclusion of the peace agreement may also allow the whole country to benefit more fully from the Asean Economic Community scheduled to be in place by the end of 2015, by taking advantage of the southern Philippines’ geographical proximity to Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia for trade/transport corridors, developing Mindanao as a breadbasket for the BIMP/EAGA (Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Philippines—East Asean Growth Area) and promoting tourism for archipelagic Asean.
The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) has sought to create a new political entity (NPE) acceptable to the MILF, but without conceding statehood to this NPE, which would pose a threat to the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.
During the twentieth century, the constituent states of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia succeeded in obtaining independence. Many other entities aspired to statehood but without success, among which was the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom or ETA), the armed terrorist organization in the Basque autonomous region of Spain.
A more recent example of an entity wishing to obtain statehood and independence is the Independentisme Catala, a separatist movement in Catalonia located in northeast Spain. Spain is governed by its 1978 Constitution and has a unitary government with a Parliament in Madrid. The Central Government has devolved self-governance to its 17 autonomous regions in accordance with the Constitution but none of them can unilaterally break away.
Catalonia has a population of 7.5 million people and is composed of four provinces, including Barcelona where the regional Parliament is located and where the movement has the strongest support. Last December, Catalan President Artur Mas announced that the four pro-independence parties, which hold a majority in the regional Parliament, had agreed to hold a referendum on 9 November 2014, which would ask Catalan voters a two-part referendum question: Do you want Catalonia to become a state? Do you want that state to be independent? He explained that this date was chosen to allow for discussions with the Spanish government “to stage the consultation legally.”
The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy replied that the referendum would be considered illegal and that any discussion or debate on this was out of the question. The position of the Spanish government is that this referendum requires prior constitutional procedures and authorization by the State, and is a matter for every Spanish citizen to be consulted because it is up to all the Spanish citizens to determine the territorial organization of the State.
Support for Catalan independence is attributed to the notion that Catalonia is a nation, derived from contemporary political and cultural ideology based on the history of Catalonia, the Catalan language, and Catalan traditions. However, in a judgment dated 28 June 2010, the Constitutional Court of
Spain declared as without any legal effect references to “Catalonia as a nation” and the “national reality of Catalonia” expressed in the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia.
The Court also ruled that under the Spanish constitution, only the Spanish nationality is recognized although there is provision in the Spanish Constitution that makes reference to nationalities and regions, which composes the Spanish nation. This reference is found in Article 2 which provides: “The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed, and solidarity amongst them all.” Interpreting this reference to “nationalities” in Article 2, the Court, held that this was a historical and cultural term and had no legal weight, and that Spain remained the only nation recognized by the Constitution.
No parallelism: Catalonia, Bangsamoro
Holding up the erroneous example that Catalans enjoy both Spanish and Catalonian nationalities, some argued that Philippine laws should recognize a nationality for the new political entity, alongside Philippine citizenship.
The recognition of the “Bangsamoro Identity” in FAB appears to be a compromise by diluting its homogenous identity and providing it with considerable ethnic and linguistic variety but its legal consequences surely need to be spelled out to define it as a historical and cultural term in relation to the ancestral domain issue. This is necessary because there has been an effort to clothe the Bangsamoro with the elements of statehood. The FAB, for example, speaks of the Bangsamoro with a population possessing Bangsamoro Identity, with a defined territory including a maritime and aerial domain, and a Parliamentary government whose relationship with the Central Government is asymmetric and whose accountability is primarily to its constituents.
The Bangsamoro Identity is an important issue because the notion of a separate nation may be used in the future to promote independence for the autonomous region. There should be safeguards in the Bangsamoro Basic Law to ensure that it recognizes only one nationality and the indissoluble unity of the Philippine nation as a continuing unifying force for the entire Philippine archipelago and that the Central Government shall have exclusive powers on citizenship and naturalization, and making it abundantly clear that the Bangsamoro Basic Law is subject to the provisions of the Philippine Constitution. It may also be desirable that in the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the term “legitimate grievances “ be avoided and that instead, it should contain a preamble that the Bangsamoro aspires to establish reconciliation and integration, and to strengthen the historical, cultural, linguistic and ethnic bonds existing among all Filipinos, whether Muslim or Christian or of another religion or ideology, so as to promote their quality of life and their happiness.