FIRST. As a member of the Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation Inc. (PAFI), I value the peace process and its ultimate objectives of achieving lasting peace and sustainable development in Mindanao. These are ideals which the UNESCO culture of peace has sought to ingrain in the national psyche. Unfortunately, the massacre of the gallant SAF 44 has caused many of our countrymen to wonder whether the peace in Mindanao can be won only by going to war. We should be grateful to the SAF 44 because their sacrifice will allow the nation to escape from the deeply flawed draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which the MILF wishes Congress to accept in its entirety.
Second. The peace process is now at a critical phase. The Mamasapano tragedy has obliged both Houses of Congress to conduct investigations in aid of legislation. Congress has the paramount duty not only to pass an organic law without the constitutional infirmities but also to ensure that such a law can be implemented to promote the general welfare without endangering the safety of the Republic.
Third. The Philippine Constitution authorized the devolution of power to an autonomous region in Mindanao but not the partitioning of Philippine territory by the creation of a sub-state with features designed, it is feared, to facilitate the option of secession. We should not close our eyes to the Preamble of the draft BBL, which does not renounce secession but proclaims the “struggle for freedom up to the present” of the Bangsamoro people and their right to self-determination. What message does the Preamble convey if the Bangsamoro refuses to pledge allegiance to the Republic?
Fourth. The Mamasapano tragedy has cast doubt on the sincerity of the revolutionary MILF to respect the sovereignty of the Philippines. The Congressional investigations provide the MILF with an opportunity to show its good faith and put the peace process on the right track.
Fifth. In due time, Congress should continue its consultations with the nation, particularly to draw lessons from the experience of the enhanced Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The peace panels have described the ARRM as a failed experiment although it has achieved fragile peace in Mindanao, subject to the threat of war by the MILF. Yes, the ARRM may have failed to generate sufficient resources, curb corruption, and disband private armies. Congress then should address these important issues and further examine how, over the long term, the diversion of resources to the proposed Bangsamoro affects the development needs of other backward regions and provinces of the Philippines.
Congress should consider whether diminishing the authority of the Constitutional Commissions in the Muslim Mindanao region would lead to less or to more corruption. And Congress should study carefully the text and implications of the provisions on Public Order and Safety and the Coast Guard.
Sixth. The PAFI has appealed to the President to be prudent and sensitive in awaiting Congressional action on the BBL. The proposed law would turn over power in Muslim Mindanao to the MILF even before the election of the Bangsamoro officials takes place. This concession, which violates equity and shows bad faith by the Government insofar as the MNLF is concerned, deprives the President of appointing an interim administration on the basis of the best qualified and prevents the election of the Bangsmoro officials to take place on a level playing field. This would repeat the historic mistake of handing over the ARMM to Nur Misuari and be insensitive to the rights of the other stakeholders.
Seventh. If the negotiations are resumed, the President should exercise strong leadership in protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic. The consultations may lead Congress to make amendments to the draft BBL that may bring back the peace panels to the negotiating table. The Government peace panel should be more conscious that this is not a negotiation between equals and that they have the duty to defend the national interest from a position of strength and not negotiate from a disposition of weakness. They should understand that the MILF should want peace and development as much as the Government and the people. The outcome of these negotiations should not be influenced by the interests of foreign countries.