While perhaps discomforting to the negotiators of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the studied temporizing by Malacañang in certifying outright as urgent the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to Congress is, in a realistic sense, a big positive for concerned stakeholders. It strongly suggests that the President is cautiously evaluating the draft of the Transition Commission before him vis a vis the voices of concern he hears from the general public. How he will balance the competing interests and how the MILF reacts to the “adjustments,” if any, he may submit to Congress will be everybody’s guess.
Well-intentioned groups, meanwhile, have managed to air their views on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes. They hope that Malacañang, if not Congress, will consider in the best light the output from their exercise. On 29 May 2014, for instance, the Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation, Inc., the Philippine Council on Foreign Relations, in cooperation with the University of Asia and the Pacific conducted a Round Table Discussion on the Issues surrounding the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro. In attendance, among others were faculty and students of UA&P, guests from the Muslim community, notably from the Sultanate of Sulu and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Former senator Santanina Rasul was among the distinguished guests.
Enlightening presentations were made on the various implications of the FAB. Particularly compelling was the presentation of Cong. Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City who discussed the FAB from the perspective of one to be affected in the region. He will surely share his views with his colleagues when the draft reaches Congress. Suffice it to say, at this point, that his was a comprehensive presentation which deserves serious listening to by the framers of the Organic Act, if only to craft it as a sturdy and dynamic instrument for lasting peace and progress in Mindanao.
The political and economic implications, discussed perceptively by Amb. Lauro Baja, Jr. (former Philippine Permament Representative to the U.S., New York and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs), and Amb. Jose Romero (former Ambassador to Rome), likewise deserve listening ears from decision-makers.
The Round Table Discussion extensively discussed the legal implications of the FAB. This author pointed out a number of possible legal infirmities already bared on various fora, in particular the constitutional provisions on the nature and composition of the Bangsamoro police force, wealth and resource sharing, and the introduction of a ministerial form of government in the autonomous region. He likewise suggested that to avert tension and possible conflict, Congress should clearly address the issues surrounding land tenure, including defining the elements of such terms as “ancestral domain”, “ancestral rights”, “historic right to land”, “customary land tenure”, and “unjust dispossession”. Similarly, he suggested that the issue on “internal waters” and “territorial waters” be reassessed, recommending instead the use of the terms “areas of jurisdiction” and “jurisdictional coverage”. To overcome uncertainties on the loyalty of MILF members to the Republic, he recommended that Congress incorporate, as in R.A. 6734 (ARMM Organic Act), as amended by R.A. 9054, references to recognition of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity. A notable view came from Atty. Salma Rasul, one of the discussants, to find a “convergence” in the transition from the 1996 Final Peace Accord to the implementation of the new Organic Act.
A lively discussion on the Philippine Sabah claim took place. The merits of the views may have to find a place in the Organic Act.
Recently, an official hinted that there should be “flexibility and accommodation” in approaching the FAB, in effect suggesting that the people should just look past certain legal deficiencies and simply adopt it. It may be proper to remind that the law practically serves as the bedrock of an orderly and organized society. Any call or counsel that a part of it should be glossed over erodes it which may in turn lead to its eventual collapse. Thus, it is imperative that the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Act be able to withstand legal scrutiny by the courts.
(Author serves as the Legal Counsel of the Board of Governors of Philippine Ambassadors Foundation, Inc. This column, while by-lined by individual members of the PAFI, is a joint-venture project of The Manila Times and PAFI.)