The Philippine Ambassadors’ Association Inc. (PAFI) has been consistent in supporting the peace process in Mindanao within the framework of the Philippine Constitution.
Accordingly, the peace process should respect the parameters provided by the fundamental law of the land. I also share the view that the peace process should involve consultation on a nation-wide basis because the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law will affect the lives of all Filipinos. Additionally, the peace process must not contain the seeds of conflict and the destruction of the Philippine Republic but should promote peace, national unity and reconciliation.
Within this context, the national consultation should take into account the historic national setting as well as developments in the international horizon. The Philippine Constitution mandated the creation of an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, recognizing the rights of “cultural minorities” within the framework of national unity and development. It does not recognize the creation of another state within the Philippine Republic, which is a unitary state with a presidential form of government. The Constitution provides that “The President shall exercise general supervision over autonomous regions to ensure that laws are faithfully executed.”
This peace process was preceded by the 1996 Peace Agreement between the Philippine Government and the MNLF, then the main rebel group, leaving out of the negotiations the MILF, a splintered group advocating secession from the Philippines. The Agreement culminated in the passage of Republic Act 9054 also referred to as the ARMM Expanded Organic Law.
A key provision of this law is Section 3 under Article X entitled: “Ancestral Domain, Ancestral Lands, and Agrarian Reform.” Section 3 provides:
“As used in this Organic Act, the phrase ‘indigenous cultural community’ refers to FILIPINO
CITIZENS residing in the autonomous region who are:
a)Tribal peoples. These are CITIZENS whose social, cultural, and economic conditions distinguish them from other sectors of the NATIONAL community; and b) Bangsa Moro people. These are CITIZENS who are believers in Islam and who have retained some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.” (Emphasis mine)
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now seeks to change the concept of “Bangsamoro people” from a “cultural community” to providing the Bangsamoro with a separate political identity divorced from their Filipino identity. This would be the interpretation derived by the deletion in the BBL of the phrase safeguarding that the Bangsamoro people are Filipino citizens. The proposed BBL also widens the political base of the Bangsamoro by absorbing the tribal peoples as Bangsamoro, thereby depriving the tribal peoples of express protection of their separate cultural identities.
During the peace negotiations, the MILF, in support of their objectives, argued that they could be described both as Filipino citizens and as Bangsamoro, pointing to the Statute of Catalonia describing the regional population as both Spaniards and Catalans.
The example of Catalonia, however, is a disturbing reference because of the Catalan separatist movement holding that the Catalans are not Spaniards and because the Catalonian Parliament has voted to authorize the holding of a regional referendum in November 2014 on two questions: 1) Do you want Catalonia to be a state? 2) Do you want Catalonia to be independent? President Artur Mas has signed this Act into law.
The Spanish Government has petitioned the Spanish Constitutional Court to annul the Catalan law as unlawful, on the ground that the Spanish Constitution dictates that the matter of independence is a question for all Spaniards to decide. The Court has issued a Suspension Order similar to a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order).
The Catalan Government argues that the Catalans have a right to be consulted on the referendum issues pointing to the example of Scotland which recently voted on the issue of independence. (The winning side was against.) The separatist movements in Catalonia and Scotland are motivated by the notion of nationalism. However, Catalonia has a different status from Scotland because Catalonia is not a state but only an autonomous region of Spain. Scotland has a different status and was a different state from England until the Act of Union of 1707 enacted by the Scottish and English Parliaments, which established the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
The question of the legal status of the Bangasamoro people is of fundamental importance because it also affects the question of whether the so-called Bangsamoro political entity to be created has all the elements of a state or sub-state. One of the elements of a State is “people.”
The fact that they are Filipinos should, therefore, not be left ambiguous. The definition of the Bangsamoro people in the proposed Organic Law as being Filipino citizens would allay doubts on the sincerity of the MILF in renouncing their struggle for secession and achieving lasting peace and genuine reconciliation. The peace process should forge national unity and not lay the seeds of secession and strife.