THE need to wage peace, not war, in the South has not waned, but the conditions under which peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other rebel groups must be pursued have drastically changed. The Jan. 25 Mamasapano, Maguindanao massacre, in which 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force commandos were killed by the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has altered everything.
It is now clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that the basic assumptions underlying the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, signed between the MILF and the Aquino regime, and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which seeks to implement it, are flawed; they will promote war rather than peace. Therefore, the BBL must be withdrawn, and the peace process begun all over again.
Some prejudicial questions
The process must continue with all the parties concerned. But only after clearing certain prejudicial questions, and excluding foreign parties seeking our country’s dismemberment. Who are these parties now? Malaysia? The Western powers? More to the point, is the MILF still the party to parley with after all the deaths it had caused among our law enforcers? Has it not been reduced to just one of the players after the BIFF and the newly emerged Justice for the Islamic Movement (JIM) started engaging our armed forces?
Now, after coddling two international terrorists at Mamasapano, how does the MILF propose to convince anyone that it has no policy of harboring terrorists in its camp? And how does it propose to convince anyone that the BIFF and JIM are not just its special arms tasked to continue the war while it talks peace with the government?
Danger of balkanization
These questions must be satisfactorily answered before we move on. Prudence requires that we scrap rather than rush the BBL, but we must stay focused on the fundamental principles that should guide our actions. Genuine autonomy, as an intrinsic feature of federalism, is one of these principles, shorn of the features that could result in ‘Balkanization’. This is a geopolitical term (Wikipedia) that refers to the violent fragmentation or division of a region or a state into several regions or states that are often hostile to one another, as happened in the Balkan peninsula, at the end of the Ottoman Empire, between 1817 and 1912.
We should not allow this to happen in Mindanao. Surprisingly, this was never discussed at any level or length before or during the MILF-Aquino peace negotiations. But the threat of balkanization is real. It proceeds from the attempt to carve a confessional Islamic sub-state out of a purely secular multi-religious nation-state, composed of those who would have declared themselves “Bangsamoro,” and no longer Filipinos.
Two serious questions
This presents enormous challenges to the Constitution. First, with respect to the separation of Church and State and the survival of our multicultural system. And second, with respect to our common allegiance as citizens to the Republic of the Philippines.
Not only does the Constitution mandate the separation of Church and State to be inviolable. The Bill of Rights also provides: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”
All these are incompatible with Islam, which makes no distinction between Church and State, between state politics and state religion. The Islamic state is a seamless politico-religious whole; if the BBL passes, and the Bangsamoro becomes a reality, there may be no legal authority within or outside the Bangsamoro to enforce the above-quoted constitutional provisions. The Bangsamoro will probably simply not recognize such authority.
Ethnic and religious cleansing
This could result in only one thing. Either the Christian inhabitants would be physically driven out of the territory, or they would have to relocate on their own. This could ultimately mean some form of ethnic or religious cleansing. I cannot imagine the Christian settlers who have worked all their lives to develop their own lands and grow their own cattle simply giving up. They would most likely resist those who would claim that their long-dead ancestors used to own all the lands in the area before the Christians came, and that they would now like to repossess them. This could provoke a clash of arms. This is what makes the BBL not an instrument of peace, but a cause of war.
Bangsamoro, not Filipino
Article I, Section 1of the BBL—and this is the second point—provides that “those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or aboriginal inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands, including Palawan, and their descendants, whether of mixed or full blood, shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription. Spouses and their descendants are classified as Bangsamoro.”
This proclaims Bangsamoro as a nationality, separate and distinct from that of being a Filipino or any other nationality. “Dual citizenship” is not mentioned at all. Understandably so, because any mention of dual citizenship would expose the fact that what is being created by the BBL is a “separate and independent state,” instead of some nameless entity, and one inhabited by Bangsamoros rather than by Filipinos. So one is either a Filipino or a Bangsamoro.
By calling these inhabitants of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan “Bangsamoro,” Article I, Section I disingenuously declares the same territory as Bangsamoro territory, as distinguished from the national territory. Balkanization is thus accomplished to the cheers of the Aquino crowd without the MILF having to actually conquer the country. This is horrible enough, but a much bigger horror awaits the country.
ISIS and the Caliphate
The radical perversion of Islam has given rise to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. A US-led coalition is trying to contain it, and the world is praying it would succeed. But whether or not it does, ISIS has declared that it aims to spread the Islamic Caliphate across the globe—from Morocco through North Africa and the Middle East, down to India and Pakistan, and then to Bangladesh and Myanmar, and then to southern Thailand and then to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and finally southern Philippines.
We need all peace-loving Filipino Muslims or Muslim Filipinos to work together to prevent that from happening. But carving out a purely Islamic state or substate in our purely secular multi-denominational nation-state is no way to prevent it; it is one way of welcoming it. Multicultural federalism could be the antidote, but the reckless crafting of the CAB and the BBL may have unduly tarnished the idea of federalism itself. People do not always distinguish.
In 1982, I wrote the political party platform for the Social Democratic Party, which Reuben Canoy and I had organized with a few other Mindanaoan friends. This was the first party document that advocated a multicultural federal system for the Philippines, akin to that of Switzerland, Canada, Germany and the United States. I have not deviated from that position since, and I am happy to see that Davao’s Mayor Rudy Duterte, among others, has recently been pushing for it.
We need multicultural federalism not just for Mindanao but for the entire Philippines. It could be the answer to our insurgency and underdevelopment. We need not adopt all of it in one go, but probably in stages. We could look at the various successful models to learn from their mistakes, and avoid drifting towards the path of the Balkan states.
Unlike the proposed Bangsamoro, multicultural federalism should put a premium on ethnic cultural values, but no cultural ghettos should be created by drawing the territorial boundaries of the component federal units along cultural lines. Cultural majorities and minorities should freely interact with, and learn from each other in order to build the community values that will form the moral and cultural bedrock of each federal unit. It should liberate the creative energies of each unit to enable it to simultaneously compete and cooperate at top speed with every other unit.
Within such a system, no ethnic group needs to claim primacy over all others so that its own traditions and culture would flourish. Genuine autonomy, though not separatism, is guaranteed.
This is a large and ambitious project that could easily provide the turning point in our development. We have to give it our best shot. We cannot leave it in the hands of a regime that has long demonstrated a complete lack of vision and competence, and long lost its moral authority to remain in office. The people must be directly involved in it. The country’s federalization must be their own handiwork, through a new constitution written by delegates specifically elected for that purpose.
This is one much needed reform which Cory Aquino avoided when she became revolutionary president in 1986. And this is what the National Transformation Council wants to see after her mentally impaired son gets out. This is why we must now discard the BBL, and compel the Aquino regime to step out.