2nd of three parts
Many have openly questioned, as do I, why Malaysia was invited to be the facilitator and moderator of these talks. Malaysia, which stubbornly refuses to recognize our rightful claim to Sabah. Malaysia, which has, at least in the recent past, given shelter and aid to separatists and terrorists against the Filipino people. Malaysia is not a disinterested party, whose only goal is to aid the creation of peace. Malaysia’s involvement only raises suspicions about the loyalties of those in the new Bangsamoro region, and raises justifiable fears of the “balkanization” of our land, and the irretrievable loss of our rightful territory in Sabah.
Obviously, I would not have chosen Malaysia to assist us in this all-important endeavor. I suspect many of you would not have done so, either. That, however, cannot be undone now.
But what can be undone, and what we have undone, are the unacceptable and harmful conditions and provisions our president and our negotiating team thoughtlessly accepted in their haste to earn accolades for their work.
Let me be clear: we strive for peace. We must have peace, and we shall have peace. But we will not have peace at the expense of our sovereignty. We will not have peace by surrendering our land at the behest of the leadership of Malaysia, which, while a respected neighbor and valuable regional partner in many other ways, seeks only to advance its own interests in Mindanao and Sabah at the expense of the people of the Philippines. We cannot have a peace that violates our own supreme law, the constitution. And we certainly will not have peace if it excludes even one of the many groups who have suffered through the long years of conflict and the poverty it has caused.
Our version of the basic law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region fulfills the duty that we in this august chamber must fulfill, to protect the national interests of the Republic of the Philippines. It reserves to the national government those powers enshrined in our constitution: the responsibility for national defense, and internal and external security; foreign affairs; monetary policy and management of the broader financial system; matters of citizenship and immigration; maintenance of the postal service; trade, customs, and tariffs, other than those responsibilities already granted to the region through R.A. 9054; protection of intellectual property rights.
The basic law addresses the first and most important prerequisite to peace – the definitive end to armed conflict – by providing an efficient, verifiable program of disarmament and demobilization, overseen by an independent monitoring body, and providing the needed financial and social assistance to former fighters to become peaceful and productive members of society. It renounces war as an instrument of policy, and instead provides the governing structures and dispute resolution mechanisms needed to create a peaceful society managed through means that are morally and practically superior to armed conflict. It maintains the constitutional responsibility of the national government to maintain peace and order by making the Bangsamoro police force an integral part of the PNP.
While encouraging and supporting the unique culture and social structure of the Muslim community, it clearly defines the rights of non-Muslim citizens of the Bangsamoro autonomous region, the traditional sultanates, tribal communities and other indigenous peoples, and women, children, and otherwise disadvantaged citizens.
Furthermore, while the basic law recognizes that changes and amendments may be necessary in the future, it preserves the supremacy of the republic by making those changes subject to the approval of congress.
Another important way the national interest is defended, however, is by fulfilling – to the extent that our constitution and national sovereignty can allow – the desires of the Bangsamoro people for meaningful autonomy. The people of the Bangsamoro autonomous region wish for the right of self-determination over their internal affairs – this law provides that right, by establishing the local legislature, by granting authority to form necessary agencies and departments, and most especially by providing the framework by which our Muslim fellow citizens in the Bangsamoro autonomous region can adhere to the unique principles of their faith by following shari’ah law, managing hajj and umrah affairs for citizens from the Bangsamoro autonomous region, and establishing a system of islamic finance, among others.
These rights and privileges are equitably extended to non-Muslims and tribal people as well, with provisions made for the fair representation of the sultanates and tribal organizations in the parliamentary and other policy-making bodies. Likewise, inclusiveness of the Bangsamoro autonomous region and people within the greater republic is guaranteed by provisions for representation in the legislative, judicial, and administrative bodies of the national government.
The basic law also provides a framework by which the rich natural resources of the region – which should and will primarily benefit its people, but rightly belong to all Filipinos – can be equitably shared. A fair share of national revenues, as the constitution dictates must be provided to local governments, is also provided for, to ensure that the Bangsamoro autonomous region is financially sound and able to provide adequately for all its people. Key areas in which the region has chronically suffered from a lack of progress, for example, electricity generation and distribution, have been given special attention, with more flexibility granted to the local government to develop and regulate the regional infrastructure, within the bounds of national laws and complementary local laws regarding environmental management, industrial safety and standards, and investments.
These are the basic principles that were the guide to the writing of this substitute bill:
1) The primacy of our constitution which every citizen is mandated to obey and defend compels us to strike down any provision that is clearly in conflict with its letter and spirit based on our preliminary determination;
2) The autonomy of the constituent local government units of the Bangsamoro autonomous region as defined in the local government code of 1991, as amended, should not be diminished. This is aligned with our national policy of decentralization;
3) The principle of checks and balances in all aspects of governance should be strengthened because this is the main reason why the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao has failed;
4) While we recognize that substantial fund need to be pumped in to the Bangsamoro autonomous region for rehabilitation and development purposes, we should not overlook the fact that other regions and LGUs are equally in need of the same funding support. Hence, we risk an unequal distribution or allocation, which could potentially sow the seed of discontentment rather than unity amongst our countrymen. Thus, while we enhanced the revenue power of the Bangsamoro autonomous region, as well as financial grants from the national government, additional funding for development purposes should be better left with congress, through the yearly budgeting process;
5) The bravery and heroism of our SAF-44 had taught us many lessons, among which is that peace and order in the autonomous region should remain to be the primary responsibility of the national government, through our structured Philippine National Police;
6) The Bangsamoro autonomous region is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural region. Thus, the basic law must be inclusive by ensuring that all groups are represented in all aspects of governance;
7) The history of armed struggle of a number of our Muslim brothers with the latest formation of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a break-away group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, reveals that the struggle to establish a separate and independent state in that portion of our country remains a concern. It should therefore be clear that the proposed basic law will never be a vehicle for the establishment of an independent state;
8) Lastly, we go back to the fundamental premise that the organic law is about the continuing quest for the elusive peace in Muslim Mindanao. But peace cannot be achieved without an effective normalization process.
(To be continued)