From the little that leaked out about the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE)–the main subject of the GRP-MILF agreement to be signed on August 5, 2008, more questions arise than those answered.
Yes, the BJE is definitely larger than the present ARMM, covering, according to a Philippine Daily Enquirer article “the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Sulu, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and Marawi City); the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte; and hundreds of barangays in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato, which voted to become part of the ARMM in 2001. The proposed MOA also provides for the inclusion of the Bangsamoro’s ‘ancestral domain’ in Mindanao, Palawan and Sulu.”
Yes, according to the same article, “the planned Bangsamoro homeland will have its own ‘basic law,’ its own police and internal security force, and its own system of banking and finance, civil service, education and legislative and electoral institutions, as well as full authority to develop and dispose of minerals and other natural resources within its territory.”
Based on the few precious details available, the scope of authority of the BJE seems to approximate–if not the same as–the authority of a local state in a federal state system. If so, what is going to be signed on August 5 will be beyond the autonomy mandated by the 1987 constitution.
The constitution speaks of a national state territory including all those mentioned in the agreement. It also speaks of a unified armed forces and police force. Further, it specifically defines autonomy as the only possible framework for Muslim Mindanao and prohibits any delegation of state authority outside of the constitution.
Article XII, Section 2 also stipulates that, “All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State.”
The political question that arises on August 5 is: Where did the President and her negotiators got their authority to promise what they cannot give?
If what they are thinking of doing is to change the 1987 constitution in order to shift the Philippine state from its current unitary system (albeit recognizing local autonomy) to a federal state system with local states, then they are putting the cart before the horse. They should do this before negotiating on a federal framework for the peace process.
Otherwise, they open themselves to the charge of treason based on the dismemberment of the Philippine State and to accusation of acceding to an agreement in bad faith–when they do not have the constitutional mandate for their negotiating position and their signature on the eventual agreement.
There is a world of difference between local autonomy and federalism. The former concerns local self-government of local affairs while the latter is about local state rule within a federal state system. Local autonomy may be achieved under a federal or unitary state system. Local state rule, however, can only be achieved under a federal state system. In fact, it is an inherent feature of federalism.
In the full BJE state concept, authority is exercised over all its territory, including the few hundreds of towns and barangays in non-BJE provinces, cities, and towns. This is far beyond the concept of local autonomy and introduces islands of unviable, unwieldy, and isolated political jurisdictions without linkages to their larger neighbors. It would also exacerbate the sluggish development of these jurisdictions and the sectoral divide between local majority populations and the local Bangsamoro minority population.
The people in Malacañang know well these points. That is why their insistence on signing this type of an agreement is suspect–both for the Filipino people and for the Bangsamoro. In doing so, they are attempting to use the MILF agreement to turn around and present to the people their argument for a charter change to establish a federal state.
The BJE, I am afraid, will not lead to a permanent peace in Bangsamoroland. It will sow new seeds for further conflict. Not really because of its merits, but because of the scant public support for its federal underpinning and the charter change it implies.
A national discussion on the BJE is called for before any agreement because of its vast implications not only for Bangsamoro and other Mindanaoans, but also for all Filipinos. Unfortunately, secretiveness–a hallmark of the GMA administration–prevented this.
This secretiveness has already created a lot of unease among affected residents of BJE-designated places and in many political circles. The whole thing seems to be designed to create an emergency situation that can justify political repression in preparation for an unpopular charter change.
A myriad of questions will surely rain down on the BJE and its national implications. Will we get credible answers from a lameduck presidency without credibility? I doubt it.