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Posts Tagged ‘Bangsamoro’

[This is my forthcoming column in Catalyst. I’m posting it here because of numerous requests.]

President Aquino arrived in Tokyo at 6 p.m. Thursday, met the head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim at 8:45 p.m. at the Ana Crowne Hotel, and left for Manila at 10 a.m. Friday. By doing so, he set off a wave of speculations roiling across the nation, especially in Mindanao, where the MILF insurgency is situated. The request for the talk came from President Aquino, cutting through the usual protocols.

On its face, both sides agreed that the top-level one-on-one talk was successful. They both agreed on fast-tracking the negotiations, citing the boost the talk gave to the formal process. The MILF said in a statement that the meeting gave “a tremendous boost to the peace negotiations and in rekindling public expectation to fast-track the peace settlement.” The Chairman of the government panel, Professor Marvic Leonen, on his part said that the meeting “helps the formal negotiations between the panels on both sides.”

Professor Leonen also said that both sides “agreed that the implementation of any agreement should happen within [the term of] the current administration.” The MILF was a bit more reticent, saying only that there was “consensus that all substantive and outstanding issues discussed by both leaders will be taken up by the peace panels for deliberation on the negotiating table.”

It is inconceivable that the Philippine president will seek a personal, one-on-one meeting with the MILF chairman just for coffee talk, “getting-to-know-you,” or to merely boost the ongoing peace negotiations. This is all crap talk.

I think reading between the lines of the formal statements of both sides and subsequent pronouncements of both sides, plus a contextual assessment of the recent history of the peace talks, is more productive and can lead to an understanding of the President’s risky out-of-the-box move.

It is evident from the formal statements that the President discussed bottomlines and feet-on-the-ground options with Chairman Murad and that these were received with openness by the latter. What are these? The government side, in subsequent pronouncements, broadly hinted that it will not accept the idea of a Moro substate or any proposal akin to the ill-fated Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). There was heavy speculation last June that the President rejected the government panel’s original position, among other reasons, of resuming formal negotiations based on BJE and other major elements of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court already declared as unconstitutional.

The government, after the Tokyo talk, instead pointed out that the MILF has already set aside its strategic position for an independent Moro homeland and is opting for Filipino citizenship “with a Moro national identity.” It presumes that some kind of an autonomy arrangement will accommodate this position.

It is a fact that the MILF is losing ground, politically and militarily. The split by Commander Umbra Kato, who has strong ties with the late MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat, was a body blow to the MILF. The failure of the MOA-AD also weakened MILF’s political standing. It now faces an Aquino administration with a huge reservoir of political goodwill and unfettered by the sins or promises of the past Arroyo administration.

A political moment has arrived for a possible meeting point. President Aquino took the risk. Now, history will judge him whether he has the instinct of a peace warrior or the foolish imagination of a court jester.

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Malacañang has to get its way. In the Senate, judicious horse-trading produced the lopsided 13-7 vote for the postponement of the August 2011 ARMM elections to May 2013. The reconciliation of the House and Senate versions is a foregone conclusion. At the same time, the expected challenge before the Supreme Court may face more difficulties.

With the postponement, ARMM will enter uncharted and possibly more dangerous waters. It will have a long-term impact on the issue of the Moro right to self-determination and on the democratic discourse among the Moro people as well as among the non-Moro Mindanaoans.

All now hinge on the promised reforms in the coming 22 months. This hodgepodge of political and governance reforms promises to prepare the ground for “truly fair and free” 2013 ARMM elections. These consist–as presented by the Aquino administration–of cleansing the voter list, neutralizing if not eradicating warlordism, audit of ARMM funds, and delivery of government services across the board.

Cleansing the voter list–despite all the hype of biometrics–will require a new general registration. This is true for the national list, but even truer for the ARMM list.

Warlordism is a bit more ambitious but there is an outside chance for success if the administration exercises real political will and will negotiate, cajole, threaten, or order the dismantling of the warlord armies. Otherwise, it should  be prepared to use state power to throw the book at the recalcitrant ones. The main factor however is to mitigate, if not remove the factors for the growth of warlordism–by achieving a just and lasting peace with the Moro rebellion, effectively addressing Moro poverty, assuring Moro-non-Moro peaceful and productive relations, and empowering Moro grassroots-based democracy.

Audit should only be the start of wide-ranging reforms in the ARMM administration, bureaucracy, and governance. ARMM and the local governments in the area should be retooled to ensure transparency, accountability and pro-people orientation of the ARMM government.

The delivery of government services such as education, health, job creation, and peace and order should be immediately done, maintained, and continuously improved.

The big IFs are two. Can this be done within the time frame of 22 months? Can these enumerated reforms produce the “fair and free 2013 elections?”  However, there is also the bigger question: Are these enough?

After the postponement, we should all heal the wounds of the division and strive to bring about the promised reforms. This, despite all the misgivings.

Ironically, upon the “failed” ARMM rests the success of the administration’s venture. The Moro electorate in the 2013 ARMM elections will decide whether this experiment on “managed non-autonomous democracy” will advance the cause of Moro autonomy and democracy. Or, in another way of saying it, whether there is a lost and found ARMM opportunity.

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The events after the joint House committees on suffrage and electoral reforms and on Muslim affairs voted for the postponement of the August 2011 ARMM elections confirm the fear that the Aquino government wants to railroad the bill for postponement. They also confirm the emptiness of the ARMM as a model for the autonomy and democracy in the Bangsa Moro homeland. It is still the central government or, more particularly Malacañang, that calls the shot in the region.

First, it got an immediate urgent endorsement from the president and from LEDAC–after the House committees voted on it. Considering the urgency of reform bills now on track in Congress (such as the RH bill, the political party reform bill, the freedom of information bill, and the bills dealing with oil and inflation, tax revenues, or climate change), it is politically amazing that the synchronization of ARMM elections got an urgent presidential endorsement. This, despite the non-support for it from national electoral reform advocates.

Second, due to the vigorous opposition to it by the majority of ARMM congressmen and the seating ARMM autonomous government, the House committees–with obvious prodding from a hesitating Malacañang–conducted post-decision consultations in Zamboanga City, Cotabato City, and Marawi City. Both sides now claim that the consultations favored their position. What is evident, however, was that the administration resource persons uniformly presented their case for postponement within the context of it being a done deal, and asking only for suggestions on the process of appointment of officers-in-charge (OICs) and on possible “reforms” that can be made during the two-year hiatus until the 2013 national and local elections.

Third, the administration has undertaken a major national-level campaign to portray broad support from ARMM and Mindanao constituencies, including the reported arm-twisting of ARMM local officials who allegedly were threatened with difficulties with their internal revenue allotments (IRAs). The opposition expectedly came out with their own campaign.

There are several tragedies in the whole affair.

First is the setback it does to the principles and practice of autonomy and democracy. Whatever good intentions there exist in the postponement, these are swamped by the obvious setting aside of the processes that embody these principles.

The second is the involvement of many genuine advocates for autonomy and democracy for the Moro people in the Malacañang scheme. They have been promised an illusory future that may well compromise their advocacy. The political reality in the ARMM at this time is one of clan politics and the appointment process can only advantaged those clans with Malacañang connections, not necessarily those with advocacy for genuine democratic reforms.

The third is the damage it does to the democratic legacy of the Aquino family. The picture that is coming out of Malacañang nowadays is no different than the picture that came out in the early days of the previous post-Marcos governments. In some ways, it is worse because of the very high reform expectations in the new Aquino administration.  This is a picture of various factions, old ones which conveniently “converted,” new ones from the former opposition, reform-oriented ones, and the usual power brokers from the regions, religious sector, business sector, and media sectors. The Malacañang stance on the ARMM election issue has all the earmarks of political maneuverings and none of the genuine reform orientations.

The handling of the ARMM election issue has already scarred the Aquino administration. It will also have negative effects on his popularity and handling of other contentious issues such as the impeachment of the ombudsman. The battle may already have been lost in the House but it is another matter in the Senate. Malacañang may well win the postponement issue with its heavy hand; however, it may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.

A farcical autonomy that is the ARMM has been voluntarily undressed by the Aquino government. Has it also undressed its own hostile attitude towards Moro autonomy?

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The plight of overseas Filipino workers in the Arab and Middle East countries should be attended to and immediately!

A new order is coming into being in these countries–and depending on specific national conditions–Filipino OFWs will have to contend with its implications. The Aquino government should not underestimate these implications, not only to the OFWs themselves but also to our oil supplies, to inflation, local and global job availability, government tax income, Moro situation, great-power rivalry, international terrorism, and our democratic people power legacy.

The loss of possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs in these countries can lead–in the medium term–to a dip in the Philippine GNP growth. In a situation of global recession, this can lead to a “squeeze” effect when foreign jobs gets scarcer even as new graduates enter the labor market and the local job market cannot sufficiently expand to accommodate the slack.

Oil supplies may also suffer even as the oil prices shoot through the ceiling. This is also a “squeeze” situation where scarcer but pricier oil and gas products drive up inflation even as foreign reserves scramble to cover higher-priced oil importation.

The government basically and indirectly taxes the OFWs through their remittance spending (consumer goods in malls, land and housing acquisitions, tourism, and other family-based spending). This will slow down and marginal business may collapse. Government income may thus take a hit.

As instability engulf the Arab world and the Middle East, big powers will increasingly compete for scarce resources–not only in these countries but throughout the world including southeast Asia. We are already well within the ambit of this hidden “resource war,” as a possible major resource for oil, gas, and other minerals.

Politically, we are also vulnerable to the events in the Arab world and in the Middle East because of our own Moro Muslims–who have living ties to the Arabic world. The Al Qaeda network extends into the region and into the Philippines. And to a certain extent, the events there mirror our own 1986 people power.

It is now a question of when–and not if–a major global crisis hits us from the events in the Arab world and the Middle East. The crisis opens both the door to our own crises and our own opportunities. Interesting but dangerous times. Also, dangerous but interesting times.

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Upon the motion of Rep. Rodolfo C. Fariñas (1st district, Ilocos Norte), the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms passed HB 4146 by a vote of 23-4. The bill seeks to postpone the ARMM elections to synchronize with the 2013 national and local elections and for President Noynoy Aquino to appoint officers-in-charge to the ARMM elective posts of governor, vice-governor, and  members of the regional legislative assembly.

The chairman of the House Committee on Muslim Affairs and co-chairman of the Joint Committees, Rep. Tupay T. Loong (1st District, Sulu), walked out along with some members of his committee.  Committee vice-chair Bai Sandra A. Sema (1st District, Maguindanao and Cotabato City) took over and proceeded to call for a vote on the bill, resulting in an 11-0 vote in favor of the postponement.

The voting–marked by the majority participation of non-Muslim representatives from Luzon and Visayas–has the earmarks of a railroading. The request (or motion) of the Muslim oppositors for time to conduct committee consultations with their ARMM constituencies fell on deaf ears. A surprising behavior from the majority…

The worrying effect of the exercise (and in fact, the whole scheme by the Aquino administration) is its setting aside of the current rules of the electoral game in the region and substituting in its place a naked struggle for Malacañang favor. One can argue that that has always been the case in ARMM since its inception–and he or she will be right.

However, there is nothing left upon which the clans (and all other electoral stakeholders) can anchor their claim to participation in democracy and decision-making.

The vote and the manner it was done represent a setback to the struggle for self-determination and democracy of the Moro people. It will have a deleterious impact on the quest for peace in the region and strengthen the argument for rebellion. If not handled delicately, there is a danger of political polarization that may well undermine the very mandate of the Aquino government among the Moro people.

The Aquino administration has not yet learned the lessons of the Moro issue. With the almost unstoppable momentum towards a Malacañang coup in the South, we have entered into an uncharted territory.

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The cat is already out of the bag. The administration of President Noynoy Aquino wants to postpone the ARMM elections and to appoint an officer-in-charge until the elections are synchronized with the national and local elections in 2013. Presumably, it will then let the elections be held in a credible, fair and free manner.

Predictably, those Moro clans who are with the administration jumped with alacrity into the Malacañang 10-wheeler. Predictably, those Moro clans who have benefited from the past Arroyo administration opposed it. Those who are now in power feel threatened and, while agreeing that the elections be postponed, argue for their retention in a “hold-over” capacity. Other groups want to dispense with the ARMM altogether or to hold an immediate referendum to decide whether to go through with the ARMM elections.

The big surprise in the scenario is the passionate advocacy of some non-Moro groups–both Mindanaoans and those in Manila, including those who fashionably termed themselves as democrats, liberals, pro-Moro, and/or anti-imperial Manila freedom fighters–for Malacañang to intervene, for the umpteenth time, in ARMM elections.

The irony here is that they are now arguing for President Aquino to appoint an OIC when they were demanding previously against presidential intervention in internal Moro affairs. For sure, appointing an OIC will be a first in any administration. In itself, it will be a setback to the cause of Moro self-determination and to the cause of Philippine democracy itself.

The disruption of the regularity of elections–without the existence of  extraordinary conditions that justify it–weakens the democratic argument and undermines the rule of law. The synchronization of elections–avowed basis for the OIC appointment–rests on specious and tongue-in-cheek foundations.

Let me cite Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, in this regard:

“The first argument is to leave the ARMM configuration open to whatever may ensue from the peace process with both the MILF and the MNLF.  The peace process in the Southern Philippines would NOT come to an  ‘end’ in three years or before the elections of 2013.  Even if agreement is signed with the MILF before the 2013 Elections, the said Peace Agreement still has to be legislated by Congress.  Both the negotiation and the consequent legislation are long and tedious work.  It is a wrong and definitely bad policy to hold the ARMM structures and leadership hostage to the vagaries of peace negotiation and legislation by Congress.”

“The second argument is to allow the incumbents to introduce reforms in the ARMM during the two years ‘extension’.  It is good to state at the outset that REFORMING the ARMM, definitely, is a gargantuan task.  The two-year extension even directly guided by the Prophet Muhammad or Jesus himself would hardly make any difference.  Reform should be seen as a continuing task and challenge both for the regional leadership and national leadership that exercises general supervision over the areas of autonomy.”

“The third argument is the flawed elections in the ARMM. If this is the case, the appropriate action is not canceling elections but introducing reforms in the conduct of elections in the ARMM beginning with the book of registered voters.”

The Commission on Elections, through chairman Brillantes himself, has assured the joint House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms and the committee on Muslim affairs that it can hold the ARMM elections in August 2011 as scheduled, that it can be automated with additional safeguards such as the use of fingerprint identification. I also think it can undertake a general registration of ARMM voters before August if needed, as well as all the other measures necessary to ensure a credible, fair and free ARMM elections.

Let me add that president Aquino (and his people power supporters and allies) cannot effectively implement a genuine reform program to strengthen Philippine democracy without practicing democratic principles and methodologies.

Arguments were also advanced that the postponement is necessary and an OIC can ensure that a democratic reform path will be taken in order to break the rule of the warlord clans in the area and ensure ARMM development. This is self-serving at its worst.

So, “managed democracy” is now the name of the game for the current administration? What is the difference with the methods of the past administrations, including that of Marcos? Did not all those previous “managed” arrangements end up with the ARMM far worse than before.

Democracy cannot be built and strengthened without institutionalizing democratic practices. The Aquino administration–with its avowed democratic legacy–will be far better off by making sure democracy works in ARMM, not by presidential fiat but by ensuring the will of the Moro people are respected and affirmed.

For democratic forces, they are far better off in continuing to advocate for electoral reforms and strengthening democracy in the Bangsa Moro homeland–at the moment, the ARMM. For those among them in the halls of power, they are in a position to implement these reforms–by making sure that the ARMM August elections are held as scheduled, in a fair and free manner as possible, and even to campaign for genuine democratic Moro leaders to lead the ARMM.

Eventually, what is necessary is to institute new, democratic political rules whereby Moro political groups, including the tribes and clans, contest on a level playing field. The results then, will be acceptable to all.

If you  want to meddle in the ARMM elections, then do it the democratic way. Power used wisely strengthens the hand of the sovereign people in a democracy. Power used wrongly only strengthens the hand of the ruler and his courtiers.

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It is laudable that the GRP panel which negotiated the MOA-AD decided to go public and make available the official copy. I got mine last night from Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, the panel chairman. It is also laudable that they opted to open the whole thing to public discussion. Now, for an initial reaction.

During the current imbroglio regarding the GRP-MILF memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain, a major point of contention that often comes up is the constitutionality–and hence the mandate–of the government negotiators. Critics contended that there is no such constitutional mandate and that the agreement (and those who negotiated, including presumably the president) violates the constitution. The proponents, on the other hand, defended their actions–averring that constitutional and legal processes have been followed and that the Executive has the mandate to negotiate.

Who is correct? On its face, I would accept the legal arguments used by the proponents. Peace negotiations, by nature, contemplate even changes to the constitution, if so required to achieve just and lasting peace. Numerous international examples abound regarding this. It is also correct when they say that the agreement may still go through legal (and constitutional) processes by way of possible review by Congress, Supreme Court, and through plebiscites (if requiring constitutional change and, for citizens in proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity-BJE). The MOA-AD will also be subject to the formal negotiations on the “comprehensive compact” final agreement.

Politically, the process the Executive department and its government negotiators went through to arrive at the MOA-AD is wrong, fraught with danger, divisive, and ultimately, may result in the rejection of the agreement and even a return to war. I would call it politically unconstitutional.

Apart from specific provisions in the MOA-AD that can be questioned, the basic federalist framework of the agreement (yes, it is federalism, whatever the hem and haw of the negotiators) is its Achilles heel. Federalism is a general state system, in the same level as its opposite–the present unitary Philippine state system. It is a system whereby separate local sovereign states agree to unite (or federalize). Based on a voluntary agreement to give up certain powers and authorities to the central federal government, this state system allows these local states to choose whether to remain in the federation or to go independent–they are sovereign states.

Autonomy arrangements, envisioned and allowed by the 1987 constitution for the Moro people, Cordillera people, and–as local autonomy–for local governments, are on a quite different level. They cover only governance of local affairs (self-government, local government). They do not touch questions of state rule or its basis such as military affairs, foreign affairs, or monetary affairs.

The MOA-AD acknowledges this formally by stating that these affairs are still with the central government. This is true, even for federalized states. The reason here is that these three are the raison d’etre for creation of a unified state, in strengthening its capability to maintain its existence in the community of states.

However, in the same breath, the MOA-AD, among other authorities, granted the BJE its own “internal” security force, the right to be represented in Philippine foreign missions and, on its own, send and receive trade and economic delegations, and review, amend or cancel the “central” government’s mining and other economic contracts. These authorities are authorities of a sovereign state and, under the 1987 constitution, can only be exercised by the Philippine state.

The only scenario for the implementation of the MOA-AD is for the Philippine state to convert itself into a federal republic of at least two or more states, including the BJE. The MOA-AD therefore assumes that this will be so, and in the near future.

Is federalism a “done deal” in the Philippines? If this is so, then the question of constitutionality of the MOA-AD will not be politically controversial. Then, constitutional reform would be the order of the day. However, I don’t think the critical mass for such a radical shift in our state system has been reached–the national discussion has just barely begun on it.

Aside from this, the president–as the main proponent–does not have anymore the political capital to push for it. There is also the constant public suspicion that GMA is just riding on the federal issue to retain power beyond 2010. At the moment, if a snap vote will be taken on a shift to federalism, it would lose by a big margin.

The 1987 constitution–and its autonomy framework–is still the political mandate given by our people up to the present for negotiating the Moro peace question. I am not speaking of the ARMM–this particular concoction, I think, does not do justice to the constitutional intent and framework of Moro autonomy.

It is in this sense that I dub the MOA-AD constitutionally violative–the government negotiators, including the president, overstepped their political mandate. They should have made sure of the federalist framework for their negotiation before they entered into it. At the least, the political leaders and parties–whether ruling or opposition–should have been consulted first as well as the major stakeholders such as the churches, media, private sector, and civil society. Failing this, they should go back to the negotiation table.

There is little doubt that the MOA-AD and its BJE will not gain political support among the majority Filipinos because of its federalist underpinning. Nor, conversely, can it be made an argument for the federalization of the Philippine state.

The MILF and the Bangsamoro people’s struggle, at this stage, have not yet won the right to a sovereign state. A key ingredient for this is the acceptance by the rest of the Filipino people of such a state. Unfortunately, the MOA-AD is a premature document in this regard.

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