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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