Bangsamoro Law: Key is Making Moro Autonomy Work

The acrimonious debate on the proposed Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) is focused on its legality and constitutionality. Critics of the BBL are keeping their bases covered. Even before the enactment of the BBL, petitions are piling up in the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) – the mother agreements on which the proposed BBL is based.

A wholesale declaration by the Supreme Court that the FAB and the CAB are unconstitutional will not only halt the BBL train in its tracks but will spell the collapse of the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

OPAPP and BBL proponents have embarked on a massive information campaign in defense of the constitutionality of the proposed BBL. A citizens’ peace council has proposed to reformulate the language of some provisions of the Malacañang-endorsed version of the BBL to make it compliant to the Constitution. The House Committee on the BBL has reported out a version of the legislation in the plenary, which it claims has been sanitized of unconstitutional provisions.

In the Senate, the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Laws has released a report critical of the constitutionality of the key provisions of the proposed BBL. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chairperson of the Committee on Local Government has vowed to introduce big changes in the Malacañang-endorsed version of the BBL not only to align it with the country’s charter but also to make it more inclusive.

The MILF has consistently maintained that pursuant to the FAB and the CAB, the Philippine government must enact a BBL that is consistent with the terms of the peace agreements. While it agreed to a symbolic decommissioning of a small part of its armaments and troops, it warned that no further decommissioning will be taking place before the passage of the BBL. Under its normalization agreement with the government, the MILF is bound to decommission 30% of its combatants and arms only after the enactment of the BBL.

War of attrition

The legislation of the BBL has turned into a war of attrition of sorts and no one is blinking. In a zero-sum environment where political agreements, constitution and laws are treated as etched in stone to reinforce entrenched positions, we lose sight of the interest common to all: making autonomy for Mindanao peace work.

The FAB and the CAB are negotiated political documents that articulate the aspirations of the MILF and the agreed roadmap by which these aspirations can be addressed. The legal status of the FAB and the CAB will be the subject of endless debates, but except for the terms that require only executive action, political autonomy can only be implemented via an organic or basic law legislated by Congress.

The agreed roadmap is for the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to draft the BBL that will be endorsed by the President to Congress. By this design, the prospect is diminished that in the end, we will have a BBL that follows the letter of the FAB and the CAB. The MILF-led BTC inevitably came up with a proposed BBL that interprets the FAB and the CAB in line with the MILF’s aspirations. Constitutionality or legality is understandably secondary to a rebel group that is up in rebellion against the country’s legal system.

On the other hand, the President and members of Congress who took an oath to uphold the country’s Constitution and laws are duty-bound to insure that the terms of the BBL shall be in accordance with the Constitution. The direct participation of the MILF in the crafting of the legislation for the implementation of the CAB has turned the legislative process on the BBL to an extension of the negotiations between the rebel group and government. The MILF was dragged into the legislative process and put in an awkward and no-win situation – advocating the Moro aspiration within the country’s restrictive legal and constitutional framework.

Not gaining traction

It does not help that President Aquino’s strong and unwavering commitment to the peace process is not matched by a dose of political will to institute much needed political and constitutional reforms to facilitate the implementation of the CAB and the enactment of the BBL.

The legal strategy of government that there is enough flexibility in the Constitution to accommodate the terms of the CAB has not gained traction in the legal community. Those who believe in the constitutionality of the proposed BBL subject to refinements in language are essentially calling for a liberal interpretation of the country’s charter. For good or bad, the strongest voices come from constitutionalists and retired jurists who appreciate all the efforts for Mindanao peace yet of the opinion that a meaningful implementation of the CAB requires charter change.

This “war of attrition” on the BBL between President Aquino, MILF, House of Representatives, Senate, peace advocates and interest groups could only end in an impasse or a BBL that will have weak public support and difficult to implement due to issues of interpretation, legality and constitutionality.

Under the current trajectory, the proposed BBL provisions with doubtful constitutionality will be either taken out from the bill or reframed according to government’s interpretation but will not necessarily square with the MILF’s reading of the CAB. Already, even some of the reframed provisions of the BBL version deliberated in the House plenary are considered to be less than the terms of the current ARMM law.

Interest-based strategy

To build and not squander the gains of the CAB and the peace process with the MILF, we must shift the frame by which the BBL is legislated from the current zero-sum positional approach to an incremental, interest-based strategy with the primary strategic goal to make Moro autonomy work.

This framework requires acceptance by key parties of the proposition that the FAB and the CAB are aspirational as well as roadmap documents and the political deals therein can only be meaningfully implemented in phases and in step with reforms in our political institutions, laws and processes. And political reforms require more than reconfiguring the relationship between Manila and the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity where too much national energy is expended on the meaning of “asymmetric.” Equally or perhaps more crucial is building a democratic, efficient and working Bangsamoro political institution that will lead the region to peace and prosperity.

There are no shortcuts to democratization and political reforms. It requires strong leadership and relevant, working and efficient institutions.

The experience of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) teaches us that meaningful change requires more than just giving the region more money and powers in law. It requires strong, enlightened and inclusive leadership and institutions to put in place and implement public policies that empower citizens than perpetuating control of the few to political and economic power. It calls for evolving efficient and workable institutions that can sustainably deliver basic social services to communities.

The CAB and the proposed BBL contain the “seeds” for promoting the needed structural and attitudinal change in the region. These are clarifying delineation of powers, responsibilities and accountabilities between the national, regional and local government units; promoting democratic participation thru the regional parliamentary system and genuine political parties, strengthening fiscal autonomy to insure that the autonomous region shall have sufficient funds to propel development; increasing the participation and share of the regional government to proceeds of energy and natural resources and increasing participation of the regional and local governments in law enforcement.

Right questions

These provisions are “seeds” to be nurtured not “magic pills” that will reform the region overnight. Relevant and effective public policies, structures and bureaucracy must be in place to operationalize these “seeds” for reforms.

In the crafting of the BBL, the baseline must not only be the FAB or the CAB but the ARMM. It is by understanding the history and context of the current autonomy that the FAB and the CAB can be understood and the “seeds” for reforms can be nurtured. The role of Congress is not only to look at the constitutionality of the CAB and the proposed BBL but more crucial (and it is in the best position) to determine and insure that institutions and processes are in place to bring about real changes in the autonomous region.

The Senate Committee on Local Government, the lead committee in the Senate on the BBL is raising the right questions. It asks, for instance, for the blueprint of the Bangsamoro government to determine the level of funding needed for its operations. Absent a clear program of Bangsamoro structures and government, the seemingly arbitrary formula for the block grant in the proposed BBL will only perpetuate the endless blame game in Manila-ARMM relations where the autonomous region faults Manila for inadequate funding while the national government blames the autonomous region for inefficiency and misuse of funds.

The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) is engaging the Senate in seven (7) academic and non-partisan roundtable discussionstowards greater understanding of the history, context and issues around the CAB, BBL and the ARMM. In these dialogues, IAG is partnering with the Senate Economic Planning Office (SEPO), the Senate-Muslim Advocates for Peace and Progress (SMAPP) and the Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF).

The peace process with the MILF cannot be anymore moved forward by the rhetoric of war and peace, spoilers and peaceniks. It will be to the best interest of the nation that we get real, buckle down to work and put in place workable public policies for national and regional reforms toward sustainable Mindanao peace and development.

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Response to Common Word – the Case of the Philippines

Originally posted on Bapa's Space - Friends of Peace:

Common Word….

By Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI

Tahrir Square

The interreligious gap and misunderstanding in the Southern Philippines has a long history. It dates back from the period of colonialism when the Philippines was annexed by Spain in the 16th century and later by the US at the turn of the 1900.

The encounter with Spanish forces was characterized by continuous war, except for intermittent truces that resulted to alienation and opposition between the Christianized Filipinos and the Islamized Filipinos now known as the “Bangsamoro peoples”.

The period during the American period was also characterized by war, only this time, by decisive military victory that put an end to the once powerful Sultanates in Mindanao and their annexation to the Philippines. This annexation paved the way for the programs of pacification and assimilation which included among others the opening of Mindanao for migration from the Luzon and the Visayas.


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From Security to Compassion

Originally posted on Bapa's Space - Friends of Peace:

by Dr. Aref Ali Nayed

Aref Ali Nayed

Compassion architecture is built on the theological fact that true security can only come from God’s own compassion towards humanity and the compassion of humans towards humans. Compassion is the condition of possibility of true security.

A Common Word, which was launched in October 2007, is an important  contribution to an alternative compassion architecture. Its signatories, whose number has since grown to 301, include Muslim scholars and thinkers of all theological schools, both genders, all ages and occupations.

The response from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians has been very  positive and several constructive conferences have already been held with them to explore our common ground. Some Jewish scholars have also made positive and encouraging comments and they will be addressed in a similar document.

For example, Muslim scholars met evangelical Christian leaders last summer at a conference at Yale University, for many the first…

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IAG Statement on the Mamasapano Incident

The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG)  shares the collective shock and grief of the nation in the wake of the deadly confrontation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that claimed the lives of Moro brothers and  more than 50 members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police.  We express our deepest condolences  to families who lost a husband, a son, a father or a brother in this bloody incident.

There is no question that this tragedy is adversely affecting the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  Already, some members of Congress and the Senate, where the bill on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is pending for enactment into law, have either withdrawn support for the bill or called for the suspension of the legislative process for its enactment.

Understandably, public reaction is swift in raising doubts about the reliability of the MILF as a partner for peace.  On the other hand, the MILF while expressing deep regret raised the failure of the SAF to coordinate its operations with the ceasefire mechanisms which when done could have averted the bloody confrontation.

It is without doubt that apart from the precious lives lost and injured, the public trust and support of the GPH-MILF peace process— an indispensable element in peacefully resolving the Mindanao conflict— is a casualty in this unfortunate incident.

The peace process seeks to avert violent incidents by reconfiguring relations and reforming public policies towards creating an environment where justice and peace prevails.

IAG therefore calls the GPH and the MILF to exert every effort to put the peace process back on track the soonest possible.

Yet, general statements unmatched by concrete actions will fall short in restoring the eroding public trust of the peace process.  IAG thus calls for the following concrete actions:

  1. For the Philippine government to conduct an independent and impartial investigation on the circumstances that led to the bloody confrontation, identify quarters and personalities who committed criminal acts, lapses in judgment and/ or violation of rules and policies and institute criminal and administrative charges against responsible personalities.
  1. For the MILF to conduct its internal investigation, ascertain the facts in an objective manner and when warranted impose punitive actions against their members who violated existing laws, rules and protocols.
  1. For the GPH and the MILF to institute confidence-building measures not only to rebuild their partnership for peace but more importantly to restore public confidence in the peace roadmap. Toward this end, the parties must show concrete results in the short-term out of the political and security reforms under the roadmap that include but not limited to tangible progress in entrenching the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in the BBL and in decommissioning MILF forces.

IAG will never waver in its commitment and support to the peace process and in challenging parties and stakeholders to responsibly fulfill their obligations under the peace roadmap.

January 27, 2015, Cotabato City

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Official Statement of the MILF on the January 25 Incident

This is the official statement of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front relative to the unfortunate event that happened at Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.
1. First and foremost, we express and send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died in the armed encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The emotions of loss and pain are not alien to us Bangsamoro and Mujahideens. Nevertheless, respect and solidarity is due to all, irrespective of which side they belong.
2. Our concern is the truth. There will be a lot of speculations as to what happened and until what happened is established with credibility and integrity, the said incident will weigh down our current efforts to bring peace to our homeland.
3. In order to give meaning to their deaths, we must resolve not to let something like this happen again. To this end, the MILF is convening a Special Investigative Commission (SIC) to be composed of members of the MILF Central Committee and BIAF General Staff who are tasked to investigate the events at Mamasapano, Maguindanao that resulted in the deaths of members of the MILF and of soldiers of the Philippine Government. The mandate of the SIC is to gather as much reliable information and interview witnesses to establish the truth. The SIC is given instruction to come up with a report to the Central Committee as soon as possible.
3. We hereby reiterate the MILF’s full commitment to the peace process. with the Philippine Government. An enduring peace and justice remains to be our primary objective. In this regard, all actions and pronouncements of our political and military units of the MILF should advance and adhere to this primary objective as much as possible and with due regard to the safety and security of our people and communities.
3. The MILF have been in negotiations with the Philippine Government for some time now. During this time, both parties have established protocols, ways of proceedings and mechanisms, which support and keep the peace. Adherence to these mechanisms have created a peaceful environment and lessened actual hostilities through the years. It is unfortunate but not entirely surprising that when parties do not follow established protocols lives are placed in harm’s way. We therefore recommit ourselves to follow these processes and protocols.
4. For widest dissemination.
Central Committee, MILF

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Bloodshed in Sabah and the Peace Process


The latest reports show that Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak ordered that “necessary action” be taken against the Sulu intruders in Sabah. In the firefight that ensued, 10 to 12 “royal army” members and two Malaysian security personnel were killed. The standoff appears not over as the spokesman of the Sultanate of Sulu vowed that their supporters in Sabah will continue to fight.

Since the “invasion” of Sabah by the “royal army” more than two weeks ago, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been trying to distance the peace negotiations from the claim of the Sultanate over Sabah. Chief government negotiator Miriam Ferrer said that the standoff in Sabah will not affect the peace process since the unsettled claims over Sabah is a foreign policy matter that is outside the purview of the talks.

The MILF was more blunt in describing the move of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu as sour-graping, putting their personal interests above that of the Bangsamoro people.

In response to the claim of the heirs that claim over Sabah was not considered in the peace talks, the government and the MILF said that the heirs of the Sultanate were consulted on the developments in the talks. In fact, the Sultan of Sulu was even present during the public signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Malacañang.

It is understandable that the parties are zealously defending the talks because at this stage, the parties are about to sign the comprehensive peace agreement, the mechanisms for implementing the pact are in place, and expectations are at a fever pitch that Mindanao peace is finally to be achieved before President Aquino’s term in 2016. The PNoy peace train is on the run and no one will be allowed to derail it.

Yet this peace train has vulnerabilities and these are exposed more by this unfortunate incident in Sabah.

Government’s claim that the peace process is inclusive sounds hollow when indispensable parties to achieving durable peace like the Sultanate of Sulu and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) feel left out in the process.

How can the claim of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu be outside the peace process when the sultanate is the historical basis for the Bangsamoro claim for self-determination which is at the heart of the negotiations?

Why must the sultanate’s claim be off the negotiating table when it holds promise for more resources to the Bangsamoro at the very least from the rentals paid by the Malaysians to the heirs of the Sultanate? Why would the Sultanate and the Misuari-led MNLF be treated like “spoilers” when they are a great source of pride and identity to the Tausugs whose fragile support to the peace talks with the Maguindanoan-dominated MILF could be further eroded by the bloodshed in Malaysia?

Malaysia’s role

True or not, the dominant perception is that by having Malaysia as facilitator of the talks, the parties have from the very start foreclosed any discussions of the Sabah issue in the negotiations. The peace process is handicapped by Malaysia being perceived as not being an honest broker in the talks because of its own interest in Sabah.

This perception is becoming more real when Malaysia resorted to violence to end the Sabah stand-off, sending off the message that its territorial interest over Sabah is primordial over its relations with the Philippines and its peace-making role in Mindanao.

While the Philippine government exerted all effort to leash the heirs of the Sultanate to maintain its good relations with Malaysia and protect the peace process, Malaysia reciprocated by resorting to swift violence over patient diplomacy which it demonstrated as a Mindanao peacemaker.

For close observers of the peace process, the images of the contrasting roles of Malaysia on Mindanao is ironic: The Malaysian Prime Minister as the “godfather” to the government-MILF peace talks proudly beaming during the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the same Malaysian leader giving orders to the Malaysian armed forces chief who was once the head of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) tasked to oversee peace in Mindanao to take all necessary action to end the impasse.

What’s at stake

The Sabah bloodshed will generate anti-Malaysia sentiments in the country and in the Bangsamoro which will hurt even more the credibility of the peace process.

In the aftermath of the Sabah standoff, the biggest mistake that government and the MILF can do in the peace process is to continue to put the Sabah issue under the rug and to discredit those who are critical of the process as “sour-graping,” “matigas ang ulo” (hard-headed) and “spoilers.”

There is an opening to harness broad support and coalitions to the agreed negotiated peace formula in the Transition Commission where Malaysia is out of the picture.

The MILF dominates the Transition Commission and with their negotiators and consultants in the majority, it is practically given the blanket authority to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law for consideration of Congress. The receptiveness, sensitivity, and openness of the MILF to the concerns and feelings of stakeholders like the Tausugs, the Sultanate of Sulu, and the MNLF in the crafting of the Basic Law will spell the success or failure of the peace process.

If the MILF wills it, the Transition Commission can potentially be the arena for genuine and meaningful intra-Moro dialogue and the building of alliances. –

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