Mixed Feelings

The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) has long been advocating for the policies that are now in the Framework Agreement.  Among these are the inclusiveness of the  peace process, a regional ministerial-parliamentary system of government, limiting the core of the autonomous region to Moro-dominated areas and meaningful fiscal and political autonomy to the region.  The Framework Agreement reflects the sum total of the countless dialogues, hard lessons learned, the gains made and the dedication and perseverance of past and current panel of negotiators from the GPH and the MILF.

Yes, I feel thankful and elated that we succeeded in making a big leap for peace and proud that some of our advocacies are turning into policies.  Yet, why is it that I’ve been feeling some butterflies in my stomach since the framework was made public and that I couldn’t get myself to fully get into a fiesta mood? Why do I have mixed feelings about supposedly this big leap for peace?

I realize that with my sense of joy and thankfulness is that of fear and anxiety about the future.   GPH chief negotiator Marvic Leonen describes the Framework Agreement as containing more of inclusive processes than defining outcomes. My problem is not the roadmap which looks sleek and logical. The problem is that it is not clear whether the parties are committed to accept any outcome so long as the roadmap is followed.

The decommissioning of the MILF troops will take place in phases.  Whether the decommissioning shall be done in step with faithful observance of the roadmap or to the extent the outcome satisfies the MILF is an open question.

What has really happened is that the arena of the negotiations has been changed.  From the arena  involving only two parties— the executive branch of the GRP and the MILF, the negotiations are moved  to a much broader arena where a  “joint GRP-MILF panel” will be dealing, advocating and negotiating with institutions that hold the key to the desired outcomes.  These institutions are the Philippine Congress, Supreme Court, Moro revolutionary fronts, traditional, religious and political leaders in the Bangsamoro areas.  This arena is a big minefield that scares me no end.

There are many things that can go wrong in this arena.

The GPH is accommodating the demands of the MILF within the country’s political system, constitution and laws.  The agreement contains provisions with doubtful constitutional and statutory bases, among which are the ministerial form of government, abolition of the ARMM and the asymmetric relationship between central government and the Bangsamoro government. Legal challenges can stop, set back or disrupt the process.

It does not help that the agreement does not sufficiently explain or define some crucial terms like “asymmetric relationship” and “ministerial form of government”.  The term asymmetric was introduced by the MILF in the negotiations in relation to its demand for a Moro sub-state. The GPH’s interpretation of the ministerial form of government looks different from that of the MILF which envisions a regional parliamentary set-up like that of the federal states of Malaysia.

The open season for self-serving and multiple interpretations invite judicial interventions that could derail the implementation of the roadmap.

In the political front, it is illusory to believe that Congress will pass the draft basic law in toto.   Congress, with its plenary powers can change, add or set aside the draft Basic Law of the Transition Commission.   Two factors will play in passing the Basic law in Congress.  One is the constitutionality of the provisions of the Basic Law and two, whether the Basic Law promotes or decimates the political and economic interests of legislators especially those from Mindanao.

The draft Basic Law will be submitted after the May 2013 elections.  By then, the political complexion and dynamics in the country will be different. The political capital of a one-term sitting President even how popular he is, diminishes after mid-term elections where political decisions will then be made in view of  what could win candidates in the 2016 presidential and national elections.  Local political leaders in the Moro region whose fragile support to the roadmap will be further strained by the 2016 election fever where they have to play to other “power centers” outside Malacanang.  Without the solid support of the political leaders in the region, ratification of the Basic Law and inclusion of the core areas in the Bangsamoro will not happen.

Instead of passing the Basic Law, the optimistic scenario is Congress will initiate charter amendments to accommodate the terms of the Framework Agreement and the Basic Law.  The potential pitfall here is that there may not be enough constituency for Mindanao peace in the whole country to ratify the amended charter in favour of the Bangsamoro.  The rejection by the national electorate of the needed charter amendments will not only set back the process but also open wounds of division that this framework seeks to heal.

I hope that I will not be branded as a “prophet of doom” or a “spoiler” by what I said in this piece.  I fully support the roadmap which I said IAG has advocated for long. But we cannot be complacent and harbour the illusion that Malacanang and the MILF alone can coast this roadmap to a successful outcome.  Power and wealth sharing between and among institutions and leaders in the Bangsamoro will be as much crucial a factor as the negotiated sharing of wealth and power between and among the Moro people and the rest of the country.

I pray that in this arena where political titans haggle for the bigger share of the small political and economic pie, the dividends out of this framework agreement will improve the lives of the poor and the marginalized in the region.  Only then will this agreement  be instrumental in the quest for sustainable peace in the region.

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