MILF or Bangsamoro-led Transition Authority?

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The negotiations on the annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro are reportedly on “technical impasse” on among others the issue of leadership over the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).  The Bangsamoro Framework provides for the following:

“8. Upon promulgation and ratification of the Basic Law, which provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the ARMM is deemed abolished.

9. All devolved authorities shall be vested in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority during the interim period. The ministerial form and Cabinet system of government shall commence once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority may reorganize the bureaucracy into institutions of governance appropriate thereto.

10. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority shall ensure that the continued functioning of government in the area of autonomy is exercised pursuant to its mandate under the Basic Law. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be immediately replaced in 2016 upon the election and assumption of the members of the Bangsamoro legislative assembly and the formation of the Bangsamoro government.”

Media reports say that the government panel’s position is for a Bangsamoro-led BTA while the MILF insists that an MILF-led BTA is non-negotiable. 

The government is apparently envisioning a BTA that is inclusive of political groups in the Bangsamoro—MILF, MNLF, local political and local leaders, indigenous groups etc. On the other hand, the MILF insists that “it has long been the partner of the government in peace-making in the 16 long years of negotiations and after it signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB); but all of a sudden, the government would replace it with strangers to the talks” (Luwaran quoting MILF negotiator Alonto).

The position of the MILF is logical.  When the government entered into a Framework agreement with the MILF, the government  has acknowledged two propositions: First, that the formula in the Framework agreement can bring about sustainable peace and second, that the MILF is government’s partner in implementing the roadmap. Since the BTA is an instrumentality in the transition process, the MILF should have a leading role there as government’s partner in implementing the roadmap.  The leadership of the Bangsamoro is a different issue left to be resolved in the elections for leaders of the Bangsamoro government in 2016. 

On the other hand, since the signing of the agreement, the government has been on the defensive over the issue of the legitimacy and representation by the MILF of the entire Bangsamoro that it has been hard-pressed “framing” the Framework as an inclusive and democratic way to resolve the Mindanao conflict.  The government knows that it cannot deliver its commitments under the framework agreement without getting the support of Congress, the Supreme Court , the MNLF and local political and traditional leaders in Mindanao.  Whether we like it or not, support among the political elite to the roadmap will be much driven by the degree in which their political and economic interests are guaranteed or endangered in the new Bangsamoro government.  

An MILF-led transition authority is a sensitive issue to the Moro political elite because it will give the MILF the distinct advantage and resources of an incumbent in the 2016 electoral contest.  While the Bangsamoro Framework may provide for Bangsamoro-led or MILF-led BTA, it is the Basic Law approved by Congress that will finally determine the configuration of the BTA.  The challenge is to avoid getting to the cliff where Congress crafts the Basic Law largely along narrow partisan political interests and passes a law that is substantially inconsistent with the Framework Agreement or draft law submitted by the Transition Commission. A provision in the Framework of an MILF-led BTA will most likely bring the peace process to this cliff.

The government and the MILF must find a way out of its impasse where the MILF’s role as the primary partner of government during the transition is not diminished while giving the Aquino government enough elbow room to build support around the roadmap.  One way is to focus on the qualities of those to be appointed to the BTA than indicating who and what groups to lead the BTA. One qualification for BTA leaders is commitment to the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement.  The MILF will definitely have a leading role in the BTA since it is the champion of the peace agreement.  In this formula, the MILF must trust that President Aquino will uphold his commitment to the MILF as a peace partner.  

Another option which is complementary to the first is to make the BTA a non-partisan and professional outfit considering that its main task is to prepare the ground for the establishment of the new Bangsamoro ministerial government.  The BTA is an implementing not a policy-making or political body and it can do a better job for the short period of time it exists if it is insulated from political interests.  During the transition, let the politicians build political parties while the professionals establish effective and accountable structures and processes.

It is disheartening to hear that there is “impasse” and “non-negotiable” positions after the government and the MILF unveiled in great fashion to the entire world the signing of the Bangsamoro Agreement.  The government and the MILF owe it to the ordinary Moro people and the country whose hopes and expectations they lifted during the signing of the Framework on October 15 to prove that they can rise above narrow parochial interests.  The parties have a great opening to introduce a new politics that give life not death and destruction in the southern Philippines. It will be a great tragedy if this opening is wasted over the issue of control and leadership.  The MILF’s greatness will not lie on its having control of the BTA or other instrumentalities or how much concession it got from the government but on the visionary ideology and politics that it advocated and brought into fruition.  The Moro people will remember this MILF legacy in the 2016 elections and by then, leadership by the MILF of the Bangsamoro will not be imposed, negotiated or self-ascribed but will flow from the sovereign will of the Moro people.

 

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