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COMMENT: Bridging the Historic Chasm (5)

III. Strategic Compromises (2. Clash of Concepts)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/ 09 November) — As discussed in the “Re-View”, the Moro Problem is more than 400 years. The Moros started agitating for redress of the wrong done against them when they came under the American rule. They are still negotiating for the same redress a hundred years after. There has been a change: Since 1976, the Philippine Government has agreed to negotiate a political settlement starting with the GRP-MNLF Tripoli Agreement of 1976 that in itself was just a framework – not a fully completed — agreement.


In 1996, the negotiation with the Moro National Liberation Front yielded the Jakarta Accord or 1996 Final Peace Agreement – “the full implementation of the Tripoli Agreement of 1976”. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rejected the 1996 FPA and in 1997 started a separate negotiation with the Ramos government.


The signing of the FAB last October 15 after fifteen years of negotiation kindled the hope and optimism that the elusive final solution of the Moro Problem will be secured during the Aquino III administration. But the roadblocks have not been fully dismantled; in fact, compromises on some basic differences still have to stand the test of sincerity and time.


 Unacceptable Status Quo


The first compromise of the Parties is in agreeing “that the status quo is unacceptable and that the Bangsamoro shall be established to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao”. [See: Part I, Section 1 of the FAB and Key Point 2 of the April 2012 Decision Points on Principles (Decision)]. This is a key compromise; its finally agreed interpretation animating the BBL will determine the features of the Bangsamoro that will be established.


Initially, the Parties differ in their interpretation of “the status quo that is unacceptable”. To Government, the unacceptable status quo is the ARMM; the solution is to replace it with “the new autonomous political entity” to be named “Bangsamoro”. To MILF, it is the unitary system of government in the Philippines; the solution is a political entity with an autonomous government having “asymmetrical” relation with the Central Government.


Government grants the asymmetric relation – categorically in Part I.4 — when in Part I.2 of the FAB it agrees that the “government of the Bangsamoro shall have a ministerial form” – this form being one of the features of asymmetric relations. Does this settle the “unacceptable status quo” issue? It appears so – if the compromise would ultimately satisfy MILF.


Asymetric Concept


As an apolitical concept, “asymmetric relation” brings into focus the unitary and federal systems; and, in the case of the Bangsamoro, its implication on the Moro political status as a majority or minority.


According to the dictionary, “symmetry” means “balanced proportion”; it’s opposite, “asymmetry” – and so its adjective form “asymmetric” or asymmetrical” means lack of proportion. In political science, a unit of government is asymmetric when it is peculiarly distinct from the other units within the political system of the country.


Under the unitary system of the Philippines, all regions, provinces, municipalities, barangays and cities have uniform political features and subject to the same top-to-bottom control of the Chief Executive, as defined in the Local Government Code. The ARMM is different from the administrative regions of the country. Its political features and control are provided in Sections 15 to 21 of Article X of the 1987 Constitution and defined in its Charter, R.A. 6734 as amended by R.A. 9754.  However, its asymmetric relation with the Central Government has not been properly appreciated.


Under the federal system of the United States, all states have the same political features and status in relation to the Federal Government. However, in a sense, the Indian reservations functioning as government granted under special laws and subject to the authority of the Federal Government, not of the state where they belong, are asymmetric.


MILF wants the Bangsamoro government to be truly autonomous – unlike all other local government units down to the barangay which are under rigid control of the Central Government. Being autonomous, Bangsamoro government, unlike the ARMM, should freely determine its political, social and economic affairs like what federal states do – with minimal control from the Central Government. It should have a ministerial form of government to be elected under an electoral system framed by its legislature.


Since the Philippine government is not federal, MILF Panel Senior Member Datu Michael O. Mastura explains, the relation of Bangsamoro government to the Central Government must be asymmetrical. The ministerial form of Bangsamoro government is obviously modeled after the federal-parliamentary system of Malaysia and some countries in Europe, not the federal-presidential system of the United States.


Under this asymmetric concept, the Moros are no longer a minority. In the Bangsamoro government, they freely manage their own political, social and economic affairs. They rule. They are the majority responsible to the Bangsamoro people for the development of Bangsamoro.


Under the unitary system, the Moros are part of the whole – from five to ten percent of the whole; hence, the minority demographically. As such, they are also a political minority. As a small part of the unitary whole, the Moros get little political and economic attention from Manila – too insignificant for meaningful or effective development.  They are not in the priority plan of the ruling circle or elite.


Potential Discord


Will the ministerial form of government and asymmetric relation of Bangsamoro to the Central Government in the FAB satisfy the political settlement pursued by MILF? That will be known after the drafting of the BBL


As a guide in the drafting of the BBL, the FAB will be subject to interpretation. The TC members are all Bangsamoros; eight including the chairman are MILF appointees; the seven others, Government appointees. They are expected to consult their principals especially on contentious issues. Unless the Government and MILF panels already have the finally agreed interpretations of the FAB provisions written down and signed for ready reference of the TC, more compromises are to be expected.


It should be noted that the Government peace negotiators are avoiding amendments to the Constitution and, at the same time, questions of constitutionality against the BBL before the Supreme Court. President Aquino III has stated a number of times that he is against the amendment of the Constitution. Yet, Part VII, 4.b of the FAB allows TC to “work on proposals to amend the Philippine Constitution … whenever necessary …”.  MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal has stated to the press that ambiguity in the FAB allows wider latitude of option.


Do Government and MILF have the same concept of ministerial form of government for Bangsamoro?


Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, member of the Government panel, presented a paper, “Forging a Peace Settlement for the Bangsamoro: Compromises and Challenges”, at a recent forum at the Australian National University in Canberra. Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila discussed this paper in his column, Analysis, on October 29 and 30.


As Doronila cited or quoted Ferrer: The President agreed to the MILF proposal for a ministerial form of government after the Secretary of Justice and legal experts including retired Supreme Court justices had assured him of its constitutionality. On the part of the government panel, they scrutinized the constitutional provision stating that “there shall be an elective and legislative for the autonomous government”.


As quoted, Ferrer is referring to Article X, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution — on “Autonomous Regions” — which partly states: “… The organic act shall define the basic structure of government for the region consisting of the executive department and legislative assembly both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units….”


Doronila further quoted from Ferrer’s paper: “Noting that the executive is likewise elected in a ministerial form, albeit indirectly, the government was convinced it stood on constitutional ground and agreed to the MILF proposal.” This is so far as the election of the chief minister is concerned. How about the “basic structure” of the ministerial form of government? Is the MILF concept the same as “basic structure” contemplated in Article X, Section 18 above?


Concerning the “jurisdiction over the electoral exercise in the Bangsamoro” as the right of the Moros, the government panel’s position is that “while the Bangsamoro assembly will legislate the specifics of their electoral rules including scheduling elections as needed, the administration of the electoral process cannot but be under the independent constitutional body that is the Comelec”.


It appears that from portions of Ferrer’s paper as quoted and cited by Doronila in his two column articles, the government’s position is this: The ministerial form of government of the Bangsamoro and its asymmetric relation with the Central Government must be defined in the BBL within the flexibility of Article X, Sections 15 to 21 and other relevant provisions of the 1987 Constitution only – obviously, still within the unitary system.


Has the MILF fully accepted this in consideration for the government’s agreeing to the proposed ministerial form of government for Bangsamoro and its asymmetric relation to the Central Government?


(Next: 3. More Observations)


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