The announced completion of the negotiations for the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the signing by the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of the following — the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro or FAB (October 2012), Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities (February 2013), Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing (July 2013), Annex on Power Sharing (December 2013), Annex on Normalization (January 2014) and side agreements on Bangsamoro waters and the Terms of Reference for the Independent Commission on Policing — is a remarkable achievement considering the on-and-off peace negotiations that have been dragging on for the past 16 years.
It is even more noteworthy considering that the armed struggle for self-determination led by revolutionary organizations of the Bangsamoro — first the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) established in 1970 and then the MILF founded in 1984 — against what is termed even by non-Muslim Mindanaoans as “Imperial Manila” or the Manila government has been ongoing since the early ’70s after the 1968 Jabidah Massacre.
According to the MILF, the root cause of the Mindanao conflict is the continued denial of the historic and legitimate right of the Bangsamoro people to self-determination. Unfortunately, the CAB (FAB plus Annexes) is fraught with pitfalls, some of them potentially fatal for the MILF, whose leaders and forces have been fighting for this fundamental right, first as part of the MNLF, then as the break-away MILF.
The same major criticism that then-MNLF leader and eventually MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat had for the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Philippine government and the MNLF may hold true today. The CAB, in particular, the Annex on Transition, categorically subsumes the peace agreement to the GRP Constitution and legal processes.
The MILF broke away from the MNLF in protest of the Misuari leadership’s agreeing to be a dependency of the Manila government, and for most of the GPH-MILF negotiations, persistently argued for what they termed a “substate,” superior to a regional autonomous region or the ARMM. The latter was subject to the Central Government’s legal processes, arbitrary and unilateral decisions as well as to the vagaries of changes in administration, not to mention being prey to the impositions of the economic, political and socio-cultural forces controlling such a government.
The MILF has, as GPH negotiator and now SC Justice Leonen pointed out, “changed their position” and is banking heavily on the sincerity, trustworthiness and ability of President Aquino to uphold the government’s end of the bargain. They have been promised that the ruling Aquino regime will use its leverage on Congress (that will enact the Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL) as well as on the Supreme Court (where petitions challenging the constitutionality of the CAB and then the BBL are bound to be filed by oppositors).
Will the MILF countenance the watering down or excision of provisions in the CAB as it goes through the legislative mill? Or is it hoping that Mr. Aquino’s still formidable clout over Congress (fed by more than one trillion in presidential pork) can ensure that the BBL will get wholesale Congressional stamp of approval?
The Aquino government asserts that the CAB does not require Constitutional amendment even as the MILF insists that it does and has tried to keep a window open for this; i.e. the Transition Commission can recommend the necessary changes in the Charter for the purpose of harmonizing its provisions on regional autonomy with the CAB.
Nonetheless, oppositors can invoke the 2006 SC ruling that the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) is unconstitutional and therefore key sections of the CAB that derives from the MOA-AD, if not its entirety, should also be struck down as unconstitutional. In this regard, Aquino’s appointment of to the Supreme Court of the former head of the GPH negotiating panel was a shrewd political move to embed a champion of the CAB and future BBL in the High Court.
But as a matter of fact, the assertion of the Bangsamoro ancestral domain in the CAB is virtually or practically obliterated. It is replaced by the agreed-upon Bangsamoro territory (basically an expanded ARMM with a provision for possible inclusion of contiguous areas upon petition of 10% of residents and approval by majority of qualified voters) and the wealth sharing annex that only talks about a bigger share of the revenue from taxes and the exploitation of natural resources into be allotted to the future Bangsamoro autonomous government.
The MILF had, in the MOA-AD, defined the ancestral domain as: “… those held under claim of ownership, occupied or possessed, by themselves or through their ancestors of the Bangsamoro people, communally or individually since time immemorial continuously to the present, except when prevented by war, civil disturbances, force majeure, or other forms of possible usurpations or displacement by force, deceit, stealth, as a consequence of the government project or any other voluntary dealing entered into by the government and private individuals, corporate entities or institutions.”
Furthermore, the MILF had asserted: “In the context of the present negotiation, Ancestral Domain pertains to the recovery and re-establishment of the National Homeland of the Bangsamoro People.” While the FAB provides for the recognition of a “Bangsamoro identity,” this could merely be interpreted as a cultural identity but not identity as a historic people or nation akin to the recognition by Canada of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as the “First Nations.”
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority that the BBL will create (to be led by the MILF) has at most two years left of the transition period before it will have to contend with entrenched political dynasties of reactionary Moro elites in the 2016 elections. It is dependent on the block fund that the Aquino regime will provide as its kitty to undertake the needed socioeconomic and political reform. The BTA will also be dependent on what foreign governments will provide even as it becomes beholden to these governments with their not-so-hidden agendas like the access and basing rights for US armed forces in the Bangsamoro areas.
The MILF would also have to depend on the Aquino regime to clear the way for its leaders to take over the reins of government in 2016 as the new Bangsamoro government. And to ensure continued support for the BTA and the implementation of the rest of the CAB, the MILF would have to campaign hard for Mr. Aquino’s presidential candidate in 2016, hoping that the new Chief Executive will be of the same mind as President Aquino.
As to the Annex on Normalization, while the pace and schedule of decommissioning — essentially disarmament and demobilization of the MILF fighters — is still unclear, the GPH has announced that this will start with the signing of the CAB and will proceed upon the phased implementation of the CAB such as the passing of the BBL and so on down the line.
So is the MILF only looking to achieve a “broader autonomy” compared to that given to the MNLF through the ARMM wherein “an existing five-province Muslim autonomous region is to be replaced by a more powerful, better-funded and potentially larger region to be called Bangsamoro?”
But wasn’t that what Republic Act 9054, “An Act to Strengthen and Expand the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao” passed during the Arroyo presidency was also — at least on paper — trying to do? What happened was that the Moro elite, including the murderous Ampatuan clan allied with then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, got further entrenched and poverty and underdevelopment persisted and worsened in Muslim Mindanao.
Assuming that the terms of the CAB will be implemented to the satisfaction of the MILF (despite the fact that the road to that sought-after goal is littered with obstacles and pitfalls) what is the assurance that the Moro people would not only find themselves ruled by a new set of elite, albeit one that could emerge from what the Framework Agreement calls a “new autonomous political entity.”
A strong revolutionary Bangsamoro movement is the only assurance that the Bangsamoro people would not find themselves in such a deplorable situation.
Published in Business World
February 6, 2014