Friday, October 12, 2012

Fear of the Bangsamoro state

Today there is a far less rigid understanding of the meaning of independence than was the case during most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The growing perception is that flexibility is needed with respect to the status of some territories that do not desire or cannot sustain full independence but are not “dependent” territories.
The Compact of Free Association is a case in point. Three small nations that used to be part of the U.S.-administered U.N. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands – the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau, entered into the so-called Compact of Free Association which terminated their status as wards of the international community in 1986 and gave them a new status of free association with the United States. These new freely associated states retain their sovereign right of self-determination but have assigned their security and defence and the conduct of foreign affairs to the United States, the latter being the larger partner.
This concept of sovereignty association has also been tried by the independence movement in Quebec but the separatists lost in the 1995 referendum by a close vote. There are also those who view the European Union from its beginnings as the European Coal and Steel Community as a complex sovereignty association of a special nature. More than a century earlier, a number of tiny European fragments left over from the pre-Napoleonic period – San Marino, Liechtenstein, Andorra and Monaco – were recognized as technically independent by the Concert of Europe.
Bangsamoro rebels of Mindanao, Philippines. Click link to view "Bangsamoro
Thus, those who fear that the formation of the Bangsamoro nation could lead to separation might be out of touch with history. It is almost inevitable that a population with a very distinct cultural and religious ancestry will always pine for freedom to self-governance, if not alone, through an association with the larger or central power that is willing to devolve some form of autonomy to this new entity. To achieve this type of autonomy would require a military uprising which has been the status quo ante before the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) recently negotiated a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that defines the sharing of political and economic powers.
But this Framework Agreement is not a perfect document. It is wrought with inherent risks. If it is a roadmap to peace as the government panel sees it, then there are too many roadblocks ahead, some of which might seem insurmountable, either by legislation or pragmatic politics.
Splinter groups within the Islamic liberation movement like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have already vowed to continue their armed struggle for self-determination as a separate state. Even the old Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari has charged that the Framework Agreement was illegal because of the existing peace accord between the government and MNLF.
The indigenous peoples such as the Lumads, and the predominantly Roman Catholic communities in the new Bangsamoro state may not totally support the new entity because of fear of being subjected to the Sharia justice system, and naturally for their displacement and loss of property. Although the Framework Agreement makes it clear that only Muslims will be under Sharia jurisdiction.
Another relevant question is how this agreement achieved by the MILF will affect the other peace negotiations between the government and the communist insurgency group represented by the National Democratic Front (NDF). The negotiations have reached an impasse with the government being apparently disinterested to continue. But should there be a peace agreement with the NDF-led communist group, is it going to be similar with the MILF Bangsamoro deal? This might further heighten the fear of dismembering the Philippine territory as defined under the Constitution, thus create more worries of future Balkanization of the republic.
Under the Framework Agreement, the new Bangsamoro entity shall replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which makes it almost similar to the previous Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) entered between the Arroyo government and the MILF. In other words, the provinces, cities, municipalities, barangays and geographic areas within the ARMM territory shall be the constituent units of the Bangsamoro. The Supreme Court has struck this latter agreement as unconstitutional although the main objection to Arroyo’s peace initiative was the secrecy and lack of transparency in how the agreement was made. This led to some speculations that Arroyo was simply paying back the MILF and her Muslim supporters for her re-election as president.
Proposed Bangsamoro Core Territory. Courtesy of Keith Bacongco,Mindanews Graphics.
Click link to view Speech of President Aquino on the preliminary peace agreement
between the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), 
While the new Bangsamoro nation under the Framework Agreement shall have a ministerial form (parliamentary) of government, its relationship with the central government is asymmetric. This means that the relationship between the two levels of government is not equal. Or expressed mathematically, Bangsamoro can have a relation with Manila, but Manila cannot have the same relation to Bangsamoro.
Who is Bangsamoro? Under the Framework Agreement, “Those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether of mixed or of full blood shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription.”
The territorial breadth of the Bangsamoro entity and the definition of the Bangsamoro identity might fuel some form of controversy that would be difficult to untangle. Constitutional purists, for one, will naturally thumb down any scheme of dismembering the Philippine territory without going through the amendment process. They will view this as giving up territories which the country has earned from the time of independence from colonization.
This Constitution-based objection to the Bangsamoro territory, however, can be overcome by the new political modality between the new entity and the central government. Their relationship is asymmetric, which means that while Bangsamoro will be an autonomous entity, to the central government it is not an independent state. The distribution and sharing of powers confirm this type of relationship.
Under the Framework Agreement, the central government shall have reserved powers such as those bundled up and assigned to the national government like defence and external security, foreign policy, foreign trade unless those already devolved under the law to Bangsamoro, coinage and monetary policy, citizenship and naturalization and postal service.
On the other hand, Bangsamoro shall have exclusive powers like the establishment of the Sharia justice system for Muslim inhabitants. Other powers will be shared between the two levels of government.
In effect, there would be no diminution in central political powers. The central government is not diminished by devolution of some types of autonomy to the new Bangsamoro entity.
But the most contentious of all issues in the Framework Agreement is how the parties will agree to the sharing of the largely untapped wealth of Mindanao’s natural resources. Currently, ARMM has a 50 percent share in the proceeds of exploiting strategic minerals in the region. Under the new Bangsamoro entity, it will get a 75 percent share in wealth produced in the areas under its control, or 75 percent of revenues generated, leaving the central government a mere 25 percent. Under any percentage sharing scheme, disaster looms either way. It cannot also be discounted that the new Bangsamoro entity could just be dominated by the same set of local elites that will bend to the agenda of the ruling national elite and American multinational corporations which have economic interests to protect in Mindanao.
Arguably there is no need for a constitutional amendment to enshrine the new Bangsamoro entity as the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law could be considered part of enabling legislation in support of the constitutional provision for autonomous regions like the ARRM and the Cordilleras. Or on the other hand, the proposed Bangsamoro entity could just be a ruse to open up the Constitution in order to change its economic and patrimony provisions that would give equal rights to foreign companies to exploit our natural resources.
Congress, which has been overeager to convene a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution, and President Benigno Aquino III, who has been ambivalent to Charter Change, might have finally stumbled on the rationale for amending the Constitution. The Bangsamoro juridical entity as envisaged by the Framework Agreement might be the biggest casualty of the peace process.

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