couldn’t believe what I was reading in the bill for the “Bangsamoro Basic Law” President Aquino personally submitted to Congress as his priority to implement his peace agreement last March with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Have Aquino and his negotiators gone mad?
Read it yourself, it’s available in full on this newspaper’s website, and you’d conclude the same way I have: This will dismember the Republic. The proposed law will create a “political entity” called “Bangsamoro,” which is not under the Philippine Republic, but which merely has – as the bill itself puts it – an “asymmetric relationship” with it.
And what does “Bangsamoro” mean?
“Bangsa” is Malay for a nation-state. The Spanish word “Moro” was the pejorative term Spaniards, and even non-Muslim Filipinos, probably up to the 1980s, called people of the many ethnic groups in Mindanao under the Muslim faith. The term originated from the word Christians used for the Muslims who conquered their Iberian homelands in the 8th century. In the 1960s, you’d be in trouble if you called a Filipino Muslim “Moro,” the same way you’d be if you called an African-American “Negro.”
The notion of a “Bangsamoro” was the invention of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari in 1969 when he founded the insurgent group and when the MILF forces were still with him. It was his way of defying that Spanish label and in his attempt to invent a common identity for the various ethnic groups of Mindanao, mainly the Taosug, Maguindanao, and Maranao under the Islamic religion.
Yet the bill implies that a “Bangsamoro people” had existed since pre-Spanish times that it is only fair to accede to their demand for an “ancestral homeland and their right to self-determination.
It is the utter stupidity of Aquino and his negotiators, bordering on treason, to agree with the creation of an artificial nation for the “Moors” in Mindanao. Nowhere in fact in the bill do the terms “Filipino” and “Philippines” appear. Even the national government is referred to only as the “central government,” and the Philippine president only as President.
Chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and other government negotiators wasted their time in what they melodramatically described as “hand-wringing working sessions” to draft a bill acceptable to the MILF.
Its chairman Ibrahim Murad and vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar, with some legal consultants, would have written a bill not too different from the BBL bill.
It is nothing but the Constitution – a synonym for “Basic Law” – that creates a self-governing nation-state under the MILF.
The bill even has the solemnity of a Constitution. Our Constitution’s Preamble: “We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society, and establish a Government….”
We, the Bangsamoro
The Bangsamoro bill’s Preamble: “We, the Bangsamoro people and other inhabitants of the Bangsamoro, imploring the aid of the Almighty…”
And closely mimicking our Constitution, it goes on to define the Bangsamoro territory (even its waters, which stand “12 nautical miles from the low-water mark of the coasts,” the international prescription), the nation-state’s General Principles and Policies, and its form of government.
Contrast that to the preamble of the law that created the ARMM: “The people of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to develop a just and humane society and establish an Autonomous Regional Government…”
The Bangsamoro or the BBL bill is an entirely different creature from the “autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras” which the Constitution allows as forms of local government.
Instead, it will set up practically an independent state with “exclusive powers over a long list of “matters,” which a sovereign country normally exercises over, except for a short list of matters “the Central government has reserved powers,” mainly defense and external security, foreign policy, coinage and monetary policy, and postal service.
This is also emphasized in the bill’s Article IV, Section 1, a de facto declaration of independence: “In the exercise of its right to self-governance and self-determination, the Bangsamoro is free to pursue its economic, social and cultural development.”
What if, the Bangsamoro state decides to invoke the above section, and secede from the Republic, or to ask Malaysia to incorporate it in its federation?
Is there a provision in the BBL bill to prevent this?
None at all. In fact, there isn’t even a sentence in the BBL bill that the Bangsamoro government officials consider themselves Filipinos and swear loyalty to our Constitution and Republic. That the Bangsamoro could become rich isn’t impossible since under the BBL bill, it would control the vast natural resources of central Mindanao, which includes the reputed deposits of natural gas and oil under the vast Liguasan marshes.
The Bangsamoro government, according to the bill, will be run by the 60-member Bangsamoro Parliament, purportedly to be elected by “the free choice of the people” through political parties.
One would be extremely naïve not to believe that it would be simply the MILF, by far the most organized and biggest force now in Muslim Mindanao that would staff it. The MILF’s existing “Jihad Central Committee,” which roughly has the same number of members, would probably simply overlap with the Bangsamoro Parliament.
And it is the Parliament that would elect the Bangsamoro Cabinet, which would, in turn, choose the government’s chief executive, called Chief Minister—who would, I’d bet, be either the current MILF chairman or vice-chairman.
What is patently unconstitutional in the BBL bill is its provisions that the Bangsamoro government shall have primary responsibility over public order and safety within the “Bangsamoro” and that a “Bangsamoro Police” would be created for this purpose.
This violates the Constitution’s provision that “the State shall establish and maintain one police force, which shall be national in scope and civilian in character, to be administered and controlled by a national police commission.”
The BBL draft bill clumsily tries to go around this constitutional ban by stipulating that a “Bangsamoro Police Board” shall perform the functions of the National Police Commission, and that “the board will be part of the National Police Commission.” I don’t think that’s enough to fool the Supreme Court, especially since another provision in the draft bill empowers the Chief Minister to have operational control over the Bangsamoro Police.
The MILF army, in effect, will simply be renamed the Bangsamoro Police, and the MILF chairman who had commanded the army will simply wear the robes of the “Bangsamoro Chief Minister.”
Especially because of reports that Malacanang’s legal offices had gone through the bill with a fine-tooth comb, I had thought that Ferrer and her associates had convinced the MILF to reduce their demands in order to conform with the Philippine Constitution.
Nothing of the sort. In fact, the draft bill has new provisions favorable to the MILF that weren’t even in the “Comprehensive Agreement with the Bangsamoro,” or the peace pact, which the bill was supposed to merely implement. Among, these:
“Article X Section 1. The justice system in the Bangsamoro shall consist of Shari’ah [Islamic] law, which shall have supremacy and application over Muslims only…” Contrast that to Section 1 Article IX of the ARMM law on the justice system in that region: “The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and other courts established by law shall continue to exercise their judicial powers.”
In the most flagrant violation of our Constitution’s principle of separation of Church and State, the BBL bill even specifies as sources of Shari’ah law, Al-Quran and other Islamic religions texts Al-Sunnha, Al-Qiyas, and Al-Jima.
What is an unnecessary capitulation to the MILF is a provision that would require the national government to appoint Bangsamoro people to the following offices in government: “At least one Cabinet secretary, at least one in each department, offices and bureaus, holding executive, primarily confidential positions; and one commissioner in each of the constitutional bodies.”
That means the MILF wants its cadres planted in practically the entire Philippine bureaucracy. The Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit under the Constitution have only three members each, including the chairmen. Under the bill, one out of the three posts would be reserved to a Bangsamoro member.
Come to naught
All these, though, could come to naught.
They’ve forgotten that one of the two reasons the Supreme Court ruled as illegal the 2001 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains was that it was not subjected to consultations both on national and local levels, to be participated in by people on whom its provisions would have an impact. Such consultations are required by the 1991 Local Government Code and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, the Court ruled.
They certainly can’t claim that the BBL bill was subject to consultations with the people in Mindanao that would be put under the Bangsamoro government. In fact, until it was submitted by Aquino to Congress, it was secret.
However, if the BBL isn’t enacted into law – if Congress fails to act on it until its term ends in 2016 or if the Supreme Court rules it unconstitutional – the MILF would go on a rampage, claiming the Aquino government betrayed it.
But even if it is enacted into law, there would be intense, and violent resistance against it, not only by non-MILF groups such as the MNLF but non-Muslim groups, because of the broad powers it gives the MILF. Already the 1970s “Christian”—if I may use that term—paramilitary groups, I’ve been told many months ago, have been arming themselves to fight the Bangsamoro state if it is set up.
This quagmire is what we get with a President who offered the MILF the moon in his delusion to win the Nobel Peace Prize and appear to be a performing president, with his cheering advisers and negotiators whose lives have been limited to NGO and university circles, hardly touching the real world.