Posts Tagged ‘Mindanao’

The Bangsamoro Pact

To the degree that our Constitution allows “autonomous regions” in Mindanao within areas “sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures and other relevant characteristics”(Article X, Section 15),  there is little argument on the recognition of a form of regional diversity which gives rise to a political right to a more or less separate government.

The problem is not in the recognition of the right.  There is already an Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The key is figuring out why it did not put an end to hostilities. It can be argued that this is due to the inadequacy of a structure which is attributable to faulty craftsmanship. Beyond that, it also lacked credibility amongst the various muslim factions themselves and the leadership administering the region was challenged from within. The previous exercise was a rush job that failed to account for the sectarian differences and validate the bona fides of the group seeking to represent them.

Yet, for the second time around, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines is on the cusp of realizing another peace accord (a copy of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro can be found here) with the same leadership — a splinter faction of the old and largely discredited face of the muslim resistance.  With due respect, are we sure we want to hand over the reins of government to a group of disgruntled ex-MNLF fighters without proof of their ability to lead the people they purport to represent?  To be more direct, can they control the numerous armed factions within the area and compel them to submit to their authority? As if to demonstrate the infighting (or to use a euphemism: “complex political dynamics”) among them, the Sultanate of Sulu has waged his own little war against Malaysia at the same time that the parties are seeking the kingdom’s intercession in the bargaining process. That the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has no control over the actions of the Sultanate hardly inspires confidence in their ability to police their own backyard.

Of course, peace is an overwhelming ideal. But why not a phased pullout of national government from the region? If its people seek autonomy, it is imperative to require  evidence of the ability to govern and consent of the governed — and these can only be demonstrated over time. By contrast, all the Framework Agreement seems to require is a plebiscite.

Lastly, the Constitution requires that the autonomous region exist within its own parameters. In “Province of North Cotabato vs. Government of the Republic of the Philippines” [GR No. 183591] the Supreme Court refused to give its imprimatur to a like minded document (the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain or MOA-AD)  for the reason that it could not exist within the same legal plane as the Constitution. First, the Court noted that the Constitution cannot accomodate an “associative” relationship with the  Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) because it does not contemplate any other state existing within its sphere other than the Philippine state, to wit —

“No province, city, or municipality, not even the ARMM, is recognized under our laws as having an “associative” relationship with the national government. Indeed, the concept implies powers that go beyond anything ever granted by the Constitution to any local or regional government. It also implies the recognition of the associated entity as a state. The Constitution, however, does not contemplate any state in this jurisdiction other than the Philippine State, much less does it provide for a transitory status that aims to prepare any part of Philippine territory for independence.

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“It is not merely an expanded version of the ARMM, the status of its relationship with the national government being fundamentally different from that of the ARMM. Indeed, BJE is a state in all but name as it meets the criteria of a state laid down in the Montevideo Convention, namely, a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and a capacity to enter into relations with other states.”

Although the Framework Agreement uses the word “asymmetric” (or unequal) to describe its relationship with national government, any further reading of the text will not conclusively remove the notion that the relationship between the Bangsamoro Government  and the National Government is also one of association. Judged by the standards of the Montevideo Convention, it seems that the Bangsamoro entity also seems to have the same characteristics of a “state in all but name.” The Framework Agreement makes sure that it has a permanent population, a defined territory and a government. It may be true that the Framework Agreement provides that the Central Government shall have powers on “foreign policy,” neither does it clearly define the power as exclusive.

 

 

 

 

 


An Uneasy Peace and Hard Choices

Soldiers Carry `Lucky' Wounded

`They Kept Coming' (Photo and caption from Philippine Daily Inquirer)

It can’t be easy to be Marvic Leonen  in Mindanao these days.

While achieving peace is Mindanao remains an overriding ideal, to say that the Al-Barka incident strikes a serious blow to the peace talks does not quite capture the complexity of the issues surrounding the Mindanao insurgency.

The ambush of  19 soldiers by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the single most brutal skirmish in years)  resurfaces some old questions, not least of which is the legal status of the conflict as well as the MILF themselves. The government at least seems unable to make up its mind whether this breakaway group of Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) should be treated as legitimate belligerents under international law or common bandits.  Perhaps they are something else entirely.

From a more pragmatic standpoint however, it raises doubts as to whether peace itself is attainable under the present framework.

For one, the ambush at Al-Barka begs the question of whether government is talking to the right people. If MILF admits responsibility for Al-Barka, then its sincerity and good faith are both vulnerable to scrutiny. On the other hand, if another group is responsible, the status of the MILF as “top dog” would appear to be disputable at best.

Indeed, the MILF’s insistence on a Bangsamoro sub-state presupposes their ability to preserve the peace themselves and to keep “splinter groups” such as Umbra Kato’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in tow. If the MILF can’t prevent “disgruntled” members from taking up AK-47s and running amok amidst the scores of the Philippine Army’s best trained soldiers,  how can they possibly keep peace using a motley crew of ex-farmers?

If the MILF gets their sub-state, what are they going to do with it? One certainly can’t look at the ARMM for inspiration.