Editorial & Opinion

What about the constitutional barriers?

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The signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front expectedly drew mixed reactions from various sectors.


While foreign governments and local business leaders welcomed the peace agreement, in the words of Vice President Jojo Binay, as “the first step in the long journey to peace and progress in Mindanao,” various sectors also raised questions and concerns on the latest peace accord.

In calling on all Filipinos to support the agreement, Binay said: “I am hopeful that with this act of unity and goodwill, we will finally usher in a new era of genuine and equitable growth and development for our Muslim brothers and sisters and the people of Mindanao.”

The Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) welcomed the agreement, saying the accord opens up Mindanao for investments and business opportunities that would bode well for the Philippine economy.

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), an umbrella organization of investors in the agriculture and fisheries sectors, said the agreement would open up opportunities for agriculture investments in Mindanao and free up the manpower for farm projects.

Even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which has opposed President Aquino on many issues, joined the celebration. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We pray that this first courageous breakthrough will be followed by more steps leading to true and lasting peace in Mindanao,“ said Villegas, who cautioned, however, that dialogues and consultations with the various sectors in Mindanao should be continued even after the signing.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country hosted the negotiations, expressed what many Filipinos felt about the new peace accord: “Forty years ago, darkness came to Mindanao. In a struggle that bridged a generation, 150,000 lives were lost. Today, we turn to face the light. Today belongs to the Philippines and to the people of the Bangsamoro.”

Well said, except that the light appears to be not as bright as he pictured it to be. Dark clouds remain in the horizon.

Amid the jubilation, skeptics continue to raise doubts on the success of the peace pact. Columnist Emil Jurado of the Manila Standard Today, for example, warned that while the accord may usher in the final peace and full development for Mindanao, “there’s still a long way to go in achieving it because the long road to final peace could be filled with land mines.”

Indeed, there are a lot of obstacles along the way. There is, of course, the problem of the angry faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari and the rebellious breakaway MILF group of Ameril Umbra Kato, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Sultanate of Sulu.

Although Misuari has reportedly been ousted by the group led by vice chair Abul Khayir Alonto, there is no question that Misuari, who is being supported by the Sultan of Sulu, still have a handful of loyal followers who can do damage to the peace accord.

The BIFF, which split from the MILF in 2008 because it wanted to continue pursuing independence, has only a few hundred armed militants but it has launched deadly attacks in the past to disrupt the peace process and has been able to withstand repeated government assaults against it.

“The war is not yet over. We are still here,” BIFF spokesman Abu Missry Mama warned.

And then there is the bandit group, Abu Sayyaf, and the numerous tribal warlords and clan leaders, who all have their own heavily armed private armies.

But at this time, those armed groups are the least of the Aquino administration’s worries. The CAB is an agreement that needs an enabling law, and at the rate both houses of Congress are being stalled by investigations on numerous corruption scandals and with the 2016 national elections looming on the horizon, there is no certainty that the law authorizing the creation of a Bangsamoro entity would be approved before Aquino’s term ends.

Without the pork barrel funds, which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional, it may be more difficult for Aquino to make Congress toe the line this time. And with the 2016 elections lurking behind every senator and congressman, the debates could be lengthy and contentious.

Even if Congress passes the enabling law, there is still the matter of a plebiscite at least in the areas that would be under the jurisdiction of the proposed Bangsamoro entity. And then, there is the legality or constitutionality of the peace agreement and the enabling law, for that matter, that would have to be decided by the Supreme Court, which had stopped a memorandum of agreement on eminent domain on the Bangsamoro in 2008.

There are so many contentious provisions in the agreement that would have to pass the scrutiny of both Congress and the Supreme Court. Foremost among them is the issue of sovereignty.

The CAB is basically creating another state. The word “bangsa” means state as in the Tagalog word “bansa” which means country or nation. Under the CAB, the Bangsamoro will be governed by a 50-man Bangsamoro Assembly, which elects the Cabinet of Ministers, which in turn would elect the Chief Minister, who is answerable only to the Assembly. Thus, the Bangsamoro state, which comprises 27% of Mindanao, including the most fertile and resources-rich lands in the region, will be sort of an autonomous entity unlike no other in the country. On this ground, the accord may be constitutionally infirm.

And there is the equally contentious issue of the police force, which will be under the control of the Chief Minister. Under the agreement, law enforcement shall be the primary function of the police force for the Bangsamoro, which would preclude the Philippine National Police from enforcing laws in the new entity. This is clearly in violation of the Constitution, which states that that there can be only “one police force which shall be national in scope, to be administered and controlled by a national police commission.”

There are many other provisions in the agreement, like the one on wealth sharing, that were not the subject of any consultations with the members of Congress or the sectors and the people that have a stake in the proposed autonomous entity.

Despite all these obstacles, I must commend President Aquino for his relentless efforts to bring lasting peace to Mindanao, whose people have suffered for more than four decades and whose promise has been stalled by the continuous fighting between government forces and the Muslim rebels.

Mindanao and its people deserve to be given a chance at peace. Peace was once given a chance with the 1996 agreement with the MNLF, but it failed with the emergence of the MILF. The country survived that failed attempt at peace. And now that peace is within grasp again, we want to give it a second chance. But we cannot turn a blind eye on the constitutional barriers.



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