The peace agreement reached on Sunday was preliminary and even incomplete; nevertheless, and despite the jadedness of some of the initial reaction on Twitter, it represents a genuine breakthrough. A lasting political settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front seems truly within reach; as a son of Mindanao, I too am thrilled to breathe the air of possibility.
The “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” is self-evidently informed by the lessons the Aquino administration learned from the debacle of 2008, involving the ill-conceived Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). But it is more than mere reaction; I think the framework the government and the MILF peace panels put together creatively exploits what chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen called, in his closing statement at the most recent negotiation in Kuala Lumpur, the “flexibilities within [the Constitution’s] provisions.”
The agreement (the third such attempt at constructing a “framework” in 15 years of on-again, off-again negotiations) is a work in progress; it lacks at least four major attachments: the Annexes on Power Sharing, on Wealth Sharing, on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities; and on Normalization. But as a road map it is specific enough that we can already make reasonable estimates about distances and hours of travel remaining.
Here is one possible way to timetable the work of the next four years:
1. The negotiating panels will “complete a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year” (according to Part IX, Number 2 of the Framework Agreement). I take this to mean the panels will finalize the four important annexes in at least two more “exploratory talks,” ending in December.
2. President Aquino will then issue an Executive Order creating a Transition Commission, “supported by Congressional Resolutions” (VII, 3). This may (or should?) happen between Jan. 21 and Feb. 9 next year, in the last legislative session before the May elections, to allow for the passage of the necessary resolutions.
3. The national government will budget sufficient funds for the work of the Transition Commission (VII, 6).
4. The Transition Commission will draft a proposed Basic Law (VII, 4), on which the entire future of an autonomous Bangsamoro rests. If the plan is to introduce the draft law as soon as the 16th Congress convenes in July, the commission will have about four months to do its work.
5. At the same time, the Transition Commission will study the need for amendments to the Constitution, if required “for the purpose of accommodating and entrenching” provisions of the comprehensive agreement (VII, 4). One of the primary lessons of the MOA-AD fiasco was, as the Supreme Court noted in its Oct. 14, 2008 decision, the attempt of the government peace panel then to commit to constitutional amendments. This particular provision is worded more modestly: the commission will “work on proposals to amend” the Constitution.
6. Once the draft of the Basic Law is ready, the government will introduce it in Congress and President Aquino will certify it as urgent (VII, 7). Assuming it will take the entire first session of the 16th Congress to hammer out the promised details and inevitable compromises of the Basic Law, the earliest we can expect passage may be Feb. 2014—a year or so after the President’s EO.
7. This Basic Law will be subjected to a “process of popular ratification among all the Bangsamoro” (V, 2)—a plebiscite in the proposed Bangsamoro territory, which is essentially ARMM plus six municipalities, two cities and six barangays.
8. Assuming that ratification will take effect in the middle of 2014, the new Bangsamoro territory will then rush through a two-year transition period, to meet the framework agreement’s 2016 deadline.
9. “Upon promulgation and ratification of the Basic Law,” the ARMM will be abolished (VII, 8); in its place the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will govern the new territory.
10. By the agreement’s terms, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority will be dissolved in 2016, when the new Bangsamoro government, including its centerpiece parliament, is formed (VII, 10).
Many other transition tasks are indicated in the framework agreement, including: inclusion of additional barangays (“at least two months prior to the ratification” of the Basic Law;” establishment of a Trust Fund “through which urgent support, recurrent and investment budget cost will be released with efficiency, transparency and accountability;” the possible creation of “its own accounting body” to work in parallel with the Commission on Audit; the convening of an “intergovernmental fiscal policy board composed of representatives of the Bangsamoro and the Central Government;” the creation of “an independent commission … to recommend appropriate policing within the area;” the conduct of a “graduated program of decommissioning” of MILF forces; and the transfer of the Armed Forces’ law enforcement functions to the new Bangsamoro police.
After the new Bangsamoro government is in place, its legislative assembly will create an “intergovernmental body composed of representatives of the Bangsamoro and the Central Government” to “ensure the harmonization of environmental and developmental plans.” (IV, 8); it will organize together with the national government a Joint Normalization Committee (VIII, 7); and, at the end of the transition period, convene a meeting and draft (VII, 12) an “Exit Document.”
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