Outlook

Framework agreement for PH dismemberment

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Read the actual document itself, not just the mawkish “peace-is-at-hand” articles, and you will see that the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” President Aquino yielded to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is clearly a roadmap for the republic’s dismemberment.

No wonder the Moro insurgents are ecstatic: The pact calls for the creation of an MILF-controlled state within a state—precisely its main aim in the past decades. Bannered by the Islamic invocation “In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” the document even reads not as a pact between a sovereign secular state and a rebel group but as an MILF manifesto.

The crucial concept in the pact is “Bangsamoro,” invented by the Moro National Liberation Front when it was organized in the late 1960s. It means “nation-state” (from the Malay bangsa and the Filipino bansa) and is envisioned for Moros, defiantly using the pejorative term Spanish and Christian Filipinos had called Muslims in Mindanao.

The pact is the first time ever that the political entity to be set up is called Bangsamoro, period. The landmark Tripoli Agreement with the MNLF in 1976 termed the entity to nurture Muslim self-government as the “autonomous region in Southern Philippines.” That evolved into the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. A draft for a pact in the previous regime was even careful to use the term “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.”

The Aquino-MILF pact, however, declares: “The Bangsamoro shall be established to replace the [ARMM].” Just “Bangsamoro,” without the description as an autonomous region within the republic. “Bangsamoro” in fact has all the attributes of a nation-state:

• A defined territory. Item I.3 of the agreement: “The provinces, cities, municipalities, barangays and geographic areas within its territory shall be the constituent units of the Bangsamoro.” Paragraph V.1 even declares that these consist not only of the present ARMM but even Cotabato and Isabela cities, which in the 2001 plebiscite chose not to be part of the autonomous region.

• A defined people. Item I.5 even expands past definitions of a Bangsamoro person, or one of the Islamic faith living in Mindanao and adjacent islands. The pact includes as Bangsamoros the more than 18 distinct indigenous groups—mostly the lumad—which are not Muslims.

• Its own armed force, disguised as a “police force.” Item VIII.6: “In phased and gradual manner, all law enforcement functions shall be transferred from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) the police force for the Bangsamoro.”

• Its own constitution, called “Basic Law.” Item  II.1 to 4: “The Bangsamoro shall be governed by a Basic Law … which shall be formulated by the Bangsamoro People ratified by the qualified voters within its territory.” There isn’t a statement anywhere in the document noting that the “Basic Law” must comply with the Philippine  Constitution.

• Its own state institutions. Among others, Item I.2: “The government of the Bangsamoro shall have a ministerial form.” Item I.3: “The authority to regulate on its own responsibility the affairs of the constituent units is guaranteed within the limit of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.” Item III.3: “Expansion of the jurisdiction of Shari’ah courts.”

And most importantly,  “Bangsamoro” is described not as an entity under the republic. The pact’s item I.4: “The relationship of the Central Government with the Bangsamoro Government shall be asymmetric.”

The use of the term “asymmetric” is the Aquino administration’s clumsy attempt to go around the term “associative” used in the draft agreement between the MILF and negotiators of the previous administration to define the relationship between the proposed  “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity” and the central government.

The Supreme Court has ruled that kind of relationship unconstitutional, saying “it implies powers that go beyond anything ever granted by the Constitution to any local or regional government” and “the recognition of the associated entity as a state.”

The term “asymmetric relations” does not just “imply” states; it assumes the existence of states. The term is the key concept in recent political science theory to describe the relations between states of vastly different characteristics as population size, military strength, or economic power. University of Virginia professor Brantly Womack popularized the “asymmetry theory” in his analysis of the relationship between China and smaller or weaker nations.

Thus, Bangsamoro is not under the Philippine government; its relationship with it is just “asymmetric.”

Mr. Aquino’s capitulation to the MILF lies in the fact that he got no concessions from the insurgent group in terms of the most important aspect of real peace pacts: disarmament. In all past peace accords in the world, there were categorical provisions for the insurgent group to lay down its arms.

For example, El Salvador’s “Chapultepec Peace Agreement” with the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front was signed in January 1992; the pact called for the insurgents’ total disarmament nine months later, which was complied with. The more recent “Helsinki Pact” between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement signed on Aug. 15, 2005, called for the insurgent group’s total disarmament to start a month later and to be completed—as it was—by yearend.

There is no such provision for disarmament in the Aquino-MILF pact, merely a vague statement (Item VIII.5): “The MILF shall undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use.” No timetable, no definition of “putting beyond use.”

“Decommissioning? We still have to discuss that,” MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said. Next week: A recipe for renewed violence in Mindanao

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