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Passion For Reason

‘A Framework with missing Agreements’

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One does not rise to a standing ovation for a trailer even before the movie is made, lest unrealistic expectations spoil the actual viewing. Similarly, the Framework Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is a milestone for sure, but unrestrained hype may well derail peace in the end. The Framework says little but the public has been conditioned to believe it says everything. What will happen when our people check under the hood and discover what’s not there?

Most importantly, the key Framework provisions each refer to an “Annex” that does not exist. This is not about missing footnotes but goes to the heart of a peace pact: What will be in the “Annex on Power Sharing,” “Annex on Wealth Sharing,” and “Annex on Transitional Arrangements”? How exactly will power and wealth be shared in the future? There can be no “just and lasting peace” unless we agree on these.

When the Framework was first published online, I thought the missing annexes would soon follow. After all, the Supreme Court struck down the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008 because, among other grounds, it lacked transparency. But the Framework signing has come and gone, and it is clear that those annexes still do not exist.

Even worse, each annex is declared to “form part of this Framework Agreement.” How can we consent in advance to terms that do not exist and retroactively write them into the Framework? This was the Supreme Court’s point exactly in 2008.

Analyzing what is in the Framework itself, I am concerned that the Bangsamoro’s relationship to our constitutional bodies remains unclear. For example, the Framework treats constitutional accountability for funds as a triviality. The government peacemakers’ website highlights that the porous auditing of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao funds has been a real pain. Of the “850 million pesos allocated for infrastructure projects in ARMM’s 2010 budget, not one construction budget (sic) was completed.” It adds that “90 percent of ARMM’s funding was allocated to ‘Personnel Services’ and until now, that money has not been accounted for,” suggesting an orgy of ghost employees. To say that the ARMM has little to show for these funds is to be too kind.

Then why does the Framework now virtually exempt the Bangsamoro from the Commission on Audit’s reach? It says that the Bangsamoro “may create its own auditing body [for] funds generated … from external sources.” We’re talking about a lot of funds here, given US, EU and Muslim countries’ exuberance. The Agreement then mentions the COA’s power but limited only to funds held by “any government instrumentality, including GOCCs.”

This language is so slippery. It purports to affirm COA jurisdiction but it furtively lays the basis for the Bangsamoro government to access foreign funds without independent audit, while limiting the COA to locally generated funds. Worse, the term “instrumentality” is actually limited by the Administrative Code merely to “regulatory agencies, chartered institutions [like state universities and colleges] and GOCCs,” and excludes all the Cabinet departments and their bureaucracies.

In sum, the Bangsamoro gets a free pass to the expected bonanza from gung-ho foreign sponsors and, if the negotiators have their way, without even having to amend the Philippine Constitution.

Yet the Constitution is explicit that the COA shall have the power “to examine, audit, and settle all accounts [of] the Government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities” and “[n]o law shall be passed exempting any entity of the Government or its subsidiaries in any guise whatever.” Surely  that includes the “new autonomous political entity” called the Bangsamoro and its in-house “auditing body.”

Even more sinister, notice a strange clause that occurs not once but twice in the Framework: The Bangsamoro rulers may “block grants and subsidies from the Central Government.” Say that again, please? Spurn manna from heaven? Why not, if the manna from abroad is more bountiful, and along the way, the better to strengthen the Bangsamoro government’s hand versus its component units, and weaken Manila’s hold.

The COA exemption and the Bangsamoro veto over Manila’s funding are not the only mysteries in the Framework. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago insists that the Framework needs constitutional amendments because of the Bangsamoro shift to a “ministerial” and federal system of government. Sen. Panfilo Lacson asks whether the Bangsamoro will have a separate police force. Former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza asks whether the Framework is even subject to the Constitution, which merits only one passing mention.

Last week, I pointed out the mischief in the term “asymmetric” to describe the relation between the Central and Bangsamoro governments. If they’re not equal, then who’s above and who’s below? The COA exemption demonstrates one ominous asymmetry: Foreign funds are COA-exempt, while local funds held by lowly “instrumentalities” are not.

Don’t get me wrong. We all want peace, and we must do right by our Muslim countrymen. But an overplayed agreement referring to nonexistent annexes is a shaky foundation for peace. Carving out a regional auditing body defies the historical record and is akin to setting the fox to guard the chicken coop.

After Edsa 1, the Filipino people thought hard and wrote down all their promises to future generations in our Constitution. In 2012, this covenant cannot be unraveled by unwritten promises. Let us instead be sure that all our vows for peace to Muslim and Christian alike are made crystal-clear before we place them alongside our Constitution.


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