Constitutional model for transforming PH
Early last month, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, said the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on March 27 appeared to facilitate the secession of a Bangsamoro region. She said it was unconstitutional for the executive branch to misrepresent itself as the Philippine government.
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the government panel that negotiated the CAB with the MILF panel chaired by Mohagher Iqbal, sought to meet with Santiago to discuss the agreement’s provisions on the premise that the talks were deliberately governed by the Constitution. Moreover, the draft of the basic law creating the Bangsamoro was still up for the approval of President Aquino, Congress, and ultimately the people. It has since been submitted to the President, who is to review it and submit the final draft to Congress for approval.
In a letter to Ferrer, Santiago emphasized that her interest was “not to scuttle” the agreement but “to ensure that it will be able to stand scrutiny in the Supreme Court.” She also agreed to meet with Ferrer.
Subsequently, Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda maintained in a press briefing: “The instruction of the President in negotiating for the [CAB] was to make sure that it will be within the parameters of the Constitution, and we believe, certainly, that the CAB can withstand constitutional scrutiny, judicial scrutiny.”
I must emphasize that the recognition of the Bangsamoro as a united Muslim ethno-linguistic-cultural community and a distinctive political entity is a great historic achievement. It recognizes the Moro self-identity and the unity of Muslim Filipinos who also belong to various ethnic communities, such as the Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug, etc. and compete with, and even fight, each other. By self-ascription, the non-Muslim lumad or indigenous peoples in contiguous areas in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will also form part of the Bangsamoro and are to be guaranteed their ancestral land and their rights as indigenous peoples.
The Bangsamoro is to be a truly inclusive community with an autonomous regional government under our republic and our 1987 Constitution. The final establishment of the Bangsamoro before 2016, when the President’s term ends, will signal the end of the subordination of, and discrimination against, our Muslim brothers and sisters starting from Spanish and American colonial rule, and under the republic and its policy of “national assimilation” pursued by a national government dominated by a Christian majority.
For centuries “Moro” was a label of rejection and discrimination. The term “Muslim” was substituted for “Moro” in an act of accommodation. In 1971 Nur Misuari led the Moro National Liberation Front in starting a bloody rebellion that in 1986 persuaded President Cory Aquino and the framers of the 1987 Constitution to authorize the establishment of the ARMM. The MNLF and President Fidel Ramos signed a peace agreement in 1996 with the mediation of Indonesia. But the MILF of Salamat Hashim and his successors resumed the Moro rebellion that has now resulted in some 150,000 casualties and many more people displaced in Mindanao since it began in 1971. Peace talks with the mediation of Malaysia since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time has led Mr. Aquino finally to agree to the establishment of the Bangsamoro to replace the ARMM.
The reality is that our republic is made up of various “bangsa,” each comprising distinctive ethno-linguistic-cultural communities and political, economic and social structures that have their own identities. Following the Bangsamoro identity, we can actually say that the Philippines has a Bangsa-Iloco, a Bangsa-Cordillera, a Bangsa-Tagalo, a Bangsa-Bikol, a Bangsa-Bisaya, a Bangsa-Ilongo, a Bangsa-Waray, and a number of “bangsa” in Mindanao. These ethno-linguistic-cultural and political communities happen to coincide with some of the existing administrative regions in our highly centralized unitary system.
What is good for the Moros is good for all other Filipinos nationwide! The proposed Bangsamoro is a most welcome model for the fundamental reform of our unitary system, under which our administrative regions of differing ethno-linguistic-cultural and political communities gravely suffer from the lack of powers, authority, and resources as poor dependents of the national government in “Imperial Manila.”
In genuinely autonomous regions, as the Bangsamoro is envisioned, our regional and local governments will be able to develop their natural resources, raise local revenues, and empower their people to participate in democratic governance and development. We shall liberate ourselves from the shackles of our dysfunctional centralization dominated by “Imperial Manila” and family dynasties.
The Bangsamoro model is good for all our various “bangsa.” So why not maximize and optimize the powers, functions, and resources of the existing administrative regions under the Local Government Code of 1991 and Article X of the Constitution, in line with the proposed Bangsamoro? Let us all push for a constitutional amendment creating more autonomous regions using the Bangsamoro as our liberating and developmental model! This will be the greatest legacy of Mr. Aquino and the present Congress.
We need more “transforming leaders” for a modernizing polity, not “transactional leaders” who perpetuate family dynasties as a patronage system, obsolete political parties, a dysfunctional presidential government, and a highly centralized and dysfunctional unitary system. The President and Congress leaders, as well as local governments, business, civil society, and the media should back the reviving campaign for regional and local autonomy in transition to a future federal republic—and, hopefully, also future constitutional amendments toward a parliamentary government.
In the early 1980s, the federalist movement was initiated in Mindanao and spread nationwide by Kusog Mindanao and the Citizens’ Movement for a Federal Philippines led by Rey Teves, Lito Lorenzana and many others including myself. Subsequently, then Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. filed his federalism bill in the Senate. Mindanao federalists assisted Dante Jimenez, who led the Bicol Regional Autonomy Movement in 2009 and sustains it as a vigorous movement.
The President and Congress should now lead the nation in amending our Constitution to make the Bangsamoro a model for all our administrative regions, to bring about new political, administrative, economic, and cultural powers within our devolved unitary system—in transition to a future federal republic.
Jose V. Abueva, president of Kalayaan College, is a University of the Philippines professor emeritus of public administration and political science.
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