The RP-MILF framework agreement (Part 2) | Inquirer Opinion
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The RP-MILF framework agreement (Part 2)

There was big hoopla at the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front last week. I found that somewhat amusing because one of the clearest characteristics of the agreement is its lack of clarity. It leaves so much unsaid. As the agreement itself says, “The Parties commit to work further on the details of the Framework Agreement in the context of this document and complete a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year.” So what did the parties really agree about beyond agreeing to continue working?

Moreover, what will be achieved by the end of the year—that is, a little over two months from now—will not yet be the peace agreement itself but the guidelines to be followed in formulating the substantive provisions of the peace agreement. The full peace agreement will be the Basic Law formulated by Congress and approved in a plebiscite by the constituent units. Year 2016 seems to be the target.

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Let me now comment on some possible constitutional issues which need elaboration. The “ministerial” concept has been criticized. I have no problem with it even if I don’t know what is exactly meant by it. I guess it can mean either a Cabinet form or a parliamentary form of government.  Whatever it is, it really makes no problem because, while the Constitution specifies a presidential form of national government, it does not have the same prescription for local governments. We might recall that Metro Manila had a “commission form” of government which was neither prescribed nor prohibited by the 1973 Constitution.

More crucial is the envisioned relationship between the central government and the Bangsamoro government. It is called “asymmetric.”  Again I do not know what this is meant to hide. Could it be that the framework is just avoiding the term “associative” found in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of 2008? If this is the case, we have to recall what the Supreme Court said of that relationship. The Court rejected it as having no place in the Constitution.

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Of course, the 2008 Court was referring to specific provisions of the MOA-AD containing the “associative” principle. We do not yet know what the current Court might say since we have not yet been told what the framework means by “asymmetric” relationship.

Central to the formulation of the Basic Law will be the role of Congress.  It is Congress that will enact the Organic Act for the autonomous region.  The shape of Congress that will enact the Basic Law will be affected by the coming national elections. The senatorial and congressional campaigns, especially in regions that will be affected by the desired Bangsamoro Basic Law, will have to take into consideration the sentiment of voters in those areas.

In framing the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the main guide should be the Constitution. This is not clearly reflected in the framework. The framework says that the “provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law shall be consistent with all agreements of the Parties.” Similarly, it says that the “Bangsamoro shall have a just and equitable share in the revenues generated through the exploration, development or utilization of natural resources obtaining in all the areas/territories, land or water, covered by and within the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro, in accordance with the formula agreed upon by the Parties.” This seems to mean that Congress, in the formulation of the Basic Law, must accept any agreement of the parties. This seems to make Congress a rubber stamp for whatever the agreement wants. Again, this needs clarification.

The framework recognizes as possessing the Bangsamoro identity those “who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether of mixed or of full blood” together with their “spouses and descendants,” but adding that the “freedom of choice of other indigenous peoples shall be respected.” This is the same as the provision in the MOA-AD.

Will this satisfy those who are not indigenous Moros? Both the MOA-AD and the framework lump together the identities of the Bangsamoro and other indigenous peoples living in Mindanao, including Palawan. More acceptable is the provision of the current Organic Act which distinguishes the Bangsamoro people (that is, those who are believers in Islam and who have retained some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions) and other tribal peoples whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sectors of the national community.

Another contentious issue will be determination of the areas that will be part of the Bangsamoro territory. What the framework proposes is larger than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao territory today. This will require a plebiscite as prescribed by the Constitution.

Next there is the powerful Transition Commission. Will the Moro National Liberation Front be given a role?

These are some of the potential issues already reflected in the current shape of the framework agreement. Other issues will arise from the final form of the framework when it is completed at the end of next December.  Everyone will be waiting for that final framework agreement. It can either increase or diminish the volume of the current chorus of jubilation.

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TAGS: framework agreement, MILF, peace deal, Philippines
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