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At Large

No picnic

The “vertical violence” of insurgency and of separatist elements in Mindanao may be disappearing with the conclusion of the peace talk between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the pending creation of the Bangsamoro authority. But, said peace advisor Teresita Quintos Deles, the “horizontal violence” of feuds and disputes and other low-level conflicts remains.

Indeed, said Deles at a recent roundtable for the media on the peace process, there remain “pockets of rido-infested areas” in Mindanao,

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referring to the cross-generational interfamilial patterns of revenge killings. Also, said Deles, kidnapping for ransom remains a major concern, as do random acts of violence fueled by anything from criminality to land disputes.

So even if the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law is passed by Congress, and the planned referendum goes off without a major hitch, “many land mines [remain] along the way.” As Deles reminded everyone: “No peace table is a walk in the park.”

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For now, as foreseen in the BBL, the nagging peace-and-order issues will be in the hands of a police force which may include former MILF combatants, but which will be directly under the authority of the Philippine National Police. Likewise, the peace agreement calls for the surrender or decommissioning of large weapons (such as mortar or cannons) at the hands of the MILF, but individual former combatants will be allowed to keep their small arms provided they seek licenses for them, a right bestowed on all Filipino citizens. If some should persist on holding on to unlicensed firearms, said Deles, they would be

persecuted according to law.

* * *

Speaking on certain “fundamental/conceptual” issues that promise to derail the passage of the proposed law, Deles said the most basic issue that some might still have a problem with is the very term (and concept of) “Bangsamoro.” The term, she said, is all at the same time a symbol, an area, a government, people and identity. Its use is a way of “honoring” the history of the Moro people, their legacy of struggle and their distinct cultural and ethnic identity, she said.

But is it constitutional? Is the use of the term “Bangsamoro” somehow a step closer to granting autonomy or a separatist existence to those holding a Bangsamoro identity?

Certainly it is, asserted Deles. “The [1986] Constitution recognizes the ‘asymmetrical’ or uneven relationship between the rest of the country and two autonomous regions” which, by reasons of historical experience and ethnic identity, “need to be treated in a different way.”

These two regions are the Cordillera Administrative Region and proposed Bangsamoro, and Deles stressed that autonomy for these regions “doesn’t take sovereignty away from the State.”

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But why does the BBL call for the establishment of a parliamentary form of government when the prevailing national system is presidential? Though she didn’t go into the reasons for the insistence of the MILF panel on a parliamentary system, Deles asserted that indeed, a different system operating in an autonomous region is constitutional and could very well dovetail seamlessly with the presidential form applicable elsewhere in the country.

* * *

Deles appealed to the media to “calm down people instead of alarming them” in this delicate run-up to the passage of the BBL and the establishment of the Bangsamoro authority.

Key to that effort is helping to “provide context”—that is, locating reporting within what she called “the big picture,” instead of focusing on narrow, self-serving concerns.

For instance, coverage of the ongoing congressional hearings on the BBL tends to focus solely on the contrary questions and issues raised by legislators with scant—or no—attention paid to the replies of the members of the peace panels and of government officials testifying at the hearings.

The result, Deles complained, is a lopsided view of the ongoing hearings, with the public getting the impression that the negotiations are far more troubled or rife with questions than they truly are.

Then, too, there is the stubborn mistrust on both sides—for instance, the view among the majority that Moro leaders are either incompetent or incorrigibly corrupt, and the persistent fears among Moros that the government and private business interests are intent on exploiting their land and resources.

There is also the sensitive issue of what to do with employees and officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which will be phased out once the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is established. Deles said the various national departments are in the process of ironing out the Bangsamoro Development Plan, and a rational integration of ARMM and Bangsamoro personnel is part of that.

* * *

One thing Deles wished to make clear: “It is my conviction that there is no [sense of] entitlement among the MILF leadership in 2016.” It’s not as if they’re expecting to merely stroll into the Bangsamoro Assembly, it seems.

But would former military strategists and combatants have the “smarts” to mount a political campaign and survive as political actors? “I think there is enough political smartness among them,” said Deles, noting that even now there are efforts to provide training to the former MILF on “the building of coalitions and alliances,” if not the transformation of an army and insurgent force into a political party and mass-based force.

Indeed, “bullets to ballots” may sound like an attractive prospect, but the line between the two points is far from straight and unimpeded, and will be drawn only with lots of goodwill and trust-building on all sides.

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TAGS: At Large, Bangsamoro Basic Law, MILF, Mindanao, opinion, Rina Jimenez-David, Teresita Quintos Deles
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