A ‘middle course’ between BBL and war
Isn’t it apparent why the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is so vocal on the surface about peace, while its armed components are quick to respond to violence at any sign of intrusion into territory they occupy? They seek to identify peace with the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which has been drawn up in a peculiar way to allow them to run a substantial part of Mindanao pretty much by themselves. Never mind if the setup is grossly violative of the Constitution. Peace will come if we accede to the BBL.
This kind of thinking is so deceptively attractive that many elements in civil society today, even members of the commission who framed the 1987 Constitution, have fallen for it. Witness the call of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, in its manifesto—“Pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law that secures justice and peace.” To an uncritical mind, a BBL equated with justice and peace is persuasive.
Who can really argue against peace? And if the BBL means peace, why not accept it? The argument has come to the point where those who are against the BBL are demonized as against peace.
As the popular saying goes, the devil is in the details. The BBL presented by the MILF and the Aquino administration to Congress cannot be accepted in its original form. It is constitutionally infirm.
The autonomous government established in Mindanao in accordance with the Constitution is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM. It can be strengthened and improved by Congress as the circumstances dictate. But President Aquino has from the start brainwashed us into believing it is a failed experiment. This allowed him to disregard the ARMM and go on to forge a deal with only one group, the MILF, without authority from Congress. He constituted a bargaining team that negotiated from a position of weakness acceding to almost everything that the other party wanted, including a form of government that is equivalent to a substate. Now that defects in the BBL are coming to light, the MILF is threatening us with war if we water it down.
After all, that was what was agreed upon.
The people who clamor for the approval of the BBL in the name of peace commit the fallacy of the excluded middle. They think of the BBL as the only alternative to war, when there is another way to peace. It is a middle course—Moro autonomy within the bounds of the Constitution. There is nothing inconsistent between the economic and social development of Muslim Mindanao and expressing fealty to the Constitution under which we have all agreed to live. I believe it only requires the creative talents of our leaders and the sincerity of our people to come up with the right mix of powers and functions between the national and local government to achieve this goal.
At the barest minimum, Moro autonomy must be framed within the context of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic, the supremacy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the ultimate authority of the national government consistently with our republican and unitary system of government. There is ample room within these parameters for an autonomy that can be geared to the progress of the people in Mindanao and not simply the interests of their leaders. We do not have to violate the Constitution in order to provide for their self-expression.
We must free ourselves from the mesmerizing propaganda line of Malacañang that only its version of Moro autonomy, the BBL, can lead to peace. We must avoid the tunnel vision that it is forcing us into. We can all have peace and progress in Mindanao under the aegis of the Constitution, and, if the Aquino administration cannot secure this, there is still Congress to provide the necessary leadership.
If I may add another caveat, I agree with the CEAP that the BBL that should be passed is one that also gives justice. But to make it more than a motherhood statement, let us all be clear that the justice we want, before anything else, is for the fallen policemen at Mamasapano. The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said that peace without honor is no longer peace.
Mario Guariña III is a former associate justice of the Court of Appeals.
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