Serious flaws in the BBL
The Mamasapano massacre is a blessing in disguise in the sense that it revealed many flaws in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Three such flaws became apparent as a result of the massacre, namely:
- It makes a mockery of Philippine sovereignty.
- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) does not speak for all the Moros, which could lead to more conflicts.
- There are no benchmarks in the law to ensure that the MILF will run an honest, efficient and democratic government.
Issue No. 1 came to light when the MILF stated, soon after the Mamasapano incident, that the report on the findings of its own investigations would be turned over to the Malaysian government and not to the Philippine authorities (“What to do with MILF report? Group will give it to Malaysia,” News, 3/3/15). [For whatever reason, the MILF decided to give the Senate a copy of its 37-page report on the Mamasapano incident last Tuesday, March 24.—Ed.] The issue here is jurisdiction over the MILF/Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) combatants who massacred the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) police commandos. Based on the MILF statement, our laws do not apply to the incident; rather, it’s Malaysia that would decide whether Philippine law will apply to those who massacred the SAF troopers. Even before the enactment of the BBL, the sovereignty of the Philippines is already being disputed by the MILF over crimes committed within our country.
Malaysia’s role as a neutral interlocutor in the ongoing peace process has been questioned on many occasions. Given our dispute with them over Sabah, it is indeed strange why we allowed Malaysia a role in the peace process in Mindanao. However, Malaysia’s true colors will emerge based on how it handles the MILF report. Malaysia is a member of the United Nations and is bound by UN Security Council Resolution No. 1373 which provides that “any person who participates in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts or in supporting terrorist acts is brought to justice and… such terrorist acts are established as serious criminal offences in domestic laws and regulations and that the punishment duly reflects the seriousness of such terrorist acts.”
It is clear under Resolution 1373 that terrorists must be tried by the courts of the UN member-country, with severe penalties imposed for the offense. Normally, one would expect that given the provisions of Resolution 1373, Malaysia would refer the MILF report of the incident to our authorities for action under our laws. However, if Malaysia does otherwise, the apprehension of many about its neutral role in the peace process will be confirmed. Such Malaysian action will be contrary to its obligation, as a UN member, to implement UN resolutions.
On Issue No. 2, it is evident from day one of the BBL negotiations, that the MILF does not speak for all the Moros. The BIFF and the Moro National Liberation Front do not recognize the authority of the MILF. This split in the Moro ranks reveals how flawed the BBL is. The MILF is given a convenient excuse to understate its role in the massacre, heaping the major blame on the BIFF.
Even if the BBL brings peace between the Moro minority and the Christian majority, there is no assurance that there will be no fratricidal conflict among the Moros themselves, a great majority of them Muslims, after the BBL goes into effect. Intra-Muslim conflicts are very bloody, as witness the events in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. They are bloody affairs because there are so many divisions in the Muslim world. Such divisions are reflected in the civil wars now going on in the countries indicated above. Strictly speaking, they are not civil wars but are actually international wars, with each side of the conflict importing supporters and sophisticated weapons from abroad including weapons of mass destruction, as has happened in Syria.
It will not make sense for us to sign a peace agreement with an MILF that does not speak for all the Moros. It is difficult to see how we can live in peace while our Moro brothers are slaughtering each other. The probability is high that many more groups will split from the MILF later on. Such a conflict will also spawn a big inflow of refugees into the rest of our country.
Issue No. 3 is the lack of benchmarks for good governance in the BBL. The MILF can squander public funds, manipulate elections, assassinate their political opponents, etc.—in other words, do in the Bangsamoro area the same thing the Ampatuans did in Maguindanao. However, once the MILF is recognized as the duly constituted authority in their region, that recognition will become permanent. The danger of this approach is that the national government may end up propping up a regime which may no longer enjoy the support of most of the Moros.
This happened in South Vietnam in the 1960s. The Ngo Dinh Diem government had lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the South Vietnamese because of widespread corruption. Nonetheless, the United States kept propping up the corrupt regime. We may end up with the same problem in the Bangsamoro area. This contingency could be avoided if there are benchmarks for good governance which the MILF must observe.
Everybody wants peace. The passage of the BBL will not automatically bring peace; it is only the first step in bringing peace. However, a badly formulated peace agreement with so many ambiguities, loopholes and even room for double dealing, as is evident now in the BBL as written, will be short-lived and could lead to a bigger war.
Hermenegildo C. Cruz served as Philippine ambassador to the United Nations in 1984-1986.
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