The fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) hangs in the balance, if not in limbo because of the unfortunate Mamasapano incident. But this should not stop us from exploring and ventilating ideas that will make the BBL acceptable to everyone, especially to the various ethnic communities in the affected areas who are the real stakeholders.
As a native of Mindanao who has a stake in the future of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous area, I present my history-based musings on how to make the BBL leadership more inclusive.
The BBL in its present form will not solve the Moro problem and in fact might exacerbate it. The deep differences—nay, rivalry—among the major ethnic tribes in Morolandia—the Maranaw, the Maguindanao and the Tausug (to include the Samal, Badjao and Yakan)—are deeply rooted. These differences have always stymied efforts, since the last century, to bring peace to the region.
Fact is, each tribe has its own lingua franca and will never admit that one is culturally and politically superior to the other. From this division sprang three major sultanates in Mindanao—the Sultanate of Sulu, the Sultanate of Lanao and the Sultanate and Rajaship of Maguindanao. These sultanates possessed attributes and political powers akin to a sovereign state. They have been independent and autonomous from each other. Their autonomous powers, which are being resurrected in the draft BBL, have always been respected and recognized by the government.
The divide prompted then President Ferdinand Marcos to establish two autonomous governments, one for Central Mindanao (Lanao del Sur and Lanao Norte, Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat) and another for Western Mindanao (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur and Norte).
The internecine rivalry of the three major tribes is more prominent in the history of the secessionist and liberationist movements waged by the Moros. The first movement was organized by the Tausug as the Moro National Liberation Front, with Nur Misuari as the chair. A breakaway group was then organized, called the MNLF-Reformist Front headed by Dimas Pundato, a Maranaw. Later, another breakaway from the MNLF came into being—the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was organized by the Maguindanao headed by their late leader Hashim Salamat, now succeeded by another Maguindanao, Murad Ebrahim.
The present MNLF is likewise fractured into three factions: one faction headed by Misuari (Tausug), another by Muslimen Sema (Maguindanao), and another by Abul Khayr Alonto (Maranaw).
It is the common perception among the Moros that the proposed Bangsamoro government will be lorded over by the Maguindanao, with Ibrahim as the shoo-in chief minister. Moreover, it is a well-founded belief that even if the BBL passes the Congress juggernaut, it will be rejected by the people of the area of autonomy because of the division among the tribes, unless the administration “flexes its muscles” and goes all-out for its approval.
In its present form, the BBL provides that the leadership of the Bangsamoro government be vested in the chief minister and deputy minister. The proposed autonomous government shall be ministerial and parliamentary in form, with the members of the parliament elected by the people of the area of autonomy and the chief minister in turn elected by the parliament. Under the draft law, the MILF, which is dominated by the Maguindanao, will certainly be given preferential treatment in the appointment and allocation of powers in the new autonomous government. With the support of the government for the MILF, the other tribes in the area will receive lesser attention and may feel that they are being treated as second-class citizens. Opposition and protests are now brewing among the other tribes.
To remedy the situation, a mechanism should be provided in the draft BBL that will make each of the major tribes autonomous and independent from each other. Instead of the chief minister appointing the deputy chief minister, three offices of deputy ministers should be formed, each representing the major tribes. These deputy ministers shall be under the supervision of the chief minister but operationally and financially autonomous and independent from each other. Apropos of this, a regional parliament should also be formed, composed of members to be elected among and within the districts constituting the tribal region, which shall in turn elect its respective deputy minister who shall preside over the regional parliament. Furthermore, a mechanism should be provided where the office of the chief minister will be rotated among the three deputy ministers so that no one tribe shall dominate the others. In that way, each is given equal opportunity to lead the Bangsamoro autonomous area, making the leadership inclusive.
Lasting peace in Mindanao has been an elusive, long-desired and costly dream. These bitter realities should never weaken us but encourage us to continue to yearn for peace. Besides, nobody wins in war. Now is not the time for finger-pointing. Rather, it is a great opportunity to join hands and surpass the depressing ordeal that our country is going through. We shall overcome!
Arturo L. Tiu ([email protected]) is a former governor of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (1987-1989), vice president for IBP Eastern Mindanao (1987-1989), and IBP chapter president for Agusan del Norte (1987-1989).
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