A hard sell to Moros
The debate continues on the pros and cons of federalism. And people are curious how Moros stand on the issue considering their fixation for devolved powers, short of merdeka (independence) as defined by the original draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is greater than that offered by federalism. Recall that the BBL, which Moros claim to represent the sum total of their age-old dreams and aspirations for a better life, did not pass the gauntlet of Congress because of politics, the posturing of election candidates for media mileage, and its alleged constitutional flaws.
It has not escaped observers that Moros of note are ominously stoic on the matter, especially the political militants. No Moro leader has come out to publicly state his or her stand. Why? It is important to address this issue because Moro acceptance or nonacceptance of federalism is intrinsically interwoven with the search for peace in Morolandia and Southern Philippines.
Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who is known as the “Father of Local Government Autonomy,” has written that from his past conversations with leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front, they welcome the creation of a federal Moro state to address their religion, culture and practices (“Federalization not a panacea,” Opinion, 8/4/16). I suggest that Pimentel revisit such an assumption. Which faction of the MNLF did he speak with? Is this sentiment shared by other Moros? Remember, the secessionist movement is highly fractured by tribal identity, with the MNLF presently split into the factions of Nur Misuari (Tausog), Muslimen Sema (Maguindanaon), and Abul Khayr Alonto (Maranaw). And in the formative years of the MNLF chaired by Misuari, it was likewise riven by the breakaway group of Hashim Salamat (Maguindanaon), which became the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the MNLF-Reformist group of Dimas Pundato (Maranaw).
The tribal divide among Moros is so deep that their internecine rivalry has stymied the success of their cause. Moros are so proud a race that no one tribe can dominate and exact obeisance from another. But will they accept an autonomy offered by federalism?
The prospect is not encouraging. The “hawks” among Moros are uncompromising in their demand for the kind of autonomy defined by the BBL, which is greater than the “home rule” autonomy enjoyed by some subnational states in federal countries in the West. This is what the mujahideen fought and died for—and the cost was staggering.
Moros argue that once a federal constitution is adopted, it will provide a uniform provision of autonomous powers common to all the component states, including the Bangsamoro. The drafters of the new constitution will be hard-pressed to grant a special and greater autonomous power to the Bangsamoro because they will violate the equal-protection principle enshrined in all democratic constitutions. To which Moros will ask: Why should we be lumped in one basket with other Filipinos who have not suffered as much historical injustice and neglect as we have? Why should we trade the BBL type of autonomy that we struggled to craft with one that is untested, probably effete and lacking in substance to address our peculiar problems that have long defied solution?
This conundrum can be solved through the roadmap being offered by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, a dedicated peace advocate from Mindanao who is no stranger to the root cause, intricacies, complexities and nuances of the Moro problem. According to media reports, Dureza has proposed a peace roadmap that is inclusive of all stakeholders regardless of tribal and cultural identity. His statement that the new dispensation will take a second look at the BBL and initiate its refiling in Congress minus its constitutional infirmities is a savvy tack far different from the cavalier geste of the Speaker of the House, who said the BBL will be relegated to the back burner, to be subsumed by the proposed federalism.
Dureza’s statement is an infusion of fresh air into the moribund aspiration, which has rekindled hope among Moros. It is reassuring given that the overhaul of the present form of government by through the amendment of the Constitution is a tedious and expensive process. The debate alone on what mode of amendment to adopt, and whether the two chambers of Congress will convene jointly or separately, may eat up the administration’s six-year tenure.
The revival of the BBL was a campaign promise of then candidate Rodrigo Duterte when he visited the MILF’s Camp Darapanan. And now he has to walk the talk.
Macabangkit Lanto ([email protected]), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright Fellow to New York University for postgraduate studies. He is a former assemblyman and speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Autonomous Region 12, congressman, ambassador to Egypt and Sudan, and undersecretary of tourism and of justice.
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