The peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF) and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) emerged out of a situation of war. It had become clear: the military solution was a non-solution. Some 120,000 Filipinos were killed killing Filipinos, huge amounts of money were pulverized in vicious actions of war, opportunities for education, development and prosperity were lost forever. Instead of this senseless killing for ongoing war, why not negotiate for peace?
That question was raised seventeen years ago; the peace process began. The negotiations involved the principals in the armed conflict, the MILF, and the GPH, and therefore not every interest group in the Muslim or Philippine world. The negotiations had to advance and evaluate the reasons why the MILF had been driven to war. Ultimately, they jointly sought to right the long history of injustices brought on the Filipino Muslim communities in the past: the illegitimate sale of the sovereign sultanates by Spain to America while they were not Spain’s to sell (1898) since Spain had never conquered the Muslims, the massacre and conquest of the Muslim communities by American troops with the help of Filipinos in such as the battles of Bud Dajo (1904) and Bud Bagsak (1913), the deep and hurtful (and ongoing) discrimination against them because of their fidelity to their Islamic faith by a nation that practically defines itself as “Christian”, their exclusion from the benefits of the mainstream economic and political development of the Philippines, their loss of lands and local political influence due to the Colonization Act (1935) and land-registration policies of the north, their local government and traditional authority undermined by central government its own system of law, deaths and killings due to such as the Jabidah massacre (1968), the Manili massacre, the battle of Buldon (1986), the Marcos manipulation of the barbaric Ilagas to weaken the Muslims, the failure of government to deliver on promises and commitments such as the Tripoli Agreement (1976) and the mandate of the Philippine Constitution (1987) to establish an autonomous region for Filipino Muslims.
It is in this historical context that he GPH and the MILF negotiated for peace. Clearly both the GPH and the MILF are representatives of their constituencies. Neither exercise absolute control over minds that disagree with them from among their constituencies. The MILF are different from the traditional sultans and datus, whom they wish to reform. They are different from the Bangsamoro Independence Freedom Fighters (BIFF), whose violent extremism and alleged commitment to the ISIS they eschew. They are different for youthful idealists today who pledge allegiance to and organize on behalf of the Islamic State. The GPH directly represented the executive branch of government, quite different from the legislators and the justices of the supreme court, even if they are all part of one government of the Philippines. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers the executive does not legislate, and legislature does not implement policy, and the justices do not craft national policy. Yet here, all, the MILF and the executive representing the GPH, seek to represent the common good.
In the peace process the executive through the OPAPP has negotiated a peace agreement with the MILF. This is the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro (CAB). They have agreed: follow this agreed-upon formula, and there will be peace.
The President has given this agreement to the legislature, asking the legislature to confirm its negotiations. It does not control the legislature, nor does it control the courts. But if either the lawmakers or the justices depart from the agreed-upon peace formula, which is their legal prerogative, they must take responsibility for the consequences. Part of the consequence may be a greater fidelity to what they think the Constitution allows. But part of the consequences may be a demolition of the current MILF leadership to continue leading, and passage of Muslim leadership into other more belligerent or extreme hands. Clearly, it is up to them.
In my view: it is best if the legislators pass a law that is faithful to the negotiated CAB. The agreed-upon formula was the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), not the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR). The MILF accepts the former, not the latter.
By whatever name, in our view, the law that remains faithful to the CAB, provide the following:
Recognition of the Bangsamoro identity and its peoples’ aspirations based on their right to self- determination;
Integration of the spirit of the CAB in the proposed legislation in fidelity to the 1987 Philippine Constitution and its mandate for an autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao;
Provisions that surpass, not diminish, the provisions of the Expanded Organic Act for the ARMM (RA 9054), further enhancing what Filipino Muslims already enjoy under this law;
Genuine autonomy through which the Bangsamoro Government is empowered to lead its peoples to a future they desire based on the genius of their rich culture;
Acceptance of the concept of asymmetrical political entity where the Bangsamoro Government enjoys powers greater than LGUs but fully subject to national governance;
Measures to strengthen the Shariah courts and their applicability to the Bangsamoro followers of Islam;
Bangsamoro entitlement to create its own sources of revenue and to levy taxes, fees and charges guided by the principles of devolution of powers;
A just and equitable share in the revenues generated through the exploration, development and utilization of the natural resources, consistent with the principles of environmental stewardship, within the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro;
Full respect and protection for civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights of all the inhabitants including the indigenous peoples, women, children and youth in the Bangsamoro territory and support for the passage of laws that promote, uphold and protect the same; and
Transitional justice and normalization clauses, reflective of the spirit and intent of the CAB.
Enacting the BBL is not ordinary legislation, it is peace legislation. It is wiser to base this on negotiated concrete agreements with the former belligerants, rather than on ideal theory. Unfortunately, terrorist bombs, which Muslims as will as non-Muslims abhor, do not kill in mere theory.