07 October 2012

Aquino Government, MILF Agree on Bangsamoro

I cannot say that I agree all the time with the Aquino government; but the announcement by the President earlier today in a speech that government has forged an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for the creation of what will be known as the Bangsamoro is something that I not only agree with but wholeheartedly applaud. This has been a long time coming! For all the pettiness that this government sometimes can be guilty of, this agreement can be counted among the feathers in its cap because of the clarity of its vision.

I can still recall hearing the unmistakable roar of the C-130 Hercules planes as they flew low ever so often behind my house on their way to land at Fernando Air Base at the height of the insurgency during the Martial Law years. It was whispered quietly among Air Force families that the planes were laden with sealed coffins of fallen soldiers from the ongoing war in Mindanao.

I used to shudder at the very thought; and could not bring myself to understand how Filipinos could have been killing fellow Filipinos. My father, who used to be in the Air Force, was fair despite his being a military man and never whitewashed the situation. He would patiently explain that the insurgency was inevitable because of the years of neglect of certain areas of Mindanao.


As mentioned, war is expensive; not only in terms of monies but more in terms of human lives. If the establishment of the Bangsamoro can finally bring lasting peace, I can imagine the other development programs that the savings from a permanent peace can be funnelled into; not to mention the potential for business and tourism in the area.
It came to the point when certain elements in the island simply stopped believing that there was any benefit to be had from continuing to be part of the republic; enough, at any rate, to launch and sustain the secessionist movement.

Conflict, whatever the sort, can only be resolved by duress or compromise. Armed solutions are always expensive; and the money that is spent to buy bullets and sustain armies can just as well be spent to improve people’s lives. Both government and the MILF deserve praise for finally realising that compromise is the most viable solution to this decades-long conflict that military means failed to resolve.

The mechanics of the setting up of the Bangsamoro are still a work in progress according to Aquino, who in his speech announced that more details are to be made public in the succeeding days and encouraged citizens to participate in discussions relevant to these.

There are two main points as far as I can discern from the President’s speech. First, the republic’s sovereignty will not be compromised. Quoting verbatim from the speech, “National government will continue to exercise exclusive powers of defence and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship, and naturalization.”

This point is crucial because secession used to be the ultimate goal of the insurgents; and for the MILF to drop this aspiration has been vital to the entire agreement.

Second, the Bangsamoro will not only be able to administer itself but, more crucially, have the funds to do so. Quoting again from the President’s speech, “The Filipinos of Bangsamoro, on the other hand, will be assured a fair and equitable share of taxation, revenues and the fruits of national patrimony. They will enjoy equal protection of laws and access to impartial justice.”

The extent with which the Bangsamoro can administer itself is still to be made public. However, central to the insurgency had been that central government had neglected certain areas of Mindanao. With this guarantee to fair and equitable share of taxation and revenues, the Bangsamoro can plan and fund its own development programs without having to depend on central government.

Two aspects of the establishment of the Bangsamoro ought to be tricky. Aquino, in his speech, referred to the creation of a new ‘political identity.’ Note that, in his speech, he was careful not to refer to the Bangsamoro as a ‘state.’

Had he done so, he would have explicitly hinted at charter change, since the Constitution provides for a unitary form of government; and to have a secondary state would have meant a switch to a federal form of government.

Personally, I do not mind charter change; and I feel that many fears against it are basically groundless. The problem may be that Aquino himself had gone on record before in saying that charter change is not among his priorities.

On the other hand, here is another excerpt from the President’s speech: “My administration has pledged to support a law that will truly embody the values and aspirations of the people of Bangsamoro. Any proposed law resulting from this framework will be subject to ratification through a plebiscite. Once approved, there will be elections.”

Smells like charter change.

The second tricky aspect ought to be the tribal nature, to a great extent, of politics in Mindanao. In forging an agreement with the MILF, do the other insurgent groups fall in line? There have been those, after all, when word of Aquino’s meeting with the MILF in Japan leaked out to the media, who had gone on record as saying that the MILF does not speak for everyone in Muslim Mindanao.

“We are doing everything to ensure that other Bangsamoro stakeholders are brought in to this process so that this peace can be claimed and sustained by all.” This is again from the President’s speech. I just hope that government’s efforts to rein everyone in succeeds, because this sounds a lot like something that falls under the category ‘easier said than done.’

As mentioned, war is expensive; not only in terms of monies but more in terms of human lives. If the establishment of the Bangsamoro can finally bring lasting peace, I can imagine the other development programs that the savings from a permanent peace can be funnelled into; not to mention the potential for business and tourism in the area.

Honestly, how many people living in Luzon and the Visayas can really think of going to certain areas in Mindanao without harbouring fears about one’s safety and security? Mindanao is a beautiful island; and the greatest gain from this agreement may yet be the liberation of Filipinos from their fears as they attempt to discover the beauty of their own country.

Quotes taken from: Speech of President Aquino on the Framework Agreement with the MILF, October 7, 2012











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RELATED STORIES:
Understanding the Proposed Bangsamoro Sub-state
All Out Whatever; Bring Us Peace in Mindanao

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