MANILA, Philippines — A vote for President Benigno Aquino III’s senatorial bets is a vote for permanent peace in Mindanao.
Senator Franklin Drilon made this claim on Sunday, as he moved to transform the 2013 mid-term elections into a proxy vote for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement in the next Congress.
“It is important for PNoy (President Aquino) that his allies, his handpicked candidates in Team PNoy, will be voted in the Senate because they will push for his policies on peace in ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao),” said Drilon in a radio interview.
Senatorial bets of the United Nationalist Alliance were quick to dispute Drilon’s move to paint their team as opposing the framework agreement.
“Who does not want peace in Mindanao? I am in favor of the Bangsamoro framework agreement, but that is a work in progress. That is not the end all and be all of these elections,” said re-electionist Senator Gregorio Honasan II in a phone interview.
San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito, a senatorial bet of UNA, said that Drilon was “misguided” in simplifying the election into just one issue. “We all want peace but can we have peace without solving poverty, which is the root cause of this long-running rebellion? Peace cannot be achieved by a mere agreement; there will be no peace if poverty persists,” said Ejercito. “They want development in Mindanao but have they addressed the power crisis in that region? How can there be progress if electricity is expensive and supply is unreliable?”
Honasan said that peace should not be “limiting or exclusive, it should involve everybody in the discussions.”
“I was led to believe that Team PNoy is Team Philippines because he is our president whether he likes it or not. I might have been mistaken,” said Honasan.
Both Honasan and Ejercito said that the UNA ticket has been fully supporting the idea of lasting peace in Mindanao but they have differed on how it should be implemented.
Ejercito cautioned Drilon against raising expectations over the Bangsamoro deal as the solution to Mindanao’s peace problem. “We should be more realistic and more sober in our assessment of the peace pact because there is a possibility it will not deliver the government’s lofty promises or it will not meet the MILF’s expectations and we will be worse off than we are now,” said Ejercito.
Honasan said the public should also look at other pressing issues outside of Mindanao in selecting their senatorial candidates. “The elections are not just about the peace process. It is one of the important issues but it is not the only important issue,” said Honasan.
Based on recent surveys, President Aquino’s coalition slate, which is now called Team PNoy has seven to eight candidates in the top 12 (including the two common candidates, Senators Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero) but none of the purely Liberal Party candidates have managed to crack into the top 12 in recent popularity surveys.
In pushing for Team PNoy senatorial candidates, Drilon warned the public of having a Senate dominated by members who would oppose the Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro. “If the President will not get a majority, this means that the people do not want this transitory authority, they do not want to change ARMM. That is an indication that the public is not in favor of the policy of President [Aquino],” said Drilon.
Drilon explained that this has been why the President “wagered or put to risk his political capital” just to have the framework agreement signed. “If those he endorsed in Congress are not elected, the basic law would not be fully realized,” said Drilon who noted that the President was determined to have a lasting peace agreement in place before he stepped down in 2016.
Drilon said that the public should laud President Aquino’s visit to Camp Darapanan (formerly Camp Abubakar) to launch the Sajahatra Bangsamoro project together with the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Monday.
“The President has to go there even if the agreement has not yet been signed because this is part of the continuing process of peace and development.”
Drilon said the President should immediately form the 15-member transition commission (seven from the government and seven from the MILF with an MILF nominee as chair) to draft the law replacing the ARMM charter.
Drilon dismissed worries of an emerging pattern in the peace negotiations with the Muslim groups where a breakaway group emerges after its mother group signs with the government.
“We cannot negotiate on the basis of fear. At the end of the day, the public will have to decide by either rejecting the President’s candidates for 2013 elections or supporting the President’s choices together with this framework agreement,” said Drilon.
Drilon found nothing wrong with the President setting foot on an MILF camp because this was still part of the Philippines and part of his job as leader of an entire country. “I don’t think the prestige of his office will be diminished by going to Mindanao, and the MILF. If he goes to Cebu, does he bow to (suspended Governor Gwendolyn) Garcia? I don’t think so,” said Drilon.