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BANGSAMORO

Real score: Are Charter changes needed?

(Starting today, Sunday, the Inquirer is running a series of articles on issues facing President Benigno Aquino III in a run-up to his fifth State of the Nation Address on July 28. Go to http://inq.ph/sona2014 on INQUIRER.net for more of SONA 2014.)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III’s fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona) is fast approaching and this would be the time to articulate the clear direction and the real matuwid na daan in dealing with the Bangsamoro issues.

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The achievements on the ground, not words, are the real balance to weigh the President’s legacy in the peace and development arena.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF negotiator, and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, head of the government negotiating panel, exchange copies of the peace agreement between the MILF and the Aquino administration they signed in Malacañang on March 27, 2014. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The President, in his fourth Sona (2013), said: “What is clear to me: Every word we utter must result in an action that would benefit all. Every line that we craft in the agreement we are forging must be set in stone and not merely written on water, only to be forgotten by history.”

He equally committed the “strength of the entire nation to lift the provinces of Muslim Mindanao, which are among our poorest.” These bold statements.

To be fair, the President has not been wanting in allocating extra funds for peace and development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He poured billions into the ARMM, beginning with the P8.5 billion dubbed as the ARMM Stimulus Fund as early as 2011.

No other President has allocated as much as President Aquino in his wish to make the ARMM at par with the neighboring regions.

Mind-boggling billions

He allocated mind-boggling billions in addition to the increased yearly budgetary allocation to the ARMM.

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In three years, President Aquino has doubled the ARMM annual budgetary allocation—from a little over P10 billion in 2010 to more than P20 billion in 2014.

The late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo originally spearheaded the attempts for a real “catch-up” program for the ARMM under the P8.5-billion Stimulus Fund.

He initiated under the matuwid na daan ARMM-wide consultations—a veritable partnership not only between the national and regional governments but also local governments and civil society organizations.

Together, they identified projects that would have major impact on the ARMM constituency—the poorest in the country.

There were seven key areas identified for immediate intervention that would be the hallmarks of the second Aquino administration.

On top of the list was the delivery of countryside basic services, particularly in areas of health and education.

No impact

But four years after, many rural public health centers in the ARMM continue to have no health personnel, no medicine and other facilities.

How could this happen when the Department of Health (DOH) got a share in the Stimulus Fund of almost a billion pesos? The conditions of public schools in rural ARMM remain lamentable—erratic schedule of teachers, dilapidated school facilities, almost nil instructional materials (blackboards, chalks, clipboards and other instructional things, no laboratories and libraries and inadequate textbooks).

Almost P3 billion from the Stimulus Fund was coursed through the Department of Public Works and Highways.

These funds were allocated for strategic infrastructure and farm-to-market roads to boost growth and economic development.

Yet the Stimulus Fund has practically no impact on the poverty and employment rates and the region remains the poorest in the country.

A total of P2.8 billion of the Stimulus Fund was directly managed by the ARMM government.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development-ARMM got the lion’s share, with P1.971 billion apart from the P1.97 billion coursed through the nearby regional offices.

The Department of Agriculture-ARMM got P326.7 millions apart from the P1-billion allocation.

The DOH-ARMM got a direct share of P302 million apart from the P956 million originally allocated.

Separate allocation?

A report published recently by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed an allocation of P8.389 billion for ARMM Comprehensive Peace and Development Intervention.

People wonder whether this is a separate allocation for the ARMM or simply a repackaged Stimulus Fund.

No one seems to know what this ARMM Comprehensive Peace and Development Intervention is all about.

In the same DBM report, there are two allocations: Item 21 with P1.819 billion and Item 36 with P656 million for the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process counterinsurgency Pamana Programs.

What happened to all these extra funds added to the increased regular annual ARMM budgetary allocations? Why is there very little impact on the actual development of the ARMM with practically no impact on the poverty and unemployment rates, much less on the actual conditions of the delivery of basic services in the countryside of the region.

Failed experiment

Is the ARMM structure a complete and total “failed experiment” that no matter what (money and good governance) would make any difference? With all the much touted ghost busting and reforms, the ARMM has remained the same, proving the truism that the more changes, the more it remains the same.

Would President Aquino include or exclude from his Sona that notwithstanding his attempts, the ARMM has practically remained the same—a failed experiment?

While there are major strides achieved in the last three years in the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the basic question that the President has to face in the remaining two years of his term is his capacity to deliver an acceptable Bangsamoro basic law, which would be the basis for the creation of a new autonomous region that would replace the ARMM.

Six agreements

There are six major agreements on the President’s watch.

These are:

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in October 2012;

The Agreement on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities signed in February 2013;

The Agreement on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing signed in July 2013;

The Agreement on Power Sharing signed in December 2013;

The Agreement on Normalization and the Bangsamoro Waters and Zones of Joint Concerns in January 2014; and

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed on March 27, 2014.

These major strides in the peace process between the government and the MILF were achieved without reference to the 1987 Constitution.

Charter amendments

Yet, even a cursory look at these major agreements points to the need for constitutional amendments to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsamoro for:

Their unique identity;

Their ancestral domain; and

The exclusive powers not only to govern themselves but also to have control and supervision over the resources within their domain.

Without constitutional amendments on the table, the Aquino administration remains, simply, on cloud nine.

By any imagination (creative, flexible or otherwise), sans constitutional amendments, the government would be short in the delivery of its commitments.

It is time for the President to address the nation with all honesty and sobriety, and admit with clarity that the previously articulated “flexibilities” of the Constitution would not stretch enough to institutionalize the CAB both in letter and spirit.

There are no ifs and buts, he has to face the challenge of constitutional amendments.

Without this on the government’s agenda, whatever President Aquino says and claims is all rhetoric and simply for the sound bites.

Without changing the basic paradigm and framework of governance as stated in the Constitution, there can be no acceptable Bangsamoro basic law.

The difficulty lies in the ongoing “conversation” between the Office of the President and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that has been tasked with drafting the Bangsamoro basic law for submission to Congress.

The Transition Commission’s draft seems to collide with some provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

While the Office of the President’s draft law is constitutionally compliant, it is not faithful to the CAB.

If the President departs from the four corners of the Constitution, he faces yet another specter of a Supreme Court rebuff.

No renegotiation

On the other hand, the MILF appears resolved not to accept the limitations of the Constitution and it refuses to renegotiate the terms in the comprehensive agreement already settled and signed.

Whichever process the President adopts in his Sona, Congress has to enact an “acceptable” Bangsamoro basic law before the year ends.

Without an acceptable basic law, it will be back to the same scenario that produced Republic Act No. 9054 (the Organic Act of the ARMM) that legislated the 1996 final peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The MNLF rejected RA 9054 as the implementation of the 1996 peace deal.

There never has been any closure of the 1996 agreement and this is precisely the subject of the ongoing tripartite review.

The Bangsamoro basic law would take the place of RA 9054 and it would be the new organic act that would translate the CAB into official and legal structures of government in the new autonomous region also known as Bangsamoro.

A “diluted” basic law would simply repeat the previous legal arrangement akin to the creation of the ARMM but with no real substance being added to the package except for the new brand name—Bangsamoro.

The real score

In his Sona, is it possible for the President to give us the real score on the Bangsamoro basic law, notwithstanding the difficulties?

Is it all possible under the matuwid na daan to have real transparency and accounting of all the projects under the ARMM Stimulus Fund, Pamana and other so-called peace and development interventions in the ARMM?

Will he be able to begin the process for constitutional amendments to allow a genuine Bangsamoro basic law that will bring closure to the long-overdue peace agreement that began in 1976 in Tripoli, Libya?

WHAT WENT BEFORE

On July 2010, President Aquino assembled a new panel to resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with Marvic Leonen, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, as chair. A month later, the President announced that Malaysia will remain as facilitator of the talks.

On Aug. 4, 2011, Mr. Aquino and MILF chair Murad Ebrahim held a secret meeting in Tokyo to hasten the talks. The meeting is a first since peace talks began in 1997. Exploratory talks began in Kuala Lumpur within the same month.

But on Oct. 18, despite the existing ceasefire, MILF forces clashed with the military in Al-Barka, Basilan province, leaving 19 soldiers and six rebels dead. Clashes between the two sides broke out again in Zamboanga Sibugay province on Oct. 21, and in Basilan and Lanao de Norte provinces on Oct. 23.

On Oct. 24, the President declared “all-out justice” instead of an all-out war for the slain soldiers. The Philippine Air Force started an air and ground operation against “rogue elements” of the MILF in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay.

Formal peace talks were resumed on Dec. 5, 2011, in Kuala Lumpur.

In April 2012, the government and the MILF panels agreed to create a new autonomous political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

On Oct. 15, 2012, the framework agreement was signed in Malacañang. The framework document, the annexes and an introductory text constitute the comprehensive agreement. The two sides still needed to work on the four annexes: Transitional mechanisms, power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization.

On Dec. 17, 2012, the President signed and issued Executive Order No. 120 creating the Transition Commission (Transcom) that would draft a proposed law creating the envisioned Bangsamoro autonomous government. Once drafted, the Bangsamoro basic law would be certified urgent by the President and submitted to Congress.

On Feb. 11, 2013, Mr. Aquino paid his first visit to the MILF stronghold in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao province, for the launch of Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a social development program for the MILF and Moro communities.

On Feb. 25, Malacañang announced the 15 members of the Transcom, composed of eight representatives from the MILF and seven from the government.

On Feb. 27, the two panels signed the first annex—transitional arrangements and modalities—that outlined a transition process consisting of eight components beginning with the creation of the Transcom and ending with an exit document terminating the peace negotiations, “if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.”

On July 13, the second annex which tackles wealth-sharing was signed by both parties. Under the annex, 100 percent of the revenue from the exploration, development and use of nonmetallic minerals would go to Bangsamoro. For metallic minerals, 75 percent of the revenue would go to Bangsamoro and 25 percent to the government. Earnings from fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas, coal and uranium would be divided equally.

Further, Bangsamoro would get 75 percent of national taxes collected from the territory, up from the current 70 percent in the ARMM.

On Dec. 8, 2013, the government and MILF panels signed the annex on power-sharing, the third of four annexes. It outlined the powers that would be reserved for the national government, those that would be held by the autonomous Bangsamoro region and those shared by both.

On Jan 25, 2014, the government and the MILF peace panels signed the normalization annex, the last of four documents that make up the comprehensive peace agreement.

On Feb. 8, the office of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) was inaugurated in Cotabato City. The BTC has been commissioned to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will become the foundation of a future Bangsamoro entity.

Source: Inquirer Archives

IN THE KNOW

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed on Oct. 15, 2012, a framework agreement to end the war and establish a new autonomous region in Mindanao to be called Bangsamoro.

The 13-page document contained general agreements, including the extent of power, revenue and territory granted to Bangsamoro, the new Muslim administrative region.

Two months after the signing of the framework agreement, President Aquino issued Executive Order No. 120 creating the Transition Commission (Transcom) that would draft a proposed law creating the Bangsamoro autonomous government.

Once drafted, the Bangsamoro basic law would be certified urgent by the President and submitted to Congress.

Four annexes

The two sides also worked on the four annexes to the framework agreement: Transitional mechanisms, power-sharing, wealth-sharing and normalization. It took them 15 months since the signing of the framework agreement to complete the four annexes. The framework agreement and the four annexes together with all the major agreements signed by the parties over the years constitute the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The annex on transitional arrangements and modalities, signed on Feb. 27 last year, outlined a transition process consisting of several components beginning with the creation of the Transcom and ending with an exit document terminating the peace negotiations, “if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.”

The other transition steps include the crafting and ratification of a basic law that will serve as the Bangsamoro charter; proposals for amendments to entrench the peace agreement in the Constitution; operation of the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), and periodic third-party monitoring of all agreements.

Wealth-sharing

The second annex, which tackled wealth-sharing, was signed by both parties last July 13. Under the annex, 100 percent of the revenue from the exploration, development and use of nonmetallic minerals would go to Bangsamoro. For metallic minerals, 75 percent of the revenue would go to Bangsamoro and 25 percent to the government. Earnings from fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas, coal and uranium would be divided equally.

Further, Bangsamoro would get 75 percent of national taxes collected from the territory, up from the current 70 percent in the ARMM.

The government and the MILF panels signed the annex on power-sharing, the third of four annexes, last Dec. 8. It outlined the powers that would be reserved for the national government, those that would be held by the autonomous Bangsamoro region and those that would be shared by them.

The government and the MILF peace panels signed the normalization annex, the last of four documents, on Jan. 25. At the heart of the last document is the deactivation of the MILF fighting force of 11,000 and the laying down of their weapons.

Sources: Inquirer Research, opapp.gov.ph

For more on the series of issues on SONA 2014, also read the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Originally posted: 4:09 am | Sunday, July 20th, 2014

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