PRESIDENT BENIGNO S. AQUNO III wants all the potentially sticky and controversial issues in the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ironed out and pushed through Congress while he still has high popularity and trust ratings.
Government negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer said the President wants to make sure that all these issues get through the Congressional wringer long before he becomes a “lame duck President,” who is no longer able to push his agenda through Congress.
This is important, Ferrer said, because the Executive needs to lobby with Congress to make sure that the potentially contentious points in the agreement do not get watered down by the next Congress.
The government and the MILF signed a framework agreement on the peace process last October 15, which serves as a roadmap for a final comprehensive peace agreement that is still to be worked out.
Among other things, the framework agreement provides for the creation of a Transition Commission that will draft a new “basic law” to govern the Bangsamoro, a new political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
While the framework agreement had not encountered any significant opposition, unlike the aborted Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008, support from Congress would be crucial for the success of the final agreement.
This is because Congress would have to abolish the old ARMM and put in place a new organic act or “basic law” for the Bangsamoro. The political entity would also be the only ministerial form of government in the Philippines, where both national and local governments remain unitary. Questions have also been raised on what the framework agreement meant when it said that the national government and the Bangsamoro would have an “asymmetric” relationship. At least one Senator has stated that the President needs to have the Constitution amended first if he is to pursue the ideas put forth in the framework agreement.
As well, there have been questions raised on the issues of the scope of the Bangsamoro territory, and the extent of its powers to source revenues.
Government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen said the President will sign an executive order around mid-November constituting the Transition Commission, which will be led by a chairman appointed by the MILF, and composed of fourteen other members, equally representing the MILF and the Philippine government.
The Transition Commission will then prepare a draft basic law that will be endorsed by the President to Congress. This draft law will be the new charter of the Bangsamoro entity.
However, Ferrer said it is unlikely that the draft law will be finished in time for the consideration of the 15th Congress, which has already expressed support for the framework agreement. This means that the future of the draft law would be in the hands of the next Congress, which would be elected in May 2013.
Ferrer said government appreciates the fact that the MILF was willing to take this major risk.
“The greatest risk is magbago ang signals from Congress,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said President Aquino was cognizant of the fact that Congress would have the final say in the Basic Law, which makes it doubly important that the President wield his influence in Congress while he still has it.
“Ang sabi ni PNoy, do it now while I’m still popular, while I’m not a lame duck President,” Ferrer said. “As you move towards 2014, or 2015, sabi nila lame duck na ang President.”
“Of all the groups worrying, it is the MILF and the government (most of all,)” said Leonen. “Hindi kami comfortable kasi we know that there are next steps. There is the framework agreement, the annexes, and after that, the criticisms naman will be in the implementation. Then after that, it will be in the levels of implementation. Forever, there will be comments about peace not being in place yet, kasi process siya eh.”
Ferrer said the administration will exert “heavy congressional lobbying” once the draft basic law is already in the hands of Congress. She said they also expect that civil society groups as well as other groups advocating peace will also lobby for the passage of the Bangsamoro basic law.
Leonen said that the clearest sign of the President’s commitment to the framework agreement came immediately after the agreement was signed October 15. He said the President immediately convened the cabinet after the signing ceremony in Malacanang, “and went into the details on the implementation of the agreement.”
“We are under pressure to show that way for the implementation,” Leonen said. “The MILF too are concerned about the implementation.”