March 17, 2014 · Posted in: Access to Information, Civil Society, Free Expression - Asia, Freedom of Information, General, Governance, Human Rights, In the News, Money Politics, Online Research, Peace and Conflict
ON MARCH 27, Thursday next week, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the BangsaMoro (CAB), a political settlement between the government and the MILF rebels that hopefully would bring peace to Mindanao.
The signing comes almost two decades after an earlier administration, under then President Fidel Ramos, signed a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front. That agreement, called the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) of 1996, was also envisioned as the settlement that would bring peace to the region. Eighteen years later, the region would still be witness to numerous conflicts, including an all-out war against the MILF and the resurgence of the MNLF that resulted in last year’s siege of Zamboanga City.
Next week’s peace deal, like its predecessor, may give the rebel group a measure of control over what is now the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM, an autonomous region created by law and ratified in a plebiscite in 1989.
In the September 2 1996 peace deal with the MNLF, the government guaranteed that rebel group control over the ARMM by ensuring that MNLF chairman Nur Misuari would run unopposed as governor of the ARMM. Curiously, this element was not even specified in the peace agreement signed by both parties. What the FPA really did specify was the creation of a Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, a coordinating body controlled by the MNLF that would oversee peace and development efforts in the region, and a few other coordinating bodies that would supposedly empower the MNLF. Government also committed to push for a plebiscite that would expand the coverage of the ARMM beyond the four provinces then included in the region.
Misuari’s faction of the MNLF has since disassociated itself from the 1996 pact, saying the government has failed to live up to its promises. The MNLF lost control over the ARMM after Misuari was jailed for rebellion in 2001.
The MILF, a rebel group that broke away from the MNLF in 1979, for its part negotiated for the same territory that now comprises the ARMM.
While the Comprehensive Agreement on the BangsaMoro is not likely to contain any guarantees of control by the MILF over the BangsaMoro territory, it does spell out several key concessions that make the territory unique and autonomous, if not controversial.
For one, the BangsaMoro entity will take the place of the ARMM, which now comprises Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi, the same region that was “given” to the MNLF in 1996. The BangsaMoro also provides for a ministerial form of government within a country that has had a presidential form of government for more than a century. The agreement also provides for a power-sharing and wealth-sharing formula that is envisioned to empower the BangsaMoro government with more resources and internal control.
The whole agreement however also relies on a process that is mandated by the Philippine Constitution, and as such, is vulnerable to both political pressure, clan dynamics, and public opinion. Once the CAB is signed next week, the government will push for the passage of a BangsaMoro Basic Law which would be ratified in the proposed area of coverage of the BangsaMoro. Only those provinces and cities opting to join the new political entity will be included; other provinces, towns, and cities that may want to join can do so, through a resolution for inclusion or through a petition signed by at least ten percent of the registered voters of the area.
Once the BangsaMoro territory has been constituted through the plebiscite, local elections will then be held for the BangsaMoro regional government, which as earlier mentioned, will be ministerial in form. This means that the region will be governed, not by a governor, but by a chief minister who is elected from within the BangsaMoro parliament.
Both the MILF and the government have said that there is no guarantee that the MILF would be handed automatic control over the parliament; however, the MILF is expected to turn itself into a political party in hopes of gaining an influential, if not a controlling voice, in the BangsaMoro parliament.