Peace and federalism

Written by Amina Rasul.

Last Tuesday, the Friends of Peace (FoP) -- led by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Mindanao -- met with House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III. Both meetings were sought by the Cardinal and the FoP to discuss concerns on securing the gains of the peace process with the Moro liberation fronts (both MNLF and the MILF) as President Rodrigo R. Duterte moves to transform the present unitary system of governance to federalism. President Duterte has said that amending the Constitution to usher in federalism is the solution to ensure genuine autonomy and peace for the South.

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The Cardinal sought clarification on the status of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), should the Legislative agenda prioritize the amendment of the Constitution. Will the BBL be passed before amending the Constitution? If you recall, Congress rejected the BBL on issues of constitutionality. Anti-BBL proponents maintained that certain provisions of the draft BBL were unconstitutional, including the creation of a parliamentary form of government in the Bangsamoro region. They proposed to either drop the unconstitutional portions of the BBL, or to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The Mamasapano massacre nailed the coffin of the BBL: Congress rejected the proposal.

During the meetings, Atty. Christian Monsod, former Comelec chair and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, maintained that it may not be necessary to amend the Constitution in order to pass the BBL, that the spirit of the Constitution allowed for flexibility in its interpretation. Monsod and majority of the surviving framers of the 1987 Constitution had expressed full support for the BBL, arguing that the proposed Bangsamoro would not dismember the country.

In 2015, former President Benigno S. C. Aquino III called for the formation of a National Peace Council to look into the constitutionality and acceptability of the BBL. The Council, which included retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., assured Congress that the draft BBL, while imperfect and needed refinement, was faithful to the Constitution. The former Chief Justice said then that “the BBL does not guide the interpretation of the Constitution; the Constitution guides the interpretation of the BBL,” a view shared by Monsod and 13 framers of the Constitution.

During both meetings between legislators and the Friends of Peace, assurances were given that autonomy for the Bangsamoro as well as the Cordilleras would be secured. However, the FoP worries that the volatile conflict situation on the ground will worsen, as there has been no movement to start work on a draft BBL. The expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission has yet to begin. Congresswoman Sandra Sema of Maguindanao has already refiled the draft BBL however there is no counterpart yet in the Senate.

Cardinal Quevedo and the FoP believe that it would be wise and efficient if the efforts of the BTC and Congress could be more coordinated, that a common draft be processed. How this coordination will be effected is another matter, particularly since most of our legislators are more keen to work on federalism and leery of the political fall out of championing the BBL, post-Mamasapano.

Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, voiced his worries about the radicalizing mood among the young Bangsamoro during the meeting with Senate President Pimentel, Senators Frank Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan, and Vicente Sotto. Fr. Tabora and Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo (one of the advisers of the MILF peace panel) related their observations that the rejection of the BBL by the past Congress has kindled the anger and frustrations of both the younger commanders of the Moro liberation fronts as well as young Moro intellectuals. The seeming inaction by government on the passage of the BBL is adding fuel to the fire. This we cannot afford as the reach of violent extremism has expanded globally.

Will the situation deteriorate and exacerbate the armed conflicts between Muslim liberation fronts and the government, even as the world is grappling with the expansion of violent extremism from the US to Europe to Africa and Asia? The Philippines is particularly vulnerable to the lure of extremist groups, as the areas of armed conflict in Mindanao remain unsettled and therefore volatile. What can be done to secure the peace?

We have witnessed the rise of violent extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) whose goal is to establish an Islamic caliphate over their territory, using violence as a tool against their enemies and against peoples of other faiths. Recall that the idea of an independent Islamic caliphate started in Southeast Asia -- by radical Indonesian and Filipino Muslims who were part of the Jemaah Islammiyah (JI). Over the past few years, we have seen evidence of ties between the ISIS and with remnants of the JI, the Abu Sayyaf as well as new groups such as the Maute Gang. Can we afford to allow these groups to gain strength with our seeming inaction? This is a critical concern of the Friends of Peace.

The skewed worldview of Muslim extremists has been exported to the Muslim communities in conflict with their government worldwide, even in moderate South East Asia. Preachers who support violence in the name of Islam propagate this worldview. Identity politics of ethnic groups in conflict with state have become intertwined with their faith in communities that are under threat -- like conflict-affected Muslim Mindanao.

Our government’s response towards the armed conflict with Muslim liberation fronts in Mindanao has ranged from a hardline military approach to political negotiations for peace to interfaith dialogue. After over 40 years of wars with the liberation fronts, government and other stakeholders have realized that military action alone does not work. However, our legislative branch of government remains skeptical. This is not unusual, since we have very few representatives in the legislative bodies who are from the areas of conflict and seem to be unable to convince their fellow legislators about the need to pass a law that will secure the promise of genuine autonomy made by government, agreed upon in peace pacts from the 1976 Tripoli Agreement between government and the MNLF to the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro.

We in the Friends of Peace, together with peace advocates nationwide, will continue to plead with our legislators and national leaders to see the wisdom of providing the genuine autonomy promised by government over the past 40 years in signed peace agreements. Autonomy in lieu of a war for independence is a small price to pay for peace, security, and stability of the entire nation.

Source: Business World

Amina Rasul is a democracy, peace and human rights advocate, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.


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