Written by Hazelyn Gaudiano, Pro PolitiCS for Peace.

Prompted by the Duterte Administration’s launch of a new and renewed peace roadmap, some local political leaders and department heads of the local government, including a wide spectrum of the civil society sector participated in the “Forum on Mindanao Peace Roadmap and Federalism” on September 6, 2016 in Isabela City, Basilan and also on September 7, 2016 in Zamboanga city.

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In all, around 150 participants listened to timely inputs and updates. After which, they subsequently joined the dialogue, which aimed to:

  1. Facilitate the convergence of understanding of the evolving Mindanao peace roadmap
  2. Provide analysis on the various discourses of the proposed federal governmental scheme
  3. Consolidate the assertions and recommendations of local political leaders and the multi-stakeholders on the Mindanao Peace Process.

Foremost, the participants and the resource persons dealt with what are in-store for Mindanao in the renewed peace roadmap and the flaunted transition to a federal system of governance.

Maluso Municipal Mayor Hanie A. Bud giving his reaction and opinion regarding Federalism and  Mindanao Peace Process last September 6, 2016 at Basilan State College, Isabela City, Basilan. 

In his opening message, Fr. Angel Calvo, the President of Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance, Inc. (ZABIDA), underscored the timeliness and relevance of the forum. Dissecting the primary ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of the activity, he pointed to the current situation as a period of anxiety. Conversely, he also emphazised that it is at the same time a period of reflection for making sense of what is ‘out there’.

Atty. Benedicto Bacani, the main resource speaker, said that what is out there is Federalism – a thing which the people do not know much about at the moment. Acording to him, the crucial question now is, how is this federalism linked with the Mindanao peace process.

At the outset, Atty. Bacani, provided input on the Fundamentals of Federalism. Then he proceded to discuss how the current discourse on federalism links with the broader Mindanao peace process. He informed the participants that right now, there is not enough information for the public to serve as basis for a crucial/critical information and decision on this matter. He explained that his input was not to convince anyone to support the move for a federal system, saying: “We are still at the stage of reflection. My task is to provide the critical information that will help you frame your reflections in a very constructive way” - serving as basis for making that crucial decision later.

On the federalism issue, there are presently two compelling questions being forwarded, which engender people’s anxieties and apprehensions: a) Political dynasty – are we not just making a lot more feudal lords in the local scene (more powers and more resources); b) Secession – what will prevent the Bangsamoro from declaring independence.

Accordingly, federalism may further entrench the power and authority of long established political clans, creating local fiefdoms insulated from electoral challenges. Nonetheless, political dynasty should be viewed rather as symptom; than the problem. Political dynasties have positive effects (as may be seen in other countries). But in the Philippines, there is no political maturity (in terms of political parties). Thus, it is best to: (a) reform the electoral system; and (b) strengthen the political party system (make more stable and active throughout, and not only during elections when there is much party-shifting). Finally, the issue of Bangsamoro secession can be tapered by providing wider space for the diverse socio-political and religious backgrounds within the federal system of governance.

Atty. Benedicto Bacani speaking in front of the stakeholders attended the forum last September 7, 2016.

Two Options

Connecting the federalism discourse to the Mindanao peace process, Atty. Bacani explained that there are two mutually exclusive options presented on the table. The first (option A) is the passage of the BBL endorsed by the BTC. In this option, the following sequence of events are expected: the BBL is refiled; Pres Duterte pressures Congress to pass the BBL; and then everything rolls-on following the CAB roadmap. However, the implementers will have to navigate through the general perception that the BBL is exclusively MILF-influenced. Then also, there is the factor of “unimplementability” due to conflicting interpretations by the implementers – resulting to weak political support and weak legal and constitutional base.

The other option (option Z) is to go for a Federal system of governance – thereby requiring a drastic change in the Constitution. Firstly, this option endorses the federal schema as the ‘only solution’ to the Mindanao problem (and the rest of the country). Secondly,  the move towards a federal system will technically render the previous Peace Agreements and the BBL moot and academic – sidestepping their being incremental steps to comprehensive peace settlements. Following this track, however, the implementers will have to grapple with the ensuing mistrust, unmet expectations, and radicalization. Shoud it fail, Federalism could be the BBL of the Duterte administration. But on the possitive note, federalism holds an enourmous promise to satisfy the Bangsamoro aspiration, including in fact, all aspirations of all the other Bangsas.

Towards the end of the forum, most participants became more inclined to towards the federal system. Accordingly, most of their questions and rejoinders pointed to the issue of federalism, such as:

  1. Zamboanga
    1. Would it mean that the national laws can supersede the federal laws?
    2. Philippines is signatory to several conventions. Can these be included in the provisions of the federal law?
    3. Status of the Sultanate of Sulu and the issue of Sabah. Can the crafting of the federal constitution resurrect the jurisdiction over the areas once governed by the Sultanate?
    4. What will happen to the baragays? What will happen to the local code?
    5. What is the timeline of the process towards shift to federalism?
    6. Who will decide on the shift to the federal system: people or congress?
  2. Basilan
    1. Is the equalization system, directed to economic equalization for the sustainability of LGUs, or mainly directed towards equal sharing of political powers?
    2. Is there possibility of abolishing the Sangguniang Kabataan and the Barangay Kagawads in the federal system?
    3. Is it possible to take the BBL as template for the design of a federal government?

By way of moving forward, Atty. Bacani emphasized that there should be a recognition of the broader arena in the legislation towards implementation of the peace agreements. Federalism and charter change are opportunities to entrench peace agreements in the country’s fundamental law and statutes. Finally, congress must engage into a dialogue with stakeholders to ensure that peace agreements are implemented (with or without charter change) or to shift to a federal system.

The Forum on Federalism and Mindanao Peace Process was organized by the Pro PolitiCS for Peace project of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) and spearheaded by Zamboanga Basilan Integrated Development Alliance (ZABIDA). The Pro PolitiCS for Peace project is implemented in partnership with the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), the Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF), and ZABIDA, through the support of the Australian Aid. 

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