The historic signing of the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro” was accomplished on October 15, 2012 at the Malacañang Palace. It was not the final peace accord that the parties wished for but it was a good start considering what everybody involved in the process had gone through.
The Framework Agreement would lead to the creation of a “new autonomous political entity” (NPE) called “Bangsamoro.” This would replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which is composed of the predominantly Muslim provinces of Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Tawi-Tawi; and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan. In addition, the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato, which are not part of ARMM, will be included in the new Bangsamoro.
Finally, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III’s relentless pursuit of peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is paying off. With the Framework Agreement in place, all the players can now work together – if they can — in achieving peace, which has eluded us for decades.
Indeed, the circuitous road to peace took many turns and detours that seemed to go nowhere. And each time that peace seemed to be at hand, an armed conflict breaks out between government forces and the 12,000-strong MILF rebels, pushing everybody back to square one. It was like a “line dance” number: one step forward, two steps back, make a turn and repeat the number.
Now that the dancing is over and the parties had signed the framework, the challenge is how to achieve a lasting peace in the Bangsamoro.
It is interesting to note that the MILF is not the only Muslim rebel group in Mindanao. There are several others: at least two factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Currently, the government has an existing – albeit shaky — peace agreement with MNLF that was signed by Nur Misuari and then President Fidel V. Ramos in 1996, which ended the 24-year secessionist war that MNLF waged.
The 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) recognizes the Misuari-led MNLF faction. Misuari had made it known that he opposed the creation of Bangsamoro as envisioned in the Framework Agreement because he claimed that it violated the 1996 peace agreement, which MILF opposed at that time.
The weekend before the signing of the Framework Agreement, Misuari met with Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan – an ally of P-Noy – in Zamboanga City to allay fears that it could “spark unrest and may lead to war in Mindanao,” as reported by the media. “I was misunderstood. What I said was the ‘framework’ might be a recipe for a crisis which may include war,” he told Tan.
Barring any new conflict, an autonomous Bangsamoro region could usher in the dawn of peace and progress in a region long neglected – and abused – by the Central Government in Manila. Due to take effect upon the completion of a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year, Bangsamoro will be governed by a Basic Law administered by an elected “ministerial form of government,” which I believe would be akin to a parliamentary system. The Bangsamoro Government will have an asymmetric relationship with the Central Government in Manila.
As stipulated in the Framework Agreement, “The Central Government will have reserved powers, the Bangsamoro Government shall have its exclusive powers, and there will be concurrent powers shared by the Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government.” It sounds complicated but nothing is impossible if the parties are sincere and objective in making it work.
Furthermore, the parties agreed that “the Central Government shall have the following powers: (a) Defense and external security; (b) Foreign policy; (c) Common market and global trade, provided that the power to enter into economic agreements already allowed under Republic Act No. 9054 shall be transferred to the Bangsamoro; (d) Coinage and monetary policy; (e) Citizenship and naturalization; and (f) Postal service.”
And the most important aspect of the Bangsamoro political entity is the following provision: “Consistent with the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Bangsamoro will have the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges, subject to limitations as may be mutually agreed upon by the Parties. This power shall include the power to determine tax bases and tax rates, guided by the principles of devolution of power (italics mine), equalization, equity, accountability, administrative simplicity, harmonization, economic efficiency, and fiscal autonomy.”
Of particular interest is the inclusion of “principles of devolution of power.” It reminds me of what the United Kingdom did to keep Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within the kingdom and yet give them autonomy to govern their own people.
In my article, “Revolution or Devolution” (July 29, 2005), I wrote: “In 1998, the United Kingdom underwent a dramatic change. Through devolution, certain powers vested in the U.K. parliament were transferred to new legislative bodies in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. ‘Devolution’ is defined as the ‘transfer and subsequent sharing of powers between institutions of government within a limited framework set out in legislation.’ Devolution allows the ‘transfer of power’ to be done in phases or step-by-step transfer.
“I believe that a step-by-step devolutionary process in a new Philippine parliamentary government would be in the best interest of the country and the Filipino people. Empowering the provinces, or regions for that matter, by devolution would give the provinces time to mature and develop a political system conducive to the welfare of the people. And the best part of it is that devolution in each province or region would not necessarily be in the same uniformed steps for all provinces or regions. Some provinces or regions could have more power than the others.”
Road to peace
The question is: would devolution work in Bangsamoro? Absolutely! However, the key to successfully devolve power to Bangsamoro is to give her full economic power while allowing her to exercise the political power granted her under the Framework Agreement.
Mindanao is a rich region in natural resources. The potential for Bangsamoro to develop into a wealthy state and progressive people is without bounds. And as a new dawn breaks the darkness that engulfed their ancestral land, let’s give our Muslim brothers and sisters a hand as they travel the road to peace and prosperity in Bangsamoro. They deserve no less.