Establishing Bangsamoro: A Supreme Challenge

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

August 18, 2013

As early as April 1, 1996, I had proposed creating the Bangsamoro in place of the ARRM in my address to the graduating class of Mindanao State University in General Santos City. I referred to Bangsamoro as the challenge of transforming leadership and scholarship to promote the best interests of the Moro people, the lumads and all other Mindanaons , and the nation as a whole, in order to achieve a just, progressive, and lasting peace in Mindanao.

Signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). With great joy and hope, this took place in Malacañang on October 12, 2012. Bangsamoro would replace the ARRM that had been recognized as a pseudo autonomous region under the President and judged a failure. Behind the historic event were 16 years of negotiations between the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine Government amid armed conflict that had caused an estimated 150,000 deaths and the displacement of countless innocent civilians.

Transition Commission to frame the Basic Law. Chaired by MILF Panel head,  Mohagher Iqbal, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission of 8 members of the MILF and 7 members of the Philippine Government has been meeting to forge a draft Basic Law to be passed by Congress, so that Bangsamoro will be in place before 2016 when President B.S. Aquino III ends his term.

On August 12 and 13, in Cotabato City, Dr. Peter Koeppinger of the Konrad Adenanauer Foundation (KAF) in the Philippines and I participated in the meetings of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. Dr. Koeppinger is a political scientist with many years of rich practical experience in German politics and governance as a member of the Christian Democratic Union and also as KAF adviser in Southeast Asia. I took part as a scholar, reform activist, and a member of the Centrist Democratic Party Institute.   

Dr. Koeppinger discussed relevant experience in parliamentary government and elections, and political parties in the Federal Republic of Germany, and their possible adaptation in forming and governing the Bangsamoro. According to the FAB: “The electoral system shall allow democratic participation, ensure accountability of public officers primarily to their constituents and encourage formation of genuinely principled political parties….” Thus Dr. Koeppinger acknowledges the plan of the MILF to form a political party in seeking a mandate to be able to form a ministerial government as provided in the FAB. He recommended a system of proportional representation of the various political parties in the ministerial council or parliament of Bangsamoro. He also recommended an electoral system in which at least a majority of members of the parliament are representing specific constituencies.

What is good for the Moros is good for all other Filipinos. When it was agreed to in October 2012, I held up “Bangsamoro” as “a welcome model for achieving genuine regional autonomy and development.” I hopefully predicted that Bangsamoro would eventually lead to a constitutional amendment recognizing several other autonomous entities: such as BangsaIloco, BangsaCordillera, BangsaTagalog, BangsaBikol, BangsaBisaya, BangsaIlongo, BangsaDavao, and other political regions in a devolved unitary system or a future Federal Republic of the Philippines.

            Protracted and costly armed conflict had catalyzed reform under our political oligarchy.  In my talk before the Transition Commission on August 13, I reminded the members that it had taken the rebellion of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) under Conrado Balweg to compel President Cory Aquino and her Constitutional Commission to authorize in the 1987 Constitution the establishment of ARMM and the Autonomous Region of the Cordilleras (which however failed to be realized.)

Otherwise, by themselves, our political oligarchy and family dynasties would have opposed even the watered-down ARRM. And then it would take the long, determined armed struggle of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, under Hashim Salamat and then Al Haj Murad Ibrahim, and its dire consequences to induce the consensus on the Framework Agreement Bangsamoro last year.

The high cost of failure. Failure to establish Bangsamoro as promised amid great optimism and high expectations will be aggravated by the escalating crises in corruption involving the massive diversion and waste of pork barrel funds of senators and representatives to bogus NGOs. In the face of continuing massive poverty, inequality, joblessness, and injustice, the resumption of the bloody conflicts in Mindanao and increasing loss of confidence in our democratic institutions might even provoke possible civil unrest in the country as in democratic Brazil. Our still unconsolidated democracy could break down.

Our President’s legacy. Despite President B.S. Aquino’s adamant refusal to support constitutional amendments to liberalize the entry of foreign investments, to replace our presidential government with a parliamentary government, and to allow genuine regional and local autonomy, he is investing his considerable political capital in forming the Bangsamoro. Indeed, his success in this could be his historic legacy as President. His Daang matuwid campaign against corruption will not likely make much of a lasting difference in governance and in the lives of most of our people after six years of his presidency. He must therefore sponsor the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress to ensure its approval.

            If realized before 2016, or shortly thereafter, Bangsamoro could trigger the transformation of our political system for the common good.  This means regional and local autonomy nationwide and also the possible replacement of our dysfunctional presidential government with a promising parliamentary government by constitutional amendments. Available comparative studies indicate that countries with parliamentary government have been more successful in their governance and development than those with a presidential government.

The U.S. is the foremost exception, but even there Republican Party control of the House of Representatives is making it very difficult for the President and the Senate from the rival Democratic Party to govern the nation effectively in an economic downturn.  

In the Philippines it is the burden of transforming political leadership to bring together the concerned leaders and people, particularly in Mindanao, to a higher level of mutual understanding and forward-looking solidarity in resolving the issues of Muslim or Moro regional autonomy by satisfying both the fundamental needs and the noblest motives of all Mindanaons. Only in this way may our political leaders be able to transform the peace talks into a forward-looking, win-win process.

We need a progressive political outlook and transforming leadership. Clearly, the urgent

objective of the Transition Commission is the substantive realization of the Moros’ vision of Bangsamoro.  In pursuit of this goal, the Constitution, the Basic Law for Bangsamoro, and other laws must be interpreted as enabling authority rather than as obstacles to its fulfillment. We all need an enlightened sense of history and global development, an inclusive view of Filipino nationalism, nationhood, and nation-building, and a deep and broad concept of compensatory and redistributive justice. Our Supreme Court must look forward guided by our lofty national vision in our Constitution and not be bound by restrictive precedents.

There is no room for self-defeating legalism and obstructive technicality in the pursuit of our vision for the nation under the 1987 Constitution, namely: building “a just and humane society” and  “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice and freedom, love, equality and peace….” To enable our leaders to pass this test is at the same time a great challenge to the Christianity and humanity of the majority of our Filipino leaders and citizens to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of our Moro brothers and sisters, for Muslims and Christians worship the same Almighty God.

Amend the Constitution if we must! If need be, let us amend our Constitution to fulfill the vision embodied in the Framework Agreement Bangsamoro, and allow genuine regional and local autonomy to apply to the whole country, along with a parliamentary government. A fundamental reform of our flawed and outmoded political system is a looming necessity that may no longer be postponed by our political oligarchy and family dynasties.

Led by Representative Rufus Rodriguez as President and Lito Lorenzana as Chairman, the Centrist Democratic Party: Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya is pushing for federalism and parliamentary government. Toward this end Rodriguez is sponsoring a bill calling for a constitutional convention.  

We need more “transforming leaders” for a modernizing polity, not “transactional leaders” who perpetuate our wasteful patronage system, obsolete institutions, and continuing socio-economic under-development. The President and our leaders in Congress and our local governments, business, civil society, and the media should support the reviving campaign for regional and local autonomy by itself, or in transition to a future federalism. And hopefully Charter change toward a parliamentary government as well.

Let us not wait for armed conflict to resume and civil unrest to consume our energies and resources in a failed state and a renewed authoritarianism.



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