Fishing for a legacy

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2015 - 12:00am

On this point at least no one is lying: President Aquino wants the Bangsamoro Basic Law passed – preferably without changes, although any BBL will do – before his final State of the Nation Address this July.

Then P-Noy can wash his hands of the BBL, as it is certain to be brought to the Supreme Court (SC) where even his appointees have voted against him in several contentious issues, notably the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

The SC rulings on the pork barrel and DAP banned lump sum appropriations and congressional discretion over the use of funds after the approval of the annual national budget.

These SC rulings have overtaken the provision in the proposed BBL for billions in annual taxpayer subsidy that the proposed Bangsamoro can effectively use like the pork barrel, with full discretion by the regional government, to be audited by its own auditing office.

Congressmen are now scrutinizing this provision. They have also noted that the proposed Bangsamoro will get an inordinately larger share of internal revenue allotment from the national government, which some quarters say is unconstitutional.

Legal experts are saying the BBL, without changes, will be tossed out by the SC. The government promised the Moro Islamic Liberation Front the moon just to get it to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro last year. And the MILF also promised the government the moon and signed the CAB even if it has no control over the other violent troublemakers in the south, including its own members who formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

After the slaughter of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, the BIFF is now seen not as a splinter group but as the MILF’s standby force, ready to launch attacks in case the MILF fails to get what it wants in the peace process.

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Over a decade ago the MILF was a spent force, its leader bloodied and its camps overrun, when it was picked up by the previous administration for its own peace initiative. Through the years the MILF regained its strength, cleverly protected by its double-edged tack of openly pursuing peace while clandestinely supporting all the violent troublemakers in Mindanao.

P-Noy’s administration gave the group unprecedented legitimacy. These days it looks like the MILF has already used a lot of goodwill aid from various legitimate sources to build up its firepower and resources. How much of the aid came from Filipino and foreign taxpayers is anybody’s guess.

With all the questions now being raised about the BBL, P-Noy should be prepared for the possibility that the MILF or its cousins in the BIFF would use that firepower against the government if the MILF fails to get what it wants. We saw a hint of this when the 44 Special Action Force commandos were butchered in Mamasapano. The massacre and the BBL can’t be treated separately, as P-Noy and his allies want; the attack raised legitimate questions about the sincerity of the MILF in committing to peace.

Any self-respecting government must always be prepared to defend the state and protect the people. In the past days the military has been conducting an offensive against the BIFF, supposedly to dismantle weapons and bomb-making facilities and flush out terrorists. No one is calling it war. What about the weapons and bomb-making facilities of the MILF? Why does it enjoy untouchable status, exempt from all laws?

The MILF is just one of several armed groups in Mindanao. Its VIP treatment is surely giving other groups the idea that armed violence is a terrific path for getting what you want in this weak republic.

There are many poor and marginalized communities in this country, with grievances also dating back to the colonial period. But they aren’t taking up arms, coddling terrorists and slaughtering police commandos – and then demanding as a reward billions in public funds and near-absolute power, without accountability to taxpayers, in their own self-governed region.

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What made the MILF so lucky? The desire of daang matuwid to be able to tout a peace legacy, tenuous as the resulting peace may be. Out of the blue the administration declared the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) a “failed experiment.” How it reached this conclusion is a mystery.

This peace process exclusively focused on a single group is fueling the kind of discontent that can spell protracted armed violence. We saw this in the three-week siege of Zamboanga City in 2013.

Instead of trying to fix any defects in a 25-year-old autonomous Muslim region, which was enhanced by the original peace treaty and exists under a democratic system, P-Noy has to abolish the ARMM for his own peace package. The next administration may also want its own, and abolish the Bangsamoro.

While salvaging his peace initiative, P-Noy should also start drawing up Plan B, in case the BBL is junked by the SC.

He can study what can still be done within his last two minutes to make the ARMM work, while at the same time ordering state forces to prepare for any violent fallout. He should be prepared not to wage “all-out war” but to enforce the law.

At the Senate, MILF peace panel head Mohagher Iqbal was asked what his group would do if the BBL were struck down. He could not say with certainty. MILF officials have also said the peace treaty was no guarantee that their members would not return to secession.

Iqbal himself seems to be enjoying life back in the social mainstream. He and like-minded members of the MILF should also have a non-violent Plan B: they can push through with organizing a party and reinvent themselves as politicians.

P-Noy can offer an amnesty package for such rebel returnees. At the same time, his allies in the Muslim regions can reach out to clan and tribal leaders to address their needs and make development inclusive.

It’s not a dramatic or exciting story and it won’t bag P-Noy a Nobel Peace Prize. But he can actually plant the seeds of enduring peace, even if his formal peace document is shredded by the two other branches of government.

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SNAIL MAIL: The other day I received a pile of snail mail including Christmas greeting cards. They were sent from various places in Metro Manila to our correct office address in Port Area, Manila, and stamped received in the first three weeks of December 2014 by the Post Office about five kilometers away. That’s efficiency for you.

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