FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2019 - 12:00am

The vote for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) went through about as peacefully as it could possibly be. There were fears earlier of widespread intimidation from groups supporting the new arrangement.

Estimates, ahead of the actual vote count, indicate a landslide win for the BOL. The only exceptions are urban areas with predominantly Christian populations such as Cotabato City and Isabela City. The BOL might lose in some areas in Sulu under the influence of the Misuari faction of the MNLF.

 The road toward a more meaningful autonomy for the Muslim communities in Western Mindanao is not all that clear, however.

To be sure, the constitutionality of the BOL will be challenged before the Supreme Court. The status of the earlier agreement forged between government and the Misuari-led MNLF remains unclear. It was that agreement that brought about the largely ineffectual ARMM.

Those who oppose the BOL do so on a variety of grounds.

Some want to preserve the ARMM. Others prefer autonomy to happen within the framework of a shift to a parliamentary arrangement. Still others are deeply suspicious of granting substantial autonomy to the Muslim communities, believing this could eventually be a stepping stone to secession.

Those in the last category point to the experience of the Catalan autonomy experiment. The regional autonomy arrangement did not extinguish Catalan nationalism and, in fact, enabled a political mechanism that abets secession.

The same is true in the case of Scotland. The Scottish nationalists narrowly lost a referendum that would have caused separation from the United Kingdom. They could try again, especially if chaos accompanies Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The transition to a Bangsamoro entity will be challenging. Those who will lead this transition will define its eventual disposition toward the national government.

Too, the entity could degenerate into a cesspool of corruption and ineffective governance like the ARMM did. This is an experiment that requires a hopeful leap, a faith that a modernizing Muslim elite takes charge of the process and brings about real development in the area.

There will be continuing squabbles between the national government and the Bangsamoro entity over the area’s share in economic investments and control of the area’s natural resources. That will be understandable and we can only hope the squabbles will be resolved responsibly.

If the MILF does not effectively disband and disarm, the new entity will be ruled by a band that relies on a private armed group. That will not encourage accountability and authentic democracy.

Nevertheless, all the challenges remaining, the BOL represents the triumph of those who would rather invest in peace. We can only hope for the best.

En banc

Several groups representing coconut farmers are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the petition to elevate for the consideration of the Supreme Court en banc the case of Felix Chua v. UCPB. This is because the bank stands to lose over a billion pesos worth of assets as a consequence of the decision of the Court’s Third Division back in Aug. 16, 2017.

The country’s over three million coconut farmers, through the coconut levy fund amassed during the Marcos years, now have 74 percent equity in the bank. They stand to lose eventually if the SC’s Third Division ruling is upheld. They described the ruling as bizarre and mind-boggling.

It is not only the farmers who will be affected by this ruling. The entire banking system is looking anxiously at how this case proceeds.

The UCPB filed a motion for reconsideration shortly after the Third Division ruling was handed down. In a separate motion, the bank likewise asked for the matter to be elevated to the Supreme Court en banc.

The case involves businessman Felix Chua and subsequently his partner Jose Go. In 1998, Chua’s company Lucena Bus Terminal defaulted on loans amounting to P204 million owed UCPB. On March 21, 2000, Chua and the Lucena Bus Terminal signed a memorandum of agreement with UCPB to restructure their loan obligations.

In the restructuring agreement, Chua exchanged some personal properties to the bank to bring down his loan obligations to P103 million. This is known as dacion en pago in Philippine jurisprudence. The properties turned over to the bank, however, belonged to a joint venture project with Chua’s partner Jose Go. Complicating things, Go was also in default to the bank.

At any rate, Chua defaulted once more on his remaining loan obligations and never paid UCBP back, including the shares of stock he committed to turn over to the bank. To prevent foreclosure of the securities, he filed a case against UCPB charging fraud.

After many years winding through the judicial process, the case was finally ruled upon on Aug. 16, 2017. Associate Justice (now Chief Justice) Lucas Bersamin penned the ruling.

In the ruling, the SC Third Division ordered UCPB to return Chua’s assets earlier surrendered to the bank in a dacion en pago arrangement. Even as Chua did not lend the bank any money, the latter was ordered to pay the borrower P430 million (presumably computing interest).

Two of the justices who signed this ruling joined the Court only days before and probably needed more time to study the case more closely. While the case dangles, a large cloud of uncertainty hangs over the bank’s business.

The bank and the farmers who now hold a majority stake in it (because of recent rulings on the controversy over the coconut levy fund) are hoping the Court takes up this matter sooner.

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