A bird in the hand
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

On Sunday night a grenade was set off at the home of a judge who is against the Bangsamoro Organic Law. Meanwhile, gunmen strafed the house of a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the BOL.

A grenade was also found near a school used as a polling precinct. The incidents were recorded in Cotabato City, seat of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, but which has always opted not to be part of the ARMM.

Whether the city will vote for inclusion in the proposed new Bangsamoro ARMM will be known only in the second phase of the plebiscite on the BOL next month. The city’s vote on the BOL itself is still unknown, although the count as of last night gave supporters a slight edge.

Yesterday the manual vote count in the plebiscite was off to a slow start. With no returns to canvass, the Commission on Elections Board of Canvassers adjourned shortly after being convened in the morning at the Comelec main office in Manila.

As of last night, there was no final figure yet even for the plebiscite turnout. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by automated elections, where the results are known just hours after the polling precincts close at least for the presidential race.

But those in charge of the vote should speed things up, because any delay raises concerns about opportunities for manipulating the results.

The plebiscite cannot be tainted by suspicions of fraud. There has been a strong campaign against the BOL from several quarters, particularly in areas that voted for exclusion from the ARMM such as the cities of Zamboanga and Cotabato. With a political campaign led by a critic of the BOL, even Sulu might opt out of the proposed new autonomous Muslim region. Regardless of the outcome, the plebiscite must be credible.

Sulu is seen to be a stronghold of the Moro National Liberation Front faction led by Nur Misuari, who objects to the planned dissolution of the ARMM and the ascent to power of the MNLF’s breakaway faction the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MILF continues to suffer from a trust deficit among certain segments of the population in the areas being eyed for inclusion in the BARMM.

As professor Julkipli Wadi noted, however, we have to hand it to the MILF: it has put its trust in the peace process, and it has come this far. Wadi is the former dean of the University of the Philippines Institute for Islamic Studies. He told The Chiefs last week on One News / Cignal TV that he supported the BOL “with reservations.”

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Another guest on our show, ARMM assembly member and opposition Senate bet Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, is a stronger supporter of the BOL, but admits that many things can still go wrong.

Tomawis, who was also a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, is aware of opposition to the BOL from local politicians in the areas proposed for inclusion in the BARMM. She stressed to us that she respected the objections, but she hopes the BOL will be given a chance.

There’s a new generation of Muslims in Mindanao, Tomawis told us – educated youths, a number of them UP graduates, who want peace and development rather than armed struggle and extremism to attain their aspirations.

Misuari himself, of course, is a UP alumnus. And it is his contemporaries in the MILF rather than the younger generations who will form the first batch of leaders in case the BOL is ratified and the BARMM set up.

The abolition of the ARMM, which was created in accordance with the Constitution, and replacement with the BARMM is being challenged before the Supreme Court. Also questioned before the SC is the proposed parliamentary government in the BARMM – a system that is not allowed in the Constitution.

Distrust of the MILF is also among the elements fueling resistance to the BOL. MILF commanders and the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have exchanged visits at each other’s main camps. I’m still waiting though for a visit by the MILF to Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine National Police. There is still simmering resentment in the PNP over the slaughter of 44 police Special Action Force commandos by the MILF and its supposed breakaway faction the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who were protecting a top terrorist in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The fourth anniversary of the massacre, incidentally, will be commemorated this Friday, Jan. 25, with the families of the slain commandos still waiting for justice. President Duterte has gone out of his way to show his cops that he cares for them, and he has yet to address head-on the police resentment against the MILF over the SAF 44 deaths.

There are also questions on the capability of the MILF leaders to govern. Will they be different from UP-educated Misuari, whose stint as ARMM governor was hounded by accusations of corruption and mismanagement? Misuari famously sighed that rebellion was easier than governance.

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Still, the betting is on the ratification of the BOL. Less certain is whether it can withstand questions on its constitutionality. This Supreme Court, however, is seen to be co-opted by Malacañang so the tribunal shouldn’t get in the way.

In case the BOL has been rejected, it will render moot the second phase of the plebiscite. The MILF has promised to abide by the results of the two plebiscites. What it will do in case of rejection, however, is anybody’s guess. A rejection will weaken the peace proponents in the MILF and bolster the radical elements.

In case of rejection, President Duterte can always tell the MILF that he did his best, but the people have spoken.

He can still fall back on Plan B – the shift to federalism, which seems to have taken a backseat since the House of Representatives tossed out the draft federal charter submitted by the consultative committee on Charter change.

Why didn’t Duterte just go full blast on federalism? Professor Wadi told The Chiefs that with Congress’ approval of the BOL, Duterte must have thought a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

That bird in the hand could still slip away.

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LITTLE PRESIDENT: There’s a strong Palace buzz that Salvador Medialdea is set to be appointed to the Supreme Court, with former peace adviser Jesus Dureza, President Duterte’s schoolmate from Davao, to be named the new executive secretary.

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