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How to Solve the Bangsamoro Problem? Amend the ARMM Law, Incorporate All Peace Agreements and the BBL

 

This is former representative and House deputy speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin's advice, although he says he has no objection to the BBL as long as it is not a mangled and watered down basic law. He delivered this short message during the "Experts' Forum on the Autonomy Framework in the House Ad Hoc Committee's BBL" at the AIM Conference Center, Makati City on May 29, 2015. Salapuddin is also the principal author of Republic Act 9054 or "An Act to Strengthen and Expand the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 6734, Entitled 'An Act Providing for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao'". The forum is a collaboration of IAG, Bangsamoro Study Group, and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. 

 

The regional autonomous government is an offshoot of centuries old problem besetting the Bangsamoro in particular and the Philippines in general. This system grew up out of an infant political scheme, the defunct Lupong Tagapagpaganap ng Pook (LTP) consisting of two administrative regions (LTP IX and XII), created by way of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1628 issued by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos in response to the GPH-MNLF Tripoli Agreement. With the downfall of the Marcos regime brought about by the EDSA 1 revolution, a new government was in place in 1986 and after the ratification of the new Constitution, which among others mandated the establishment of the Autonomous Regions in the Cordilleras and in Muslim Mindanao, the Philippine Congress enacted RA No. 6734 (An Act Providing for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). Seeing the weaknesses of this law, the MNLF rejected it just as it rejected the defunct LTP IX and XII. However, the signing of the Final Peace Agreement in 1996 led to the fresh legislative mandate of amending the said RA 6734. Thus, the 11th Congress on its Third Regular Session approved RA 9054 on the 24th of July 2000, strengthening and expanding the ARMM established under RA 6734.

 

Though accepted by the MNLF, however a faction of the Moro revolutionist (the MILF) rejected the said RA 9054 and opted to push through with the struggle, but continued a table negotiation with the GPH in search of a peaceful, meaningful and substantive self-rule for the Bangsamoro. Thus the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was reached and signed on March 27, 2014, which paved the way for the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now pending in Congress for enactment into law.

 

In government, the political system may not always necessarily be the problem or cause of the problem leading to the failure of governance. More often than not, it is how the leader that runs the affairs of the government that is the problem. As the dictum has it, “the best form of government is the one that is best administered.” Similarly, a law, no matter how good or bad it is, depends largely on the competence of the leader responsible for its enforcement. That is the case of RA 9054, as a tool in operationalizing the ARMM political system.

 

While the ARMM was tagged by no less than His Excellency, President Benigno Aquino himself as a failed experiment, the same cannot be entirely faulted to its Organic Law (RA 9054) itself. The fact is, from the existence of the ARMM under RA 6734 (its original charter) until its expansion under RA 9054, which is over two and a half decades old now, many of its substantive provisions have not yet been put in place by the Regional Legislative Assembly and tested. So how can we now claim that the ARMM was a failed experiment? Perhaps failed leadership.

 

Undeniably, there is a clear manifestation of administrative short-sightedness in the enforcement of RA 9054 in the ARMM. For instance, to mention a few, among the items hotly contested in the proposed BBL is a provision pertaining to Civil Service. Republic Act 9054 under Article XVI, Section 2 already mandated the enactment of a Regional Civil Service Law by the Regional Legislative Assembly, but this mandated enabling law, is not yet in place to date.

 

Another issue under the BBL that is hotly contested is on matter pertaining to the policing of the Bangsamoro area that is Article XI of the BBL (Public Order and Safety). This provision crosses and wrinkles the eyebrows of many legislators after the Mamasapano incident. Yet Public Order and Security is already enshrined under RA 9054 in Article XIII, which provides for the establishment of Special Regional Security Force (SRSF) to be governed by a law enacted by the Regional Assembly, of course consistent with the ARMM Organic Law and the Philippine Constitution. Given the regional legislative tooth, this organ of regional government could be a powerful tool in terms of maintenance of law and order in the region.

 

This particular SRSF article of RA 9054 contains 13 strongly worded sections including the enumeration of eight specific powers of the Regional Governor anent its operation and administration. In fact, under this specific powers, the only instant the SRSF Regional Director can countermand the Regional Governor is if the latter’s order is in violation of the Constitution and law, such that even the simple day-to-day operation of the Regional Police Force is still the national law governing the PNP and therefore even orders concerning regional security has yet to be done at the central government, while basic powers have already been delegated by law to the Regional Government – the ARMM. But look who planned the Mamasapano incident. It was not the ARMM government, because precisely they do not have yet the operational law to propel the mandated SRSF functioning. So consequent to this legislative negligence, such incident like the Mamasapano happened and the BBL was made hostage.

 

Aside from those specifically provided for, RA 9054 contains some provisions stipulating the exercise of the RLA implied powers. In statutory construction, there is this principle which says that “what the law does not exclude, it deems include.” Article IV of RA 9054 (Powers of Government), Section 3 provides for the Scope of the Regional Legislative Power “The Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) may exercise legislative power in the autonomous region for the benefit of the people and for the development of the region except on the following matters: xxx (j) General auditing; (k) National elections; xxx…

 

Conversely, because what is not allowed of the RLA is the laws governing “General Auditing” and “National Election”, therefore, by implication of law they can legislate on matters pertaining to regional auditing as well as regional election. If in their judgement there is a need to incorporate certain measures necessary to strengthen the national auditing scheme and election mechanism in the region, RA 9054 impliedly allow this. So it’s a matter of legislative comprehension of the law.

 

The final provision of the BBL, if passed into law unaltered, may collide with the highly anticipated inconvenience and unprecedented chaotic administrative reality in the Bangsamoro. For instance, Section 5 thereof stipulates the abolition of the ARMM upon the ratification of the Basic Law. This legislative concept may find the new Bangsamoro government chaotic given its brief period of transition. Reality has it that when the present administration attempted to reform the ARMM through the stewardship of its regional governor, Mujiv Hataman, even after four years of incumbency to date, still a number of offices remained understaffed, if not poorly manned. This experience spelled out the difficulty of finding the right nuts for the right bolts.

 

At one point of time, I paid a courtesy visit at the Saudi Ambassador’s Embassy in Manila. Before I was able to brief him of my purpose, he asked me what could be my recommendation to expedite the passage of the measure that can effectively address the Bangsamoro problem. My answer simply was:

 

“Amend RA 9054 by way of incorporating thereto the pertinent and applicable provisions of the Tripoli Agreement, the Final Peace Agreement (FPA), the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the relevant provisions of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).”

 

In explaining, I said further:

 

“Firstly, if the measure suggested will be approved and put in place, there will be no issue of unconstitutionality because RA 9054 has already passed the test;

Secondly, in the enforcement of this measure, it ascertains inclusivity, which means the MILF and the MNLF can equally claim ownership of the measure thereby fostering and forging unity among them and their respective constituents.”

 

If given the opportunity to suggest, I wish to be consistent with the foregoing, although personally, I have no objection to the BBL. From my end, whatever may be its outcome, the most important is its substance, and in terms of its enforcement or implementation, is inclusivity.

 

By substance, I mean that as much as possible, it must not be a mangled and watered down basic law. In essence, it must be a law that enriches and strengthens Republic Act 9054.

 

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