Wealth-sharing top issue in Bangsamoro law

Senator Miriam Santiago says the power-sharing and wealth-sharing agreements will 'unlock the mysteries' of the future Bangsamoro law

KEY ISSUES. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says the power-sharing and wealth-sharing agreements of government and MILF will "unlock the mysteries" of the Bangsamoro law. Photo by Ayee Macaraig/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Now that the Bangsamoro peace process shifts to Congress, what exactly will politicians look for in the basic law?

For Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, ensuring that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) agreements on wealth-sharing and power-sharing pass constitutional muster is a top consideration.

“We have to scrutinize every item particularly on wealth-sharing, power-sharing. That is so important. That is the key actually that will unlock the mysteries of the Bangsamoro Act,” Santiago told reporters on Monday, January 27.

The constitutional law expert was referring to the Bangsamoro basic law that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission is drafting to provide the legal framework for the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity. The Bangsamoro will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The law will be submitted to Congress, and President Benigno Aquino III will certify it urgent. It is the next step in the peace process, following the signing of the normalization annex over the weekend, the last document needed before the comprehensive peace agreement is signed.

Santiago said that the basic law and the annexes must all comply with the Constitution to ensure the end of 4 decades of armed conflict in central Mindanao.

“All of these will have to be treated in the context of the Constitution. We don’t want to be caught by surprise if someone files a petition to question the basic act of the Bangsamoro in the Supreme Court,” she said.

Under the Arroyo administration, war broke out again after the Supreme Court declared a deal known as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (MOA-AD) unconstitutional.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, another legal expert, said he cannot say for now whether he supports the law or not.

“Well, everybody hopes for a peaceful settlement of the problem but at what price? What’s the price for that peace settlement? Is it commensurate to the peace that we want or is it going to be just like what Prime Minister Chamberlain of England concluded with Hitler? Peace in our time when it turned out to be a World War II. I cannot say,” Enrile said in a separate interview.

The former defense minister said Congress must study the bill extensively because of its significance to the country’s future. He said there are “so many ifs.”

“There are some that are talking about secession, independence, division of the country, and there’s a foreign content here. There are international players involved. You are dealing with Organization of Islamic Conference. You are dealing with Malaysia. You are dealing with the Muslim world.”

Enrile’s deputy minority leader, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, is open to supporting the law.

“Ang sinasabi ko sa mga kritiko, before we criticize, tayo rin kasama sa mga kritiko, tingnan natin kung paano makakapagbigay ng suggestion kung paano makakatulong, aside from the constructive criticism that we should give.” 

(I am telling critics including myself that before we criticize, we should first look at this to give sugggestions how we can help.)

Security provisions, development

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a former rebel soldier, said he will focus on the security provisions of the law.

“We just have to consult with the stakeholders to make sure nobody will be marginalized, affected negatively by this peace agreement …. I’ll be consulting heavily with the PNP, AFP to make sure this will not create a bigger problem than what we’re trying to solve.”

Trillanes said the process must be inclusive but government has to deal with groups rejecting peace. He cited the attacks in Mindanao linked to the MILF breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“If the consultation processes was inclusive with all stakeholders on board, it’s impossible someone will complain. There are others who do not want to talk peace, and for those people, we have no choice but to deal with them militarily,” he said.

Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, said his concern is to guarantee that the economic gains will benefit the Bangsamoro people. Aquino is the cousin of President Benigno Aquino III.

“If you look at statistics, Mindanao, especially the ARMM area, there’s really a lack of development. This framework – to make sure it lasts and creates the peace we need – needs to address that. That goes back to security concerns, capacities of the students and the workers in the area,” Aquino told Rappler.

Aquino stressed the importance of development alongside security efforts.

“This entails the policy framework of the different parties but we also have to supplant it with support for businesses, enterprises in the area.”

‘Utmost priority’

Over the weekend, Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Senate will give the Bangsamoro basic law “utmost priority” to ensure its swift passage.

The Palace has said it hopes Congress will pass the law in the present session or by June.

Senators Teofisto “TG” Guingona III and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, both from Mindanao, witnessed the signing of the normalization annex in Malaysia.

Guingona’s committee on peace, unification and reconciliation will handle the bill.

“I reiterate the full support of the committee to the efforts of both the Government and the MILF to bring the process to the eventual passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” said Guingona. – Rappler.com