Which LGUs form Bangsamoro territory? Definitions needed
MANILA, Philippines – What areas will be included in the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)?
The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in October 2012 states that the present geographical area of the ARMM, as well as municipalities in Lanao del Norte and barangays in North Cotabato that voted to be included in the ARMM in 2001 will be part of the plebiscite to ratify the basic law.
But the proposed "core territory" is not set in stone. Areas identified in the FAB can choose not to join the Bangsamoro during the plebiscite.
Meanwhile, areas that are not included in the core territory may also opt to join the Bangsamoro – provided that a resolution from an LGU unit or a petition from at least 10% of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion is passed.
These "ambiguities" were questioned anew by Zamboanga Representative Celso Lobregat during the Senate committee on peace, unity, and reconciliation hearing on Tuesday, February 18.
The inclusion of barangays and municipalities in the Bangsamoro core territory runs counter to the 1987 Constitution, said Lobregat, one of the most vocal critics of the measure.
"You are giving the Bangsamoro false hope by putting the 6 municipalities in Lanao del Norte and barangays in North Cotabato in the agreement because, even if they are part of the plebiscite, they cannot join the Bangsamoro since they are not part of a province," he said.
The Zamboanga lawmaker cited Article 10, Section 18 of the Constitution, which states:
The creation of the autonomous region shall be effective when approved by majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite called for the purpose, provided that only provinces, cities, and geographic areas voting favorably in such plebiscite shall be included in the autonomous region.
"You can not just yank them out and put them in the [Bangsamoro]. What province will they belong to?" Lobregat said.
Not automatically included
Also citing Article 10 of the Constitution, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer meanwhile argued that the flexibilities of the law allow for the inclusion of barangays and municipalities.
Ferrer cited Article 10 Section 15 of the Constitution, which states:
There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.
Ferrer took note of the phrase "geographical areas," saying that it offered a "separate possibility" that could accommodate barangays.
The intent, she said, is to allow barangays in far-flung areas to vote for their right to be included in the Bangsamoro.
"Why did we have this kind of provision in our negotiation? We go back to the basics, which is addressing a historical process, which has disadvantaged a part of society effectively minoritized, and help them exercise their right to self-determination. It's something that this government, country, and Constitution is ready to put to effect," Ferrer said.
Besides, the proposed core territory will not be automatically included in the Bangsamoro, Ferrer said.
It only means these areas would be given the chance to vote in the plebiscite on two matters: whether they want to ratify basic law and whether they want to be included in the Bangsamoro.
Definition of 'geographical areas' crucial
Dean Antonio La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government recommended a solution. He said it is imperative for Congress to provide a "legal definition" of geographical areas.
"The legal definition of that will then guide Congress on what other areas may be included based on the Constitution," La Viña said.
Including barangays in the Bangsamoro core territory is a "political decision" that Congress will have to make, La Viña said, since the agreement is "very clear" about which areas should be part of the plebiscite.
La Viña admits there's risk involved.
"The risk is we don't have jurisprudence on it. My recommendation is to include a certain provision so that the basic law, if it is declared unconstitutional, it's only that provision that will be declared unconstitutional," he said.
In 2008, the Supreme Court declared the memorandum of agreement signed by the MILF and the Arroyo administration as unconstitutional over the lack of transparency and consultation in the process. The decision triggered attacks by MILF rebels in Mindanao.
On including barangays and towns
Under the Framework Agreement, the proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro will be as follows:
- the present geographical area of the ARMM: Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan (except Isabela City), Lanao del Sur
- the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloa, and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte and all other barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite
- the cities of Cotabato and Isabela
- all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10% of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the process of delimitation of the Bangsamoro as mentioned in the next paragraph.
Referring to the map of barangays in North Cotabato that are part of the core territory, Senator Teofisto "TG" Guingona asked: "So, conceivably, you can have something like this: a municipality here that is part of ARMM and a barangay beside it that is not?"
Ferrer said that was a possibility.
"We depend on the wisdom of the people to decide whether that is practical or desirable or not," Ferrer said.
All up to Congress
Although only certain barangays in North Cotabato are included in the core territory, areas that are "contiguous" to the barangays identified may choose to join the Bangsamoro.
But which areas are contiguous?
La Viña said it is also crucial for Congress to provide a legal definition of the word "contiguous."
In the end – even as the Transition Commission drafts the Basic Law – the final say on the Bangsamoro Basic Law rests on Congress, Ferrer said.
Guingona acknowledged the task ahead.
"These are lots of definitions. We have a lot of defining to do," Guingona said.
The government and MILF are expected to sign the final peace agreement that aims to end 4 decades of Islamic insurgency in the South "early March." The pact is comprised of the FAB and annexes detailing how the Bangsamoro will transition from the ARMM, how power and wealth will be shared between the Bangsamoro government and central government, and how the situation in Mindanao will be normalized. – Rappler.com