After the hoopla, the hard work begins
Susan V. Ople
Published in Arabnews — Tuesday 1 April 2014
There is absolutely no doubt that the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was a historic milestone, not just for the Philippines, but also for Southeast Asia, if not the world.
It took 17 years of on-again and off-again talks for a final peace agreement between the two parties to be signed, and so the hoopla that greeted the formal signing ceremony at the Palace grounds was justified, and expected.
What happens next? The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chaired by MILF leader and chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal is expected to submit the formal draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to President Aquino this week.
Within the BTC, the government representatives are actually the minority, with seven designated members compared to the eight members handpicked by the MILF. The BTC is a government body that operates on a regular budget subject to the usual liquidation procedures. One can say that the BTC is the MILF’s first taste of actual governance, under the “daang matuwid” (straight path) leadership approach of the president.
And so, the first public test of the MILF-GPH partnership is the draft measure itself, and given the preponderance of lawyers and pundits in the country, nitpicking on the draft will likely be a summer craze.
The draft measure ought to give justice to the enormous political capital invested in the peace process by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. He has courageously staked his leadership on the political roadmap leading to the establishment of a Bangsamoro regional government by 2016 through popular elections, and after a plebiscite that must take place next year.
Certainly, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission will be submitting to the Office of the President must be excellently written, logically sequenced, legally sound, and politically inclusive. That is a tall order even for any bill or resolution filed by a veteran legislator!
The BTC must also have a very intelligent, articulate spokesman who can talk to and be with politicians regardless of ideological, geographical, and religious leanings. In Congress, you must contend with more than 200 lawmakers, all of who are thinking of the 2016 elections.
I can already see a scenario where mischievous legislators particularly on the minority aisle may filibuster on both the 2015 appropriations act and the Bangsamoro Basic Law, thus challenging the Aquino administration to choose which one they should pass first.
In a Sunday radio program, I overheard a member of the minority bloc in Congress questioning whether the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law would have enough provisions to protect the rights of women. Another veteran senator was quoted as saying that he would like to scrutinize the wealth-sharing provisions that the draft law would have.
I am sure that upon receiving the BTC’s draft, President Aquino will summon the best constitutional and political minds to make the essential refinements. After all, President Aquino knows his audience well, being a former congressman and senator. Still, the MILF would also have to break out of its usual reticence in engaging the public if they are to be perceived as the true voice of the Bangsamoro. It is not enough that they have the president on their side; they would need to get more people onboard as well.
After the hoopla, the lofty and soaring language of peace is pulled back and dragged through backroom political exchanges, and privilege speeches galore. It cannot be helped because the eloquence of politics is in the doable, not in the imagined. Hopefully, the goodwill generated by the signing of the peace agreement has its own built-in momentum. The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law is anticipated by everyone — friends and foes alike — for all kinds of political reasons.