We, Bangsamoro civil society organizations working in and around the Bangsamoro core territory, reiterate our support for the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This position carefully weighed the pros and cons of the war that has been waged in our homeland for the past 40 years, a war that has taken the lives of more than 120,000 persons and cost more than PhP640B.
When the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed on March 27, 2014, we were one of the first to rejoice and imagine better days ahead for our children and children’s children. The promise of a stronger autonomy for the new political entity that will not have the same structural defects faced by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was not lost on us. We were gratified that despite an extraordinarily long process of negotiations with 3 major wars in between, the Parties have finally arrived at a mutually acceptable formula for moving forward.
Optimism aside, as development-oriented groups working in grassroots communities, we know that the problems that beset the Bangsamoro are complex, and that it would take decades before we are able to rise from the bottom where we find ourselves in. It will take a strong leadership in the Bangsamorowith broad understanding of the people’s needs, well-thought out development planning, progressive and equitable socio-economic policies, a professional corps in its bureaucracy, and internal (values) transformation, among others, to get us to a better place.
But to get there, we need to establish the Bangsamoro first, by way of a law to be passed by Congress. It is tragic and unfortunate that much of the objections posed against HB 4994 and SB 2408 are not really about issues of constitutionality, but of prejudice and mistrust. Mamasapano triggered the spiraling down of a rational discourse in Congress on the Bangsamoro, but the deep-seated bigotry, parochial interests, the upcoming election, and other political agenda, have become the drivers of the debates, deliberations and decisions being made on our future.
The Bangsamoro are the native inhabitants of the unconquered lands in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, that were illegitimately annexed to what is now the Philippines, when Spain succumbed to America in 1898. Such act of annexation was without any plebiscitary consent of the people who had proudly governed themselves before and throughout the more than 300 years of Spanish colonization over the rest of what is now the Philippines. In succeeding periods, the lands of the Bangsamoro and other native inhabitants were taken over through state-sponsored migration, which had left them marginalized and minoritized. The prejudice against and intolerance for people who are different have deprived many of us of employment, housing, education, and other socio-economic and political opportunities.
When the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and later, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), entered into peace negotiations with the Philippine Government, we were buoyed by hope that the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro would finally be addressed. We know that without a peace agreement, we do not have any leverage in the Philippine legal structure and processes, where we do not occupy any influential position. We thus put our full support for the peace process, and accompanied the Parties in various ways— by raising the people’s awareness, monitoring the ceasefire, putting public pressure when talks got stalled, and providing humanitarian protection to civilians who get displaced when the ceasefire do not hold. We did this because we believe that negotiating peace, rather than waging war, is the better track. Hence, when the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed last year, we thought we had already hurdled a major step in peace-building and peace-making. Our aspirations as Bangsamoro people had finally been heard by the Philippine government, and we now needed to translate this political agreement into a legal document.
But now, we are gravely concerned that the draft legal document that had been meticulously crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and agreed upon with the Office of the President is now substituted with another version [HB 5811] that is contrary to the CAB. Specific concerns include, among others, the following:
- Reducing the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro over natural resources within its territory, by expanding the exception to such exclusive power to minerals other than fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) and uranium, and putting these “strategic minerals” and “all other potential sources of energy” under the reserved power of the Central Government, and not concurrent powers of Central and Bangsamoro Governments
- Taking away the exclusive power of the Bangsamoro to declare protected areas inside the Bangsamoro
- Denying contiguous municipalities, barangays, and geographical areas from petitioning to be included in the first plebiscite
- Limiting the subsequent plebiscites for joining the Bangsamoro to only 2 times within 10 years, and only for areas that are within the area of autonomy under the Tripoli Agreement
- Transferring the ancestral domain/indigenous people’ protection from the list of exclusive powers to that of concurrent powers
- Adding items in the reserved powers such as banking, powers of the ombudsman, all others powers not provided in the basic law
- Making amendments that make internal security a reserved power, rather than a concurrent power
- Taking out “parity of esteem” which is an important principle in the Agreement and in the BBL
- Limiting the powers of the Bangsamoro over the matter of budgeting as well as auditing
- Deleting the provisions regarding the Wali as the ceremonial head of the Bangsamoro
- Making national laws [such as the Labor Code and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act] effective in the Bangsamoro even when these laws are over subject matters that are within the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro
- Limiting the power of the Bangsamoro to creating only municipalities and barangays [to the exclusion of cities and provinces]
- Changing the nomenclature—from “Bangsamoro” to “Bangsamoro Autonomous Region”; from “territory” to “area,” from “Central Government“ to “National Government”—thereby changing the framework and certain key principles already agreed upon by the Parties
- Changing “national transmission grid” to the Mindanao Grid” in relation to concurrence of powers over power generation, transmission and distribution
- Putting the Bangsamoro offices on human rights and civil service under the supervision of national counterparts
- Limiting tax incentives to only those that are within the taxing powers of the Bangsamoro
- Taking away properties of the ARMM and SPDA located outside of the territory of the Bangsamoro and transferring them to the local government units, even when this is not contemplated in the CAB
- Providing that the power to contract loans shall be “subject to the Constitution”, which can be interpreted to mean that only the President can enter into foreign loans, and which violates the agreement regarding the Bangsamoro power to contract loans save for those requiring sovereign guaranty
- Transferring the ARMM payables to the Bangsamoro,
In addition, there are provisions that reduce the existing autonomy, as provided in the Organic Acts of the ARMM, by way of the following:
- Requiring that receiving of grants and donations need to be approved by Central Government
- Taking out the option for the President to create a Bangsamoro Command in the Armed Forces
- Downgrading the participation of the Bangsamoro in the governing boards of state universities and colleges to mere membership, instead of being the Co-Chair or Co-Vice-Chair
- Not requiring corporations with branch operations in the Bangsamoro to pay taxes therein when the majority income of such corporations come from someplace else
- Requiring that the law that can be enacted by the Bangsamoro Parliament over the Bangsamoro Police shall not only be in accordance with the Basic Law, but also with Constitution, national laws, and issuances of the NAPOLCOM, thereby extremely limiting the legislative power of the Parliament over the Bangsamoro Police.
All these amendments render the Bangsamoro less autonomous than the ARMM, and will not address the legitimate grievances and correct the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro.
House Bill 4994/ Senate Bill 2408are not like any other proposed legislative measure, as these are borne out of a process that had been meticulously undertaken by the Government and a non-state armed group desiring to end one of the longest-running conflicts in the world. The bills also contain our aspirations, and are supposed to be a testament to the commitment of both GPH and the MILF that they will fulfill their sacred obligation as signatories to a peace agreement.
We ask the members of Congress to rise above themselves and heed the higher interest of peace. We appeal to them to pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law that is faithful to the CAB, and to further strengthen autonomy that will not fail in providing a better future to the people in the Bangsamoro.
Pass HB 4994/ SB 2408 into law!
Name Organization Signature
By CBCS Secretariat