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Implementation of Bangsamoro Holds Lessons for Philippines as a Whole

March 26, 2014

As we prepare for the long-awaited March 27 signing in Manila between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, one of the striking things of the peace process as it stretches back over more than a decade is the extent to which both negotiating parties tried to learn from past mistakes in striving for peace and development in Mindanao.

Conflict in Mindanao

On March 27, the government of the Philippines and the MILF will sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which aims to bring to close a decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao. Photo/Karl Grobl

After the 1996 “Final Peace Agreement” with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the MNLF moved directly and abruptly into positions of leadership in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other institutions under the leadership of MNLF Founding Chairman Nur Misuari. MNLF members had little to no experience in government office and development practice, which many feel contributed to the “failure” of ARMM. In the MILF peace process institutions were put into place to already begin the transition even before the Comprehensive Agreement was completed. Thus, in 2003 the Bangsamoro Development Agency was created to “manage and implement reconstruction and development,” and has been doing so with funding from various agencies, in particular the Mindanao Trust Fund set up by several donors and managed by the World Bank. In 2005, the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute was set up to help train those who will work after the agreement is finished.

This idea of getting ready beforehand has extended to one of the truly novel parts of the peace agreement, the setting up of a “ministerial” form of government for the Bangsamoro. In this parliamentary setting, voters will choose members of the regional assembly, and those members in turn will choose the chief minister to head the executive branch of the Bangsamoro. This is in contrast to the pattern throughout the rest of the Philippine government, from the national government down to provinces, cities, municipalities, and villages, where citizens vote directly for both branches of government – the executive (president, governor, mayor, barangay captain) and the legislature.

The issue of parliamentary governance has come up repeatedly in Philippine politics during periodic discussions of changes to the 1987 Constitution, but the average citizen is at best unenthusiastic and generally they reject the idea: they want to be able to vote directly for the president. However, two special “autonomous” regions are provided for in the constitution for areas “sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage” and a parliamentary form of government was proposed in 1989 by the Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission (CRCC), set up to draft an Organic Act for the Cordillera Autonomous. The CRCC felt that a parliamentary system was more in consonance with the indigenous way of governing through the Council of Elders in each highland village. However, when the Philippine Congress took the CRCC draft and enacted it into law this provision was changed back to a “presidential separation of powers” system to be in line with all the other levels of government in the Philippines. (When the autonomy law was put to a plebiscite, it failed so there is no autonomous region for the Cordillera.) Similarly, the MNLF during negotiations for the 1996 Final Peace Agreement strove for a parliamentary form of government but was told that it was unconstitutional.

The current administration and its negotiating team certainly believe it is constitutional. The president’s instructions to the negotiating panel included exploring the flexibility of the current constitution, inasmuch as President Aquino has repeatedly stressed that he is against amending the constitution. The head of the negotiating panel when the ministerial form was included in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Marvic Leonen, has since been elevated to the Supreme Court. While we can confidently predict that some will try to argue the unconstitutionality of the ministerial form of government, it seems unlikely that this provision would be sufficient to have the agreement declared invalid.

In the spirit of getting ready for the transition, there have been a number of different efforts to explore what having a ministerial form of government means in the Philippine context, particularly in conjunction with both elements of the MILF and with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission tasked (like the CRCC was) with drafting a law for consideration by Congress. Focusing on the system of elections in sessions with MILF cadre, Konrad Adenaur Stiftung laid out options and produced a paper that endorsed proportional representation as the best system for handling the various ethnic and religious minorities in the Bangsamoro. International Foundation for Election Systems undertook similar analysis, simulated the outcomes under different counting systems, and pointed out that a parallel system of voting both by district for members of the assembly and a proportional representation system for parties helps balance accountability to the citizenry with representation of minorities. Local organization, DemokraXXIa, similarly canvassed various electoral systems, and reviewed the experience of political parties in majority Muslim countries.

In the Philippines as a whole, political parties are notoriously weak, being largely vehicles cobbled together among disparate individuals for the purpose of contesting particular elections. For a ministerial form of government to work to adequately represent the citizenry in any form of proportional representation, parties must mean something. The Asia Foundation has published an assessment of parties for the Bangsamoro laying out what might be done to strengthen the ability of parties to serve citizen interests. Both DemokraXXIa and the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies worked with the MILF to develop an understanding of what is involved in setting up principled, disciplined parties – going to the main camp in Darapanan Maguindanao and to other camps to explore with MILF cadres a roadmap forward. As a result, the MILF plans to establish a party to contest the regional elections at the general elections in May 2016.

President Aquino’s ruling Liberal Party could clearly contest in 2016, as the current governor of the ARMM and all provincial governors are members of that party. Akbayan Citizens Party is also active in the area, and SIMCARRD explored the notion of establishing an Akbayan sister party for the Bangsamoro as a way both to ensure regional representation but also avoid excessive domination by a national-level political organization.

Considerable attention will be focused during the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on whether this effort will indeed “solve the Moro problem” and contribute to peace and development in Mindanao. But there are many other exciting details in the implementation of the Bangsamoro that may hold lessons for the Philippines as a whole, including how to reform the police as a new police force for the Bangsamoro is set up, what are the new roles for the Armed Forces of the Philippines as they turn over law enforcement functions and focus on national security and defense, and how to deal with private armies that exist throughout the country, not just in the Bangsamoro. Creation of the Bangsamoro offers opportunities to learn how to improve governance. Establishment of a ministerial form of government and the strengthening of political parties can be watched by all Filipino citizens, not just Moros, to see whether these innovations help promote good government.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines and was research director of the Cordillera Studies Center before becoming country representative. He can be reached at steven.rood@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

One comment on this post:

  1. Ibrahim S. Omar:

    Sir Steven Rood,

    “Implementation of Bangsamoro” is sure to benefit the Muslim and Animist Lumad natives of Mindanao, but is it possible? Will it finally solve the Mindanao war and achieve “just and lasting” peace for the people experiencing the horror of conflict for more than four decades now? As events have unfolded today, the Aquino government is again on a quandary because it cannot rely on Philippine Congress to solve the problem, especially now the 58-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had rejected the GPH-MILF CAB/BBL not a comprehensive solution. Just as in the past, the OIC and MNLF rejected the Cory Aquino government-created Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) because in no way it could solve the Filipino-Moro war in Mindanao.

    Thus, why can’t the stakeholders to Mindanao peace face the reality that the permanent solution is to address the root cause of the social problem? The sure formula is already prescribed by US President Barack Obama’s vision: “Peace built on freedom and dignity of people.”

    Simply put, Mindanao peace needs only the sincerity of the Philippine government to cure the years-long injustice done against the Bangsamoro people. As former Senator Aquino said: “Study the lessons of history before it is too late…If you are not sincere, how many will die.”

    But, is the Philippine government serious and sincere to solve the Mindanao conflict?

    Thanks for the given opportunity to input!

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