Saturday, February 21, 2015

Revising the Bangsamoro Basic Law

Sadly, it took the mass murder of Special Action Force police commandos. Finally, amid the dead bodies of the Fallen 44, Congress has found the courage to stop the Aquino bullet train that is the Bangsamoro Agreement and Basic Law. Legislators will now do their constitutional duty of carefully reviewing and redrafting the BBL, as they are sworn to do with every measure they enact.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives said this week that they would revise the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill, rather than pass it largely unchanged and on deadline at the behest of Malacañang and its negotiating partner, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
If the prudent delay and due diligence result in legislation that brings peace and development to Mindanao while safeguarding national unity, security and sovereignty, then tragic as it was, the Mamasapano massacre and its SAF heroes, dead and living, along with their suffering families, would not have shed blood and tears in vain.
Congressmen and senators, therefore, owe it to the casualties of Mamasapano, police, rebels and peasants alike, that the Bangsamoro Basic Law be crafted to finally end carnage like that of January 25, and combat the lawlessness, deprivation, social injustice, and terrorism which have fueled and fed upon centuries of conflict.
Repair the law — and the agreement
So what do we do with the BBL? Many things, but let’s start with four priority principles to protect and promote: the unity, sovereignty and security of the Republic, the interests of all groups in Bangsamoro, law and order in our land and our world, and the lives and future of Mindanao’s poor and powerless.
In safeguarding and advancing these indispensable imperatives, Congress should address deficiencies not only in the BBL, but in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the six annexes, one addendum, and the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) which the CAB subsumes.
As Government Chief Negotiator and University of the Philippines political science professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer explained in a UP forum on the BBL last November, the law does not include all provisions in the Bangsamoro Agreement, but only those needed to establish the regional government.
Congress should therefore include in its revised Bangsamoro Basic Law (or mini-constitution) any provisions it deems necessary to address problematic ones absent in the bill, but present in the MILF accord. These remedial provisions may either countermand items in the Bangsamoro pact contrary to the national interest, or mandate the President to renegotiate them.
The most dangerous provision
One such provision would strip the military of all law enforcement functions within the future autonomous entity. It is not covered in the draft Basic Law, but stipulated in the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the first of the MILF accords signed under Aquino.
In the FAB’s Section VIII on Normalization, Paragraph 6 provides: “In a phased and gradual manner, all law enforcement functions shall be transferred from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to the police force of the Bangsamoro.”
The BBL further stipulates in Section 2 on Concurrent Powers of the national and Bangsamoro governments: “The Bangsamoro Government shall have primary responsibility over public order and safety within the Bangsamoro. It shall have powers over public order and safety … The Central Government and the Bangsamoro Government shall cooperate and coordinate through the intergovernmental relations mechanism.”
If these provisions are fully implemented, the future Bangsamoro government shall be the main enforcer of law and order, with its own police force under the Chief Minister, as provided in the BBL bill. The AFP will limit its role to external defense, with no role and power for police action, and reducing its deployment in the region accordingly.
Back in 2012, this writer already expressed misgivings about the FAB provision removing law enforcement functions from the military. For one thing, it seem to violate constitutional provisions declaring the AFP the protector of the people, and empowering the President to call out the armed forces to suppress rebellion and lawless violence, which are clearly law enforcement actions.
Even more worrisome, if the AFP units are redeployed to reflect its non-police role, that would leave the Bangsamoro police as the largest armed entity in the area. Should the regional government declare independence, the entity would have belligerency status, governed by a duly constituted authority with its own security force. That would allow other countries to recognize and give assistance to the breakaway territory.
Notably, the draft Basic Law draft now pending includes a provision enabling the Chief Minister to ask the President to call out the AFP “… To prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion, when the public safety so requires, in the Bangsamoro; … To suppress the danger to or breach of peace in the Bangsamoro, when the Bangsamoro Police is not able to do so; or … To avert any imminent danger to public order and security in the area of the Bangsamoro.”
The provision does not seem to prevent the President from ordering the AFP to undertake law enforcement operations in the region, such as hunting down terrorists who elude the Bangsamoro police. However, the FAB provision, if it is not ruled unconstitutional or countermanded by Congress, would still obligate the Commander-in-Chief to eventually remove all AFP law enforcement functions.
Considering how lawless elements can find havens in rebel areas even now, Congress should include in its BBL a section that would negate this FAB provision.
There are other provisions in the BBL and the CAB which require remedial action, as future articles will discuss. But the Framework Agreement’s section seeking to get the AFP out of law enforcement is the most dangerous provision, potentially undermining national security, law and order, and the unity and sovereignty of the Republic itself. Congress and the Supreme Court must not let it stand.

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