Manila Bulletin

There should have been open di­a­logues from the start

- Politics · Philippines · Armed Forces of the Philippines · Armed Forces of the Philippines · Philippine National Police · Commission on Audit · Commission on Elections · Malaysia · Congress of the United States · Mamasapano · Philippine Military Academy · U.S. Supreme Court · Moro Islamic Liberation Front · Bangsamoro Autonomous Region · Special Action Force

PRES­I­DENT Aquino was re­ported sur­prised when the na­tion’s re­tired mil­i­tary and po­lice of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing a num­ber of for­mer Armed Forces of the Philip­pines (AFP) chiefs-of-staff along with a for­mer chief of the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice (PNP), is­sued a “Man­i­festo of Re­tired Of­fi­cers” ex­press­ing their ap­pre­hen­sion and alarm over the peace agree­ments be­tween the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment and the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF) and op­pos­ing ap­proval of the Bangsamoro Ba­sic Law (BBL) in its orig­i­nal form.

“I was sur­prised that their re­ac­tion was to that de­gree,” the Pres­i­dent com­mented. “Maybe what is good is to have a public di­a­logue with them… so ev­ery­one can see if their po­si­tion on the mat­ter has sound ba­sis.”

This is pre­cisely what should have been held from the be­gin­ning of the ne­go­ti­a­tions – a public di­a­logue. Then the many pro­vi­sions that have been con­demned as un­con­sti­tu­tional would have been avoided from the start. There would have been no pro­vi­sions that made the pro­posed Bangsamoro re­gion look like a sub­state with gov­ern­ment com­mis­sions and other agen­cies in­de­pen­dent of es­tab­lished na­tional bod­ies such as the Com­mis­sion on Au­dit and the Com­mis­sion on Elec­tions.

Be­cause there were no open public di­a­logues dur­ing the months that the gov­ern­ment peace panel ne­go­ti­ated with the MILF, the end re­sult of their talks sur­prised ev­ery­one. Fears and sus­pi­cions were aired right and left, among them that the pro­posed Bangsamoro re­gion, with its par­lia­men­tary rather than repub­li­can form of gov­ern­ment, looked very much like one of Malaysia’s fed­eral states.

The agree­ments were signed in Malacañang, with the Malaysian prime min­is­ter as hon­ored guest. The BBL was pre­sented to Congress, with the ad­mo­ni­tion that it should be ap­proved “as is.” It was cou­pled with a pres­i­den­tial warn­ing that rejection would lead to re­newed fight­ing in Min­danao.

The Ma­mas­apano in­ci­dent, in which 44 Spe­cial Ac­tion Force com­man­dos of the PNP died at the hands of armed men of the MILF and al­lied groups in Min­danao, stopped the seem­ingly re­lent­less move­ment of the BBL to­wards ap­proval. The House changed the BBL to “Ba­sic Law of the Bangsamoro Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion” to keep the ti­tle, at least, in line with the Philip­pine Con­sti­tu­tion which pro­vides for Cordillera and Mus­lim au­ton­o­mous re­gions in the coun­try. As for the Se­nate, it ap­pears de­ter­mined to craft an en­tirely new law, with­out many of the pro­vi­sions of the orig­i­nal BBL.

Now comes the man­i­festo of the na­tion’s re­tired mil­i­tary and po­lice of­fi­cers, led by the re­spected As­so­ci­a­tion of Gen­eral and Flag Of­fi­cers. Among the other groups is the Philip­pine Mil­i­tary Academy Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion; it is this school whose alumni are in the key po­si­tions of lead­er­ship in the AFP to­day.

The peace agree­ment is al­ready be­fore the Supreme Court and the BBL is be­ing scru­ti­nized in Congress. The public di­a­logue with the na­tion’s re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cers would be a welcome ad­di­tion to the dis­cus­sion. But, as ear­lier stated, the open di­a­logue should have been held from the be­gin­ning. Then many if the hur­dles in the way of the Bangsamoro Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion would have been avoided.

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