There should have been open dialogues from the start
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.