Category: federalism

Why the MILF prefers BBL over federalism

Miriam Coronel Ferrer

“Only a shift to federalism will satisfy the Bangsamoro,” President Duterte has stated several times. This, according to him, will correct the historical injustice committed against the Muslim population in Mindanao.

True, federalism could accommodate the proposals of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which were modified or even discarded in the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Yet, the MILF continues to push for the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in spite of its limited constitutional parameters.

So, why is the MILF not hitching its wagon to the President’s federalism gambit?

Against generic ‘phederalism’
To begin with, the MILF did not fight the government to change the whole Philippine system. It’s the Communist Party of the Philippines that aims to do that—overthrow the old and build a new regime.

What the MILF leaders want is their own self-governed territory in parts of their claimed homeland in Mindanao. They are neutral on what the rest of the country does to itself.

A one-size-fits-all federalism, spelled “phederalism” by some proponents, does not resonate with the MILF. Notably, all developed proposals consist of converting existing regions into similar or “symmetrical” federal states.

For the MILF and its Bangsamoro supporters, a shift to a federal setup won’t do justice to the uniqueness of the Bangsamoro quest for their right to self-determination, their identity and institutions.

Bangsamoro stakeholders also criticize the more recent scheme of four federal states made up of Mindanao, the Visayas, Luzon and Metro Manila. They believe this would reduce the Bangsamoro into an “enclave” of a Mindanao state.

Morevoer, these proposals seek to confine the prospective Bangsamoro state to the current territorial jurisdiction of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

To the Bangsamoro stakeholders, the ARMM’s five provinces, and Marawi and Lamitan cities fall short of what’s left of their claimed Mindanao homeland.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, on the other hand, seeks to rectify this limited territorial coverage by enabling contiguous geographic areas to join a Bangsamoro state should they wish.

Different imagined substate
True, the reference to a Bangsamoro state in the original 2010 draft MILF compact was a substate entity enjoying wide autonomy.

This document imagined an “asymmetrical compact of free association” that is more akin to associated states like Puerto Rico or the free associated state of Palau, which are attached to the United States but enjoying nation-state status.

The MILF drew from these existing historical constructs but developed its own context-suitable model that didn’t require a federal system.

This, the group believed, could be possible via a constitutional amendment, specifically an appendage that keeps the rest of the Constitution intact.

Clearly, the MILF’s vision then and now was for the Bangsamoro since the group is negotiating for them, not for or of the whole Philippines.

Ownership of process
Also, the MILF wants ownership of the outcome of the peace process.

The Moro leaders want a Bangsamoro entity that results from their own struggle — one that had moved from independence through armed struggle, to a peacefully negotiated solution within the Republic of the Philippines.

Neither a constituent assembly nor a constitutional convention is an arena that the MILF can claim as its own. Although the MILF has belatedly, albeit hesitantly, learned to engage Congress and only Congress can legislate a Bangsamoro state into existence, the group assumes that the end result would still be based on the agreements.

Without such participation by the MILF, the “free choice of the Bangsamoro people in regard to their national identity” — as they had put it in their original proposal — cannot be achieved.

Complicated, shaky
The MILF thus finds the dual track of a Bangsamoro Basic Law cum federalism complicated and shaky.

Even as the MILF continues to publicly express their trust in President Duterte, the private comments and social media posts of the Bangsamoro stakeholders reflect brewing doubts on the real intent of his administration.

Given the President’s tight squeeze on Congress, a BBL could have easily gone through the legislative mill within a year.

But the President issued the needed executive order (EO) to establish the expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission only in November last year.

A month later, he created the Consultative Commission, a body that was given six months to recommend changes in the Constitution. The MILF found this confusing.

In April, the President assured the MILF by saying he will only constitute the Consultative Commission until after a draft BBL is submitted to Congress. The submission of a draft bill just might happen next month when Congress reopens.

Still, it is unclear from the President’s repeated privileging of federalism how Congress will navigate the dual track.

Add to this the third track with Nur Misuari’s faction of the Moro National Liberation Front, which is just focused on amending the existing ARMM law.

Sticking to signed documents
The MILF is just being consistent by adhering to the signed agreements.

After all, in the absence of legislation, these agreements are the MILF leaders’ only hold on the government. They know that any major change could only retrogress into more changes and delays.

From this basic need for security, it behooves the MILF to stick to the signed Bangsamoro roadmap.

As MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal puts it: “We [had] better secure a 10 centavo already in the basket than having to gamble for a peso [that] is still in wilderness.”

Evidently, between a BBL now and federalism in the future, the MILF pragmatically prefers the former.


If federalism is the answer, what is the question?

Amina Rasul

On Dec. 15, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy and the Institute for Autonomy and Governance organized a forum on Federalism, Autonomy, and Mindanao Peace Process at Club Filipino. We gathered leaders of the Bangsamoro diaspora, a potent sector never consulted by government as a group, regarding the present call of the government to shift to federalism.

The keynote speaker, Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. stressed the need to break the hold of the central government (Imperial Manila) on powers, despite devolution and the Local Government Code.

The panel included DFA Undersecretary for International Economic Affairs Manuel Teehankee, Atty. Raul Lambino, and Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo. Usec Teehankee focused his discussion on the fiscal and economic benefits of federalism. Atty. Lambino, who has been organizing forums on federalism for the past four months, provided additional insights into the distribution of powers that will benefit the regions under federalism. Atty. Sinarimbo, who has been a part of the MILF negotiating panel for many years, detailed the powers needed for genuine autonomy to be implemented and how autonomy fits into a federalist system.

The panel were in agreement on a major point: under the present unitary system, the control of powers and resources — inspite of the Constitution and devolution — have alienated the Bangsamoro people and other indigenous cultural communities. They acknowledged the neglect and discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples.

Former Senate President Nene Pimentel proposed 12 federal states — five in Luzon (one for the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras), four in Visayas, and three in Mindanao (including the Bangsamoro State, which could have regions of autonomy).

The proponents also argued that the present ineffective and irresponsive system and the weakness of the rule of law have allowed political warlords, and corrupt politicians and dynasties to exist prosper.

Will federalism result in a more effective, equitable and responsive system? Most of the participants, after discussions with the panel, believed it would. In a quick survey held at the forum, 76% (48 out of 63 Muslim leaders) expressed their support for federalism.

Will federalism end the aspirations for independence of frustrated and angry armed groups in the South? Or, like the grant of autonomy by Congress, will it end up as a piece of legislation that will paper over differences? We need a well-designed home with a strong foundation to hold all our peoples together, not a house of cards. That political architecture can only be designed if our peoples are part of the drafting. As the forum participants opined, we need a Constitutional Convention.

I myself support the core arguments for federalism. However, I do believe that we need to have more engaged discussions — not just mass forums that do little to elicit serious thought about what it takes to move from the present political system to another. I echo the comments of many of the leaders present at the forum: majority of our people, from Tawi-Tawi to the Ilocos, who say they support federalism see it as a miraculous system that will immediately change our situation. We need more engagement. I repeat the query at the federalism forum of the UP School of Economics: if federalism is the answer, what is the question?

Autonomy, Federalism or Independence?

communication gaps galore: chacha, foreign ownership, federalism

on the occasion of president duterte’s first 100 days, ANC covered an event where finance secretary sonny dominguez talked about tax reforms.  i was only half-listening until suddenly — someone from the press must have asked him about charter change and foreign ownership — suddenly he was admitting that because of the chacha talk, he was being asked by foreigners if they would be allowed to own land na, and he said his response was:

Why? Can you buy land in Singapore? In Indonesia? … Why should you be able to buy land here?  Land is a sensitive issue in the Philippines.

or something to that effect.  not sure now if he said indonesia, could have been malaysia or another ASEAN nation.  i’ve googled the event, for naught.  have also hung around ANC waiting for a replay, also for nought.

i couldn’t have imagined it lang.  my first reaction was jubilant: surely sec dominguez is speaking for the president, hurray!  and then i wondered what it means for the charter change agenda.  puwede bang magshift from presidential to federal without touching the economic provisions?  or or or is it possible that even the federalism thingy has been shelved, and we’re back to forging by hook or by crook a constitutionally acceptable-to-all autonomous state for the moro people of mindanao?

alas, nothing, as usual, from the presidential communications operations office (PCOO) and it took that disgraceful near-brawl in the lower house of congress a whole week later (read Hotheads delay Cha-cha hearing) to tell us that the supermajority is still hellbent on convening as a constitutional assembly (read Time running out, Cha-Cha should start in Nov — Arroyo), never mind that there is no public support for it.

it does not help, of course, that the PCOO has yet to launch any kind of information campaign on the proposed shift to federalism.  as it turns out, sec martin andanar is such an intellectual featherweight pala, and it’s pathetic that all he can manage to put out for public consumption is a twice-a-week inquirer column that luis teodoro rightly disses as “masterpieces of fluff and personal glorification.”  LOL


Federalism, for what by Florin T. Hilbay
Federalism project puts the cart before the horse by Yen Makabenta
Regional net worth in a federal structure by Philip Camara
What’s with ConAss? by Rita Linda V. Jimeno
Curb vested interests, so Con-Ass can work by Jarius Bondoc
Political dynasties doom Cha-cha: Monsod
do not delete (economic provisions)
do not delete 2
do not delete 3

Federalism is not a solution

Ben R. Punongbayan 

First of two parts

The concept of Federalism has recently been getting special attention in Philippine political circles. Judging by the constant talk about it, it appears our elected officials are determined to push efforts to adopt a form of Federalism through Constitutional amendment as the new basis of the political and economic union of the Filipino people.

As early as 2009, however, when I organized a national political party called Buklod, I have taken the view that Federalism is not a solution to the country’s economic and political problems. As I indicated in the “Objectives and Beliefs” of Buklod, Federalism is, in fact, a step backward.

Read on…