CONSTITUTIONALITY issues hound the recently signed Bangsamoro peace pact which the Aquino administration claims will bring an end to decades of conflict in Mindanao.

Under the new Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a new Muslim-ruled political entity named “Bangsamoro” will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). As a result, rebel forces and private armies in the region shall be disbanded.

Critics, however, are skeptical of the agreement. One of them is Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago who said the agreement violated the principle of “constitutional supremacy,” citing Part 7, paragraph 4, subparagraph (b) of the agreement which enables the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to “amend the Philippine Constitution for the purpose of accommodating and entrenching in the Constitution the agreements of the Parties whenever necessary.”

“It is beyond ridiculous to state that the Philippine Constitution should accommodate the agreements of the parties whenever necessary,” Santiago said in a speech at Gordon College in Olongapo .

‘Substate’

Another contentious issue with the agreement is the establishment of the Bangsamoro as a substate, which can exercise powers that, under the Constitution, belongs solely to the central government.

UST History Department chair Augusto de Viana said the Bangsamoro agreement shared similarities with the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in 2010.

“The Supreme Court struck it down because you cannot have a sub state,” he said in an interview. “It appears that Bangsamoro is not part of the Philippines anymore and the worst part is they are still entitled to some allotment from the national government.”

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The MOA-AD was an agreement between the government and the MILF in 2009 to create a “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity” that will have authority and jurisdiction over lands in Mindanao, including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago. The agreement would have required constitutional amendments.

ARMM’s failure

The ARMM was formed in 1985 through Republic Act 6734, granting self-rule to Muslims in Mindanao after decades of armed struggle.

But De Viana said the ARMM was a failure, proof of which were the people who remain poor despite the “massive resources” poured to the region.

“They say the region is neglected, but it is not; the resources are just mismanaged,” he added.

The level of autonomy given to the region also contributed to the decline because it gave a stronger sense of control for the people in the region, De Viana said.

“They’re supposed to empower the Moro peoples, but what is happening is they are empowering the clans like the Ampatuans, the Dimaporos, the Loongs and the Mangundadatus,” he said.

For De Viana, the CAB has the potential to be more effective than the ARMM, but it must first conform to the Philippine Constitution, because “there is nothing in the constitution that indicates you can federalize. It is extremely wrong if you are going to create a state within a state, an army within an army,” he said.

Federalism the answer?

For former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., CAB is not the ultimate answer to the conflict in Mindanao, considering that other Muslim groups were not included in the negotiations.

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Adopting a federal system of government will address the concerns of different groups like the MILF, Moro National Liberation Front, and other Muslim groups, said Pimentel who authored the Local Government Code.

“If you go by way of federalism, you will be sharing national government power with all the interested parties,” he said in an interview. “The federal system is not only for Mindanao but for the entire country.”

De Viana said the peace agreement should also protect the rights of people living in regions with different religions like Christians and non-Muslim Moros.

“While I support any attempt to promote peace, I know for a fact that it’s not going to lead to an ultimate peaceful settlement of the issues confronting the people—the Muslims and the Christians—in Mindanao,” Pimentel said.

Economic benefits

For Pimentel, the region cannot develop economically without peace.

“[The agreement is] not only for the sake of establishing the absence of a shooting war but to lay down the basis for the introduction of economic development,” he said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in an article in the Mindanao Development Authority’s website that the CAB could maximize its potential as a major economic growth driver for the Philippines.

“Mindanao has so much economic potential that could spur higher growth for our country and contribute immensely in the attainment of the inclusive development agenda,” said Balisacan.

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