If we are to believe Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will “finally seal genuine, lasting peace in Mindanao”. In fact, one can be forgiven for wishing that the President’s statement is true especially since, for too long, most people have hoped for an end to the four-decades of conflict in the country’s far south.
However, the signing of the deal, which has been lauded as “historic” mostly by the Presidential staff and his advisers is beginning to look like nothing more than another one of those overhyped publicity stunts to make the BS Aquino government look like it has achieved something significant other than the removal of “wang-wang” on Philippine roads.
Like most transactions this government has entered into, the Bangsamoro deal highlights once again a few things about BS Aquino. It highlights his penchant for shortcuts, disregard for the rule of law, and disrespect for the other branches of government – the legislature and the judiciary. It also highlights his arrogant nature.
As some legal experts have pointed out, President BS Aquino took it upon himself to make an agreement with Muslim rebels – members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – those who have wrought havoc in Mindanao, practically giving them parts of the region to reign over prior to consulting the members of Congress and the judiciary.
Let’s not forget to mention that the same Muslim rebels were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Philippine military men and many civilians, including foreigners who were kidnapped for ransom in the past. As someone once said, they were enemies of the state, lawless elements or criminals extorting from businessmen or the government. But now they are wining and dining with Philippine leaders.
Members of the Philippine military who survived previous battles with rebel forces in Mindanao must be shaking their heads in disbelief at how BS Aquino easily succumbed to the demands of one of a few rebel groups just because it has the backing of the Malaysian government. The soldiers’ sacrifices amounted to nothing, apparently. In times like these, some members of the Philippine military may be starting to question why they have to follow orders from a commander-in-chief who doesn’t fully understand the kind of people he is dealing with.
Even before the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement made it as headline news, there were already reports of a secret meeting between Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the secessionist MILF, and BS Aquino held in Tokyo Japan in 2011. Back then BS Aquino’s move was already met with criticism for lack of transparency and disregard for protocols. He did not bother to consult with the necessary agencies and other branches of government about his agendas in meeting with the rebel group.
Even one of the President’s closest allies, Senator Francis Escudero, found reason to question the propriety of the President secretly meeting with Murad.
“I think the President may have been ill-advised to meet personally as he (Murad) is not even his counterpart. And it might not be a good tactic in the negotiations,” he said.
He said Deles should “protect the President from such things.”
“She should just do her job and give her President deniability with respect to this early stage of the negotiations,” Escudero said.
House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman on Friday said that Mr. Aquino broke his own promise of full transparency and took unnecessary risks without any tangible gains in meeting with the MILF leader.
“The country is not the personal fiefdom of President Aquino. Any presidential move which has a bearing on national interest and national security must be transparent and discussed with the Cabinet and the National Security Council. The President’s secret trip to Japan to meet MILF leaders violates his avowed policy on transparency,” said Lagman in a phone interview.
Lagman questioned the urgency or necessity of having the President himself meet with Murad.
Lagman was right all along when he thought there was something fishy going on when BS Aquino went to Japan to shake the hands of the rebel leader. A few years after that initial meeting, we now know that he did disregard the Constitution and entered into a contract with the MILF even without the approval of Congress and the judiciary. Here’s the part of the Bangsamoro agreement where some legal experts agree that BS Aquino may have overstepped his role when he represented the Philippine government:
Part 7, para. 4, subpara (b) provides that one of the functions of the Transition Commission is “to work on proposals to amend the Philippine Constitution for the purpose of amending and enriching in the Constitution the agreements of the parties whenever necessary without derogating from any prior peace agreement.”
The above section indicates that amendment of the Constitution is needed to make the agreement legal. Which makes some people wonder why BS Aquino and his staff were already euphoric after the ceremonial signing was held recently. They are very good at celebrating without yet seeing the results of their efforts.
Indeed, BS Aquino has proven time and again that he thinks he can do whatever he wants, whenever and wherever. He must have thought that he can deal with members of the congress and judiciary later on. It’s not hard to imagine him saying “Ako ang bahala sa kanila” (I’ll take care of them) when someone raised the legal hurdles.
BS Aquino probably thought that it would be easier to get the thumbs-up from members of Congress and the judiciary after the so-called peace agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government has been signed. It should be noted as per Senator Miriam Santiago, that part of the “peace” deal is to give the former rebel group “exclusive” jurisdiction over natural resources in the Bangsomoro territory and to create a substate and “allocation to the Bangsamoro of all powers exercised by the national government over local government units”.
Likewise, BS Aquino must have thought that the lawmakers and the justices would not be able to resist amending the Constitution to make the Bangsamoro agreement “legal” if there is enough media hype and as long as they keep telling everyone that the signing is “historic” and “will bring peace in Mindanao”. Never mind that a similar agreement was entered into by previous governments particularly by former President Gloria Arroyo and her Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) during her term but was eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008.
BS Aquino also stressed that he will classify the passing of the agreement with congress as “urgent”. That’s another indication that he thinks he has power over members of Congress and can dictate to them what should be prioritized. With enough allies in congress and the likely arrest of three senators from the opposition implicated in the pork barrel scam, he may just get priority over other important bills that are pending.
In order to understand what BS Aquino has done; just imagine a spoilt brat demanding his parents give him a big birthday party because he already told his friends he is having one.
Hopefully, members of Congress who are no longer beholden to BS Aquino will not allow him to get away with abusing his power. It would be interesting to see how these men and women deal with the President now that the priority assistance fund (PDAF) and the disbursement acceleration program fund (DAP) have been scrapped.
[Photo of BS Aquino and Murad Ebrahim courtesy Peace Builders Community.]
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