The trouble with all notions of an autonomous Muslim state is that it implies that Muslims are “special” Filipinos deserving of special treatment. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and, now, the proposed Bangsamoro “state” by their very nature are both tainted by that ill-conceived specialness. Worse, both entities were created under threat of continued violence and war.
Indeed, in the case of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will frame governance in the Bangsamoro “state”, the debate has degenerated to a question of who is “for peace” and who is “for war”, with the latter position unfairly associated with those who oppose the passage of the BBL. It does not help that both sides of the negotiating table in the “peace” process, the Philippine government panel led by Teresita Quintos-Deles and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, and the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Murad Ibrahim and the man currently knwon as “Mohagher Iqbal” have repeatedly hinted that war is the inevitable outcome of a failure to pass the BBL.
The solution, therefore, is to remove the specialness of the autonomy to be granted to the “Bangsamoro people”. This can be done by making the notion of an autonomous state accessible to all Filipinos. If we are to go down the path of granting autonomy to one group, then we should go the whole nine yards and grant autonomy to all.
Therefore, if we want to see an autonomous Bangsamoro state, then it should be a state within a fully-federalised Philippine republic.
The Bangsamoro is only one of several other hypothetical states within the Philippines that each have legitimate, albeit varying, claims to autonomy. In his book A Country of Our Own, award-winning author and intellectual David Martinez tables a provocative proposal that sees the possible breakup of the Philippine Republic into five autonomous regions…
The country in [Martinez’s] eyes comprises five regions (“nations”): Cordillera, Luzon, The Visayas, Mindanao, and Bangsamoro. He proposes holding legally binding referenda in each of these places to determine whether those who live there wish to remain inside the Philippines or form their own independent country.
The Philippines, after all, is no more than an artificial state originally created by the Spanish crown mainly for the purpose of consolidating and streamlining colonial administration of its assets in the region. The former countries of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and now internally-unstable Rwanda, come to mind when one thinks of what the Philippines is all about — an agglomeration of fiefdoms that remain stuck together for the purpose of keeping alive nostalgic relics of 19th Century “nationalist” thinking and not for any real practical or measurable ends befitting a modern 21st Century society.
If autonomy can be considered — and granted — to Bangsamoro, then so too should the same be evaluated and considered for the other four regions Martinez posits.
The alternative is to pass the BBL (even in an amended form that supposedly makes it “constitutionally-correct”) and create an ugly affront to all notions of fairness, equality, and consistency over a large swath of Mindanao. An “autonomous” Bangsamoro state under the current form of government in the Philippines will be like a big lump severely throwing out the centre of gravity of a spinning wheel. Most motorists know what it is like driving a car equipped with unbalanced wheels — extremely unstable and dangerous at high speeds.
Will “peace” really be the outcome of an autonomous Bangsamoro region? Very unlikely. There can only be peace when all Filipinos feel that all are treated fairly. When a minority community is treated in a special way, conflict will be the inevitable outcome.
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