16 February 2015

[LEGAL NOTES] The Historical Injustices Against the Filipino Moros and the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law as Impetus for Rectification and Peace

The conflict in Mindanao is deeply-rooted, present and harbors consequences to the daily lives of the Moro, Christians, and indigenous peoples residing in the affected areas. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB)—which was crafted for at least 17 years of negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)—seeks to address the century-old injustices against the Moros and end the decades of war and armed conflict in Mindanao.

On 10 September 2014, the Office of the President submitted the draft of the Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL)—House Bill 4994— to Congress for legislative enactment. The recent Mamasapano clash which took place in the middle of the deliberations of the said bill in Congress endangered the peace process between the two sides.  
An examination of the status quo would indicate that there is no question on whether or not change should be institutionalized, it is only a question of timing.  It is clear that legislation and political will offer more effective, equitable and permanent solutions than armed fighting and aimless one-upmanship.  Pushing for the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ending the policy of inaction and seeking to address the impacts of historical wrongs. 

In deciding to do so, the government also had to prioritize goals identified to have direct causal relationships with the problems of insurgency, displacement and, ultimately, underdevelopment in the ARMM region.  The pending House Bill 4994 seeks to address historical wrongs, ensure that conflict is avoided, and programmatically address the Bangsamoro concern.

The Bangsamoro Struggle

The Moro people have long been struggling for self-determination, self-governance and recognition of their ancestral domain and Moro identity.  Historically, the Islamic Sultanates—which dominated over Mindanao, northern island of Luzon and as far as the northern coast of Borneo and the western coast of Celebes [1]—established a strong socio-political institution in the region which had an advance civilization and economy.  But before the sultanates could fully expand its power, a series of foreign colonial interventions came in the Philippines.  Since then, the Moros were disregarded in all political and socio-cultural aspects which led to their further marginalization.  National government policies, including the 1902 Land Registration Act and the Resettlement Programs implemented from 1912 until 1940s, encouraged the waves of settlers from the Visayas and Luzon to settle in Mindanao without regard for past and existing tenurial arrangements by the Moros.

The infamous “Jabidah Massacre” in 1968 was the culminating incident of oppression which reawakened and reinforced the Moros’ undying sentiment for freedom.  Muslim separatism began to evolve.  The situation went out of control and civil war broke out.  Since then, decades of armed conflict that has killed not only thousands of combatants from both parties, but also hundreds of thousands of civilians, including women and children.

The war in Mindanao has also caused its continuing underdevelopment.  The Poverty Incidence Report conducted by the National Statistical Coordination Board released on 23 April 2013 stated that the five-province, two-city Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is the country’s poorest, posting 46.9%. [2] According to the data from the United Nations Development Program, many of the provinces in ARMM since the 1980 have low Human Development Index.  In 1997, four of the five provinces of ARMM have the lowest expectancy in the entire Philippines.  As of the 2013 Philippine Human Development Report, the same provinces remain in the same standing. [3]

Social Justice as the Over-arching Legal Basis for BBL

According to Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, the conflict in Mindanao problem can be summed up to three injustices, “Injustice to the Moro identity; Injustice to Moro political sovereignty; and Injustice to Moro integral development.”  

The passage of House Bill 4994 is indispensable for the attainment of equitable autonomy for the Bangsamoro.  It is a realization of the Social Justice provision as enunciated in Section 1, Article XIII of the Constitution which states,

“The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequalities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.

To this end, the State shall regulate the acquisition, ownership, use and disposition of property and its increment.” (emphasis mine)

The core principle of Social Justice demands that the Bangsamoro shall be afforded real and meaningful autonomy to address the injustices to the Moro people with respect to their identity, territory, governance and political structure.  No less than the Constitution mandates for a special status for the Bangsamoro autonomous region to respond to the centuries of socio-political and cultural marginalization of the Moro people.  The Bangsamoro should be afforded the right to exercise their right to self-determination for the development of their political institutions.  The Bangsamoro identity and their ancestral lands should be recognized.

Constitutionality of the BBL

In accordance with the Social Justice provision of the Constitution, I fully support the passage of House Bill 4994 based on the following grounds:

  1. The creation of the Bangsamoro is mandated by Section 15, Article X of the Constitution;” 
  2. The Core Territory of the Bangsamoro is within the framework of the Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines;
  3. The “asymmetric relationship” of the Bangsamoro and the National Government—one that governs between the state and an autonomous region, which includes the grant of legislative powers not normally granted to local government units, while still being under the supervision of the President [4]—has its legal basis in the case of League of Provinces of the Philippines vs. DENR; [5]
  4. The Bangsamoro Parliament is a form of Constitutional democracy as both the Chief Minister and the members of the Parliament are elective and representative of the constituent political units which are sanctioned under Section 18, Article X of the Constitution;  
  5. The Bangsamoro Government mandates for the creation of bodies such as the Bangsamoro Commission on Human Rights (BCHR), Bangsamoro Auditing Body, Bangsamoro Civil Service Commission, Bangsamoro Police Commission, all of which shall be under the supervision of the respective national offices of the Central Government;
  6. The Bangsamoro Justice System which incorporates the Shari’ah Justice System covers personal, family and property laws of the Muslims—without prejudice to the review of the Supreme Court—in accordance with Section 18, Article X of the Constitution;
  7. The State has clearly delegated its legislative powers to the Bangsamoro Government over matters as “ancestral domain and natural resources” in accordance with Section 20, Article X of the Constitution;
  8. The Bangsamoro Government recognizes the rights of the indigenous peoples in accordance with RA 7831 (IPRA) and the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  9. Congressional public consultations were conducted all over the country with different stakeholders including IPs and local government units in consonance with the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Province of North Cotabato vs. GRP (GR No. 183591); and
  10. The ratification by the affected constituents of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in a plebiscite conducted for the said purpose will make the Bangsamoro Political Entity effective and the ARMM abolished in accordance with the Constitution.     



[1] Warren, James Francis (1985). The Sulu zone, 1768-1898: The dynamics of external trade, slavery and ethnicity in the transformation of a Southeast Asian maritime state.  Quezon City: New Day Publishers.

[2] First Semester Per Capita threshold and Poverty Incidence Among families, by region and provinces, 2006, 2009 and 2012.

[3] Centina, Christian Jane, et al., 2014. Rehabilitation and Devlopment. Commentaries on HB 4994: Bangsamoro Basic Law. Mindanao Law Journal, College of Law, Ateneo de Davao University.

[4] La ViƱa, Antonio & Lee, Janice (2014). The Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law: Overcoming Constitutional Challenges. Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University.

[5] GR No. 175368.

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