DUTERTE, FEDERALISM INVADE ILOILO CITY

“IF THE BBL fails, then what? “

By Limuel S. Celebria

The Daily Guardian, Iloilo City

This is the dilemma, nay, the fear that bugs Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as government appears to be losing the peace initiative and running out of options as Mindanao teeters and threatens to tailspin into more of the same bloody confrontations that have bedeviled its history.

The BBL or Bangsamoro Basic Law, is a product of the present administration’s effort to bring peace to Mindanao, largely torn by the age-old aspiration of Muslims in that huge island to govern themselves. In brief, the BBL carves a piece of territory for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. If, approved, the BBL also provides funding (some P70 billion reportedly) for the new territory over which the MILF will rule.

The BBL has been submitted to congress for approval. But in the wake of the brutal killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) policemen which conducted an operation in MILF territory at Mamasapano, the BBL and its provisions are being seen in a new light and appears headed for rough sailing in the legislature. Even the government-appointed peace negotiators are being accused of treason or “lawyering” for the MILF, atrthe very least

fed iloilo 2President Pnoy Aquino continues to push for the BBL but, with the Massacre at Mamasapano looming heavily in the background, sentiments against the BBL are running high. Even if it’s pushed through successfully by the administration’s allies in Congress, it may find tough sailing in the Supreme Court as many feel that certain provisions of the BBL violate the constitution.

In an interview with media at a local hotel and again at the office of Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensoryesterday morning, Duterte said that if the BBL fails or if it is diluted, the MILF will go to war. On the other hand, if the MILF gets what it wants, what about Nur Misuari and his Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)?.

This is where Duterte’s “federalism” comes in. In colorful street smart language, Duterte said he put the federalism card on the table because nobody else is playing any. Both the government and the MILF are stuck with the BBL and though this is becoming untenable, there are no alternatives being presented.

Duterte is confident that both the MILF and the MNLF will buy into the proposal as he lifted the federalism card out of Misuari’s deck. The difference, however, is that he will not allow a regional police or any other armed organization. There should only be one police and military organization under the national government, he stressed.

In yesterday’s column, I chided Duterte and federalism as it “abets the perpetuation of political dynasties” and encourages ethnocentrism. For a guy who’s being pushed to run for president, I said this should not be Duterte’s ticket to Malacañang.

But one should not really judge a potential candidate on the basis of a press release. Viewed from the eyes of a war-weary leader from Mindanao, Duterte’s federalism proposal makes a lot sense.

Federalism not just grants self-rule but also fiscal independence and a larger share of resources drawn from the region. The system’s inherent weaknesses are far outweighed by the need for a lasting solution to the problem of peace in Mindanao and, by extension, this whole nation. It will take an act of congress and charter change for federalism to take root. But it’s an alternative, another door to open for the peace process to begin anew if and when the BBL gets shot to pieces.

Finally, Duterte, who has been on a “listening tour” of several cities in the country these past days, said our people want change. That is their strongest sentiment. Not just change in leadership but institutional change.

Of course, if we want to change the system or the institution, we must first put in the people who will lead the change. Is Duterte it? Is he running for President? Well, he didn’t say yes. But as North Cotabato Governor Manny Pinol put it, he no longer threatens to shoot those endorsing him.

(Photos: Mayor Duterte in WVSU. Roselyn Padillo)

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