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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Scare tactics

WITH its peace plan fraying at the edges in the wake of the massacre of 44 police commandos at the hands of Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, the Aquino administration is trying desperately to rescue its agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by ramming through the constitutionally flawed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) through Congress.

The effort includes private meetings with lawmakers to impress upon them the urgency of passing the draft law by the administration’s timetable, emphasizing speed over careful deliberation. The overriding concern seems to be to pass the law, hold a plebiscite and create a new Bangsamoro autonomous region before President Benigno Aquino III steps down from office.

The rush suggests a lack of confidence in the administration that will follow in 2016—or an overriding desire on the part of Mr. Aquino to leave behind a legacy as a peacemaker at any cost.

The BBL that the MILF wants and that the administration’s feckless negotiators were so eager to support will give the new region unprecedented autonomy, including its own police force, its own commissions on elections, audit and human rights that will operate independently of existing national agencies; a wealth-sharing scheme that will put the country’s other regions at a huge disadvantage, and a P70 billion budget allocation that will not have to pass congressional scrutiny.

The law also seeks to create a parliamentary government in the new region, inconsistent with the constitutional provisions specifying a presidential system.

Before the meeting at the Palace last week, congressional allies such as Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who heads the ad hoc committee on the BBL, vowed to water down the draft law to correct these constitutional infirmities. After the meeting, they changed their tune. Suddenly, Rodriguez and other lawmakers began talking of a new timetable for passing the draft law, and how there was no alternative to the BBL outside of the unthinkable—a return to war.

That argument comes straight out of the play book of the MILF and its the same line that this administration is peddling. Both the MILF and the administration are also adamant that the bill should not be watered down or altered in any significant way. The position undermines the independence of Congress, but this has not stopped Palace lackeys such as Senate President Franklin Drilon from insisting that the law will not be diluted.

The President has gone one step further, labeling all those who oppose the BBL as political opportunists who are taking advantage of the public outrage over Mamasapano.

“I can’t help but think that they do not want peace because they stand to benefit from chaos and violence,” the President said of those who oppose the BBL, or who to debate its provisions with greater care. “What they want is for Filipinos to become divided, for us to lose trust in each other to further their own personal agenda.”

“If we lose to those who are opposed to peace, it is as if we have allowed the violence in Mindanao to deteriorate further. If we give up on our efforts to push for the creation of the Bangsamoro, it is as if we have allowed that guns will again be inherited by the next generation of Filipinos,” he added.

This was standard rhetoric for the President, who likes to paint with a broad brush, dividing the country into two camps, those that support him and those that are against him, with no possible middle ground.

But Mr. Aquino’s credibility has been severely damaged by unanswered questions about his role in the ill-fated covert operation in Mamasapano. Amid mounting calls for his resignation, the President’s scare tactics ring hollow. Peace, after all, is possible—with or without this President.

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