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With BBL dead, referendum sought

 • 03:00 AM Thu Feb 25, 2016
Nash B. Maulana
Michael Datu Mike Mastura (Photo from snipview.com)

COTABATO CITY --A MEMBER of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Panel has called on the Moro people to push for a non-binding referendum to put pressure on the next administration to take serious steps at resolving the so-called Bangsamoro Question.”Moro lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, said he was challenging Moro groups including the Maguindanao and Sulu Sultanates to initiate a non-binding referendum to assert a Mindanao agenda for the Bangsamoro in the administration of a President elected in May 2016.During the Town hall forum sponsored by the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday last week, Mastura challenged the Civil Society organizations as well as the heirs of the Maguindanao and Sulu Sultanates to initiate a non-binding referendum, asserting the people’s right to self-determination in the Bangsamoro or the present areas of autonomy (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).The Inquirer has held Town Hall forums here and in Cagayan de Oro City to generate questions and answers from the community to the Presidential Debate, first slated in Cagayan de Oro City on February 21. The Town Hall community forum here has been preceded by two rounds of focused group discussions (FGDs), attended by members of civil society organizations, development workers, peace advocates, and Muslim scholars.Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo of the Bangsamoro Transitional Commission (BTC) said he has been optimistic the next administration will uphold the peace commitment of the government, since the negotiators represented the government, and not only President (Benigno Simeon) Aquino, just as the MILF panelists represented not the MILF leaders, but the Bangsamoro.Mastura said Presidential candidates should be asked as to whether they were serious to take up the Bangsamoro Question in a constitutional arena. Second, will they continue the peace negotiation with a third party facilitator? Third, will the next administration grant general amnesty to rebels? If you are the President, will you domesticate this problem?,” Mastura asked, referring to a possibility that the next President might treat the Moro problem as a local issue.When all else fails, Mastura said, the Moro people should pursue the self-determination struggle through massive calls for a non-binding referendum.Mastura, a former congressman representing Maguindanao’s First District and Cotabato City, cited the non-binding referendum in Southern Sudan, which was initiated by the Sudan People's Liberation Army/ Movement (SPLA/M) in July 2011, following the Naivasha Agreement of 2005, and another by the Christian Timorese of East Timor, a Portuguese colony, which eventually gained independence from Indonesia in 1999. Forget about the BBL, because it is passé it’s water under the bridge it’s been archived and is literally (no worthier than a paper) flushed into the toilet,” said Mastura, explaining the meaning of archived” measures in Congress, when both legislative Chambers fail to pass a bill into law.The former Maguindanao lawmaker said a silent campaign for a non-binding referendum has gained ground, with a hard push by some members of the Lanao royalties.For his part, Mufti Abu Huraira Udasan of the Cotabato Dharul Ifta said good relationship with Christians is as important to the Muslims, as it is to Christians having a friendly atmosphere with the Muslims. Udasan said this is because both groups are following Scriptures that say similar things about enjoining peace, and the prohibition of evil deeds, like murder, intake of intoxicants, and adultery. Mastura’s call for a non-binding referendum promptly stirred enthusiasm among Moro participants in the Inquirer forum, notably, Chairman Ismael Maulana of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, (CBCS), Bobby Benito, Secretary-General of the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), and Datu Uko Mastura Ampatuan, a key member of the Royal Council of the Maguindanao Sultanate.Sinarimbo said one of the fruits of the peace negotiations is the creation of an independent body, the least-known Transitional Justice Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).According to Professor Miriam Ferrer, head of the government negotiating panel,TJRC is the body tasked to draw up programs to address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices, and address human rights violations. Steps are underway to operationalize the TJRC's recommendations, Ferrer said.Sinarimbo said the findings of the TJRC as an independent body, should also be made public by the next administration. TJRC is composed of an Irish expert on transitional justice, and two lawyers, one of whom a Moro.Mastura said President Aquino also has not certified the BBL when he was still that very popular, and not the lame duck President (that he now is).”Sinarimbo and Mastura said the Moro peace negotiators were more careful, following the Supreme Court case filed against the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008.Mastura has filed a petition for intervention into the Supreme Court case, which questioned the constitutionality of the CAB, which the government signed in 2012. He said in a previous SC case involving the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008, no Moro representatives had been impleaded.He said the Moro Peace Panel even secured the prior consent on the BBL of both Houses of Congress— which, in response— separately passed resolutions supporting the measure.Mastura said one of the mandates of the BTC as agreed with the government was to recommend amendments to the 1987 Constitution, and seek amnesty for rebels.Constitutional amendment, Mastura said, is an option that has also been recommended by Jesuit constitutionalist, Fr. Bernas in an article titled, The flexibility of the Constitution.”Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, says a flexibility of the Constitution includes what he calls a surgical amendment,” through Ordinance of special amendments, either by Act of Congress, or by a Constituent Assembly. Nash B. Maulana

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