All that's left for the Bangsamoro is to declare independence

is my Trade Tripper column in the recent weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

I was recently invited to a roundtable discussion of the issues surrounding the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, organized by the Center for Research and Communication, the Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation Inc., and the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations. The University of Asia and the Pacific’s new School of Law and Governance pitched in to help as well.

Not that the event needed any help. The speakers had decades of foreign policy experience and know-how: Ambassadors Jose Romero (who also served as host), Lauro Baja, Willy Gaa, Jose Zaldarriaga, Benjamin Domingo, Rosalinda Tirona, and Representative Celso Lobregat all gave incredibly frank, commonsensical yet profound inputs.

Having said that, none of what they said made me revise my appreciation of what the March 27 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is: either a well-intentioned mistake or a sell-out.

The agreement imposes on Filipinos a peace with conditions that do not require conformity to our Constitution. It is a peace that demands we agree to the notion of certain “hurts” allegedly inflicted by our Republic. This is to forget that the Muslims who wanted this Bangsamoro have freely participated in the democratic process and thus share responsibility for any development (or lack thereof) in this country.

That the Bangsamoro is geared towards statehood is palpable. One sees that in Article I.5 of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro: the Bangsamoro getting their wish that their continued insistence of the quite discredited (under international law) “First Nation” argument be acknowledged in an official instrument.

And as I keep pointing out, all four elements of a State have been granted to the Bangsamoro with the complicity of our government.

That it has the elements of “people” and “government” are seen from the provisions of Arts. 1.1, I.2 and 1.5 of the Framework Agreement.

That it has the element of “territory” are seen from the provisions of Article I, as well as Article V, particularly Article V.1.

That the fourth and final element is also already acquired by the Bangsamoro can be seen from the provisions of the Framework Agreement and the Power Sharing Agreement, whereby the Bangsamoro has “the power to enter into economic agreements.”

The Bangsamoro has been granted all the powers of a State: police powers, taxation and eminent domain. It even has its own executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. At this point, for the Philippines to refuse “recognition” is inutile. The fact that it’s provided for under the agreements that the Bangsamoro and the Philippine government has an “asymmetric” relationship means nothing.

Thus, all the Bangsamoro now needs to do is declare that it is a new State. No recognition is required from other States (as recognition is not an element for statehood). And even then, at least for political reasons, it is not farfetched to believe that the countries thanked in the “acknowledgement” portion of the agreement would readily give that recognition.

Rep. Lobregat was quite correct in pointing out that the government did not even bother putting a deadline for the decommissioning of firearms of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This would serve the MILF in good stead should it decide to go ahead and secede. Furthermore, as he again correctly pointed out (and which I have repeatedly written in this column as well), not once under the agreement do we see the Bangsamoro subject to the Constitution.

The argument that people should not worry as the planned Basic Law could fix the infirmities is inane. For two reasons: the Basic Law cannot amend the express provisions of the agreement, and the Basic Law is only applicable to those who admit themselves Filipinos and subject to the Constitution.

Some argue that the remedy is for the agreement to be declared unconstitutional. I hope they’re right. But it can also be argued that a declaration of unconstitutionality is futile at this point.

The fact is, the government, by agreeing to terms such as “armed conflict,” “self-governance,” “combatants,” the “justness” and “legitimacy” of the “cause of the Bangsamoro,” and the unwitting use of the term “self-determination” (which technically under international law means “secession”), as well as the participation of other states such as Malaysia in the process has arguably elevated the agreement to the level of an international instrument. And it is in the nature of international agreements that they are not to be thwarted by local laws (including the Constitution).

Finally, I notice that advocates for the Bangsamoro keep using the phrase “self-determination” alongside the word “freedom.” Freedom from what? It would be interesting to know if our negotiators even bothered confronting that one significant detail.