AN INFLUENTIAL SULTAN in southern Philippines has asked President Rodrigo Duterte to establish a federal form of government in the country and rejected the propose establishment of an expanded Muslim or Bangsamoro autonomous region in Mindanao.
His Majesty, Sultan Muedzul-Lail Kiram, the 35th and legitimate Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo, also threw his strong support to the petition filed by Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan II before the Supreme Court for certiorari and prohibition with request for temporary restraining order against Republic Act No. 11054, otherwise known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
“The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo fully supports Governor Tan’s petition,” Sultan Kiram said.
He also bared that National Security Adviser, Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, met with them and asked to support President Duterte’s plan for a Federal system of government.
“The meetings produced positive results. We declared our full commitment to support the President’s plan to shift to a Federal system of government with the two parties agreeing in principle that Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi shall be created one federal state and the rest of the core territories of the Sultanate within the provinces and cities of Palawan and Zamboanga Peninsula, shall be acknowledged in the Federal Constitution, in part or in whole thereof, part of our historical territories,” Sultan Kiram said, but until now, the talk initiated by Secretary Esperon – on President Duterte’s order – for reasons not known to them has been held in abeyance.
“We had signified our willingness to sit down with his Excellency through letters sent to the Office of the President. We had also written the two houses of Congress at the time when both houses’ committees were deliberating on the Bangsamoro Basic Law. In those letters, we declared our strong opposition to the BBL if it included Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi,” he added.
He said the Philippine government has always recognized the Sultanate of Sulu as the legitimate claimant to the historical territories of the Republic of the Philippines as contained in Memorandum Order No. 427 signed in 1974 during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos.
“It is sad to note that after the Marcos administration, the Philippine government’s recognition of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo had progressively waned. In the past, there used to be a Department of Mindanao and Sulu. From President Manuel L. Quezon way up to President Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Philippine government had always dealt with Mindanao and Sulu separately as a matter of policy based on historical antecedents,” Sultan Kiram said.
He explained that when President Marcos enacted Presidential Decree Number 1618, it created not one but two Autonomous Regions – Region IX comprised the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte including the Cities of Dipolog and Dapitan, and Zamboanga del Sur and the cities of Pagadian and Zamboanga. And Region XII comprised the provinces of Lanao del Norte including the City of Iligan, Lanao del Sur, including the City of Marawi, Maguindanao, including the City of Cotabato, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
He said the past administration of President Benigno Aquino also offered them – through back channel negotiation – the position of “Wali” in the Bangsamoro Basic Law, but they declined because it will overstep other sultanates in Mindanao.
“We declined this, as it is not our policy to expand our boundaries beyond our historical territories nor do we aspire to govern people other than our “ra’ayat”. The Sultanates of Sulu and North Borneo, Maguindanao and the Royal Houses of Ranao formed into the Confederation of Maranaos, were all independent and sovereign nations. Never at any point in our history were we united under one flag as one nation. We respect the authority and sovereignty of the Sultanate of Maguindanao and the Royal Houses of Ranao over their peoples and territories.”
“To insist on the policy of homogeneity over diverse groups of people will only lead to catastrophic failure. We strongly believe that the Bangsamoro Organic Law will not deliver on its promise of lasting peace and development. Instead we foresee another failed experiment like the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” Sultan Kiram warned.
He said they value the government’s recognition of the Sultan’s legitimacy as claimant to historical territories within the Republic of the Philippines, but the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo will not recognize any agreement entered into by any person or group for or in behalf of the Bangsa Suluk nation and over the Sultanate’s core territories.
“Never did we surrender this right and never did we commission any person or group like the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front to represent us in any talk or negotiation,” Sultan Kiram said as he urged President Duterte to attenuate the enactment of Republic Act Number 11054 and instead judiciously focus on Federalism. This time, all stakeholders should be properly represented and be given the opportunity to participate in the process. We are ready to sit down with the government in forging ahead with this task.”
Republic Act Number 11054 provides for the organic law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao signed by President Duterte in July this year.
Governor Tan, through his lawyer Sixto Brillantes, filed the petition with the Supreme Court to review the legality and constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. The proposed law is the result of peace negotiations between the Filipino government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels.
The respondents in the 48-page petition were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Interior and Local Government Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, and the MILF.
In the petition, Governor Tan claimed that Congress committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law. He said the Bangsamoro Organic Law violates Section 18 and 19 of Article X of the 1987 Constitution which authorized the enactment of only one Organic Act to establish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“Since ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) is created by Constitutional fiat, Congress, by itself, has absolutely no authority to abolish ARMM. Only through an amendment of the Constitution may ARMM be abolished. This is so, because only the Constitution may create or abolish an autonomous region,” he said.
“Accordingly, when Congress, by enacting RA 11054, effectively abolished ARMM, and established BAR (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region) in its stead, Congress committed an unconstitutional act, an unwarranted infringement of Article X of the Constitution,” he added.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, said it recognizes Governor Tan’s rights to file the petition.
Many Muslims in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, including Lanao del Sur are opposed to future rule by the MILF to the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region. A referendum has been set for next year for residents of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – which comprises Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao – to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law that will govern the new region.
Residents of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi who are from Tausug, Yakan and Sama tribes wanted to be part of Region 9 in Western Mindanao, and not be included in the Bangsamoro autonomous region. Even Cotabato City wanted out of the proposed Muslim homeland.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders -who are mostly from Maguindanao tribe – are mulling to govern the proposed region with rebel chieftain Murad Ebrahim as regional governor, and senior rebel leaders to hold key position in the Bangsamoro autonomous government. Even in Wao town in Lanao del Sur, residents had strongly opposed the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Governor Tan stressed that establishing a parliamentary form of government in the Bangsamoro autonomous region violates the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.
“The same provision of Bangsamoro Organic Law, also violate Section 18, Article X of the Constitution requiring that the Organic Act of an Autonomous Region shall, among others, define the basic structure of government for the region consisting of the executive department and legislative assembly, both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units,” he pointed out.
Governor Tan said the automatic inclusion of the ARMM in the newly created Bangsamoro Region “and the provision that the provinces and cities of the ARMM shall vote as one geographical area are likewise unconstitutional.”
“The provisions under Section 2(a) , Article III on Territorial Jurisdiction and Article XV of RA 11054 on the conduct of the plebiscite do not afford the constituents of the Province of Sulu, to the prejudice of their right to suffrage and their right to local autonomy, the option to vote to join or not to join the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” the governor added.
He also asked the High Court to stop the Executive Department from implementing the Bangsamoro law. He also urged the tribunal to issue a Writ of Prohibition to bar the Commission on Elections from proceeding with the scheduled plebiscite in January.
Under the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the Bangsamoro region will be composed of the ARMM, six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 villages of Cotabato, and the chartered cities of Isabela and Cotabato subject to the approval of voters.
The region will be headed by a chief minister and two deputy ministers. The parliament will be composed of political party representatives, parliamentary district representatives, sectoral representatives and indigenous tribes and settler communities.
All parliament members will have a term of three years and can enjoy a maximum of three consecutive terms. The parliament can enact its own laws. The Bangsamoro Organic Law also allows 75-25 wealth sharing between the Bangsamoro autonomous region and national government.
The Supreme Court has already directed the government to comment on the petition filed. (Mindanao Examiner)
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