I went home to Lanao del Sur the other week to attend a court hearing. Along the highway from Iligan cutting across the mainland towards Cotabato City I saw outpouring of support for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) or Republic Act 11054. Almost every strategic corner along the road is cluttered with tarps and giant streamers emblazoned with the words: “We Support BOL” (unfortunately, shameless enterprising epal candidates putting their names in bigger and bold print below these billboards is a letdown). To many, the forthcoming plebiscite is the Big Enchilada. But what if BOL suffers a hitch like being declared unconstitutional or rejected by voters?
Grim scenarios played out on my mind as we maneuvered the zigzagged Marawi-Malabang road.
The ghost of the aftermath of the 2008 Supreme Court (SC) decision striking down as unconstitutional the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) haunts many.
The siege and plunder of the towns of Kauswagan and Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte by Commander Bravo of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) simultaneously with depredations by Commander Amelil Kato of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a breakaway faction of the MILF in the Cotabato areas, was triggered by that decision.
The rebels took over the municipal hall and other government structures and held at bay government forces for days. They were repelled only after a pyrrhic battle. The cost was high in terms of lives lost and properties destroyed with civilians, as always, suffering the brunt of the mayhem. The MoA-AD is very much like the present BOL in substance and import now facing similar challenge of unconstitutionality.
My disquiet was aggravated by another certiorari case challenging the constitutionality of the BOL, filed by the Philippine Constitution Association. Earlier, the local government of Sulu, through Gov. Sakur Tan II had filed the first challenge, a tell-tale sign that not all is well among Moros themselves.
The huge investment in time and resources by both government and rebels which painstakingly shepherded the BOL into its present shape will be put to waste if the court rejects it. I shuddered at the thought of the flickering flame of hope for peace and better tomorrow for many Moros that will be jeopardized.
The media statement of MILF Chair Ebrahim Murad the BOL is a product of a long and tedious study and research by legal experts to avoid the fate of the MoA-AD is reassuring. Authors of the law have learned the lesson from the MoA-AD and it will be at the height of folly if they commit a similar mistake.
In fact, during the deliberation of the BOL, the ratio decidendi of the MoA-AD decision was foremost on everybody’s mind. Everybody agreed that the main hurdle of the BOL is the constitutional crucible. All other issues are marginal and could be remedied by administrative fiat.
Reassuring likewise is the 100 percent batting average of Malacañang on policies it has seemingly pushed that underwent challenge before the SC, ranging from the Marcos burial to extensions of martial law. Legal pundits boldly predict it is unlikely the High Court will stray away from the trend.
When the MoA-AD was being addressed, government was fighting only one front — the MILF rebels. Now, it has to reckon with the emergence of an alien ideology advocating violence to establish an Islamic caliphate.
If BOL is struck down as unconstitutional, the remnants of the IS-inspired jihadists who escaped the Marawi war will ride on the forlorn of the Moros and accelerate their bloody campaign. This will compound the problem of our security and defense forces currently facing sporadic attacks from another front — the communist New People’s Army. Complexing the situation is the growing rebellion seeping on the mind of Marawi victims because of the inordinate delay in the promised-reconstruction of their city.
And as a grim foreboding, a bomb exploded in the commercial center of Cotabato City, the heartland of Morolandia on eve of New Year’s Eve where two people died and 32 others wounded with the police facing a blank wall. Theories about the bombing flew thick and wild, including premonition of more destabilization if the BOL is ratified.
Government should map out a plan “B” if the BOL will not pass the gauntlet of the SC. It’s better to be prepared than be caught with pants down.