Today, President Rodrigo Duterte officially swore in Moro (Philippine Muslim) leaders who will run the new parliament in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), that was officially created as a result of last month’s regional plebiscite. The Bangsamoro Transition Authority will act as the region’s appointed parliament until new and fully democratic elections will take place for the regional parliament in 2022. Among the members of the new parliament are former militants who have permanently laid down their arms, embraced the peace process, expressed trust in the sincerity of Duterte in respect of seeking lasting peace and are fully engaged in an historic political process.
Thus, the Bangsamoro region has transformed overnight, from a model for failed governance to one that ought to inspire reforms throughout the rest of The Philippines. The creation of the transitional parliamentary body which in a few short years will become a fully democratic regional parliament, raises some important questions for the rest of the country that cannot be ignored:
First of all, why is it that Moros will receive autonomy, but other distinct regions with unique economic needs and cultural characteristics in The Philippines will still be governed by what is referred to as “imperial Manila”? Secondly, if the Bangsamoro region is going to get a parliamentary form of regional government, why can’t the national government also be based on a parliamentary system?
The answers to these questions become self-evident when one examines the situation through the prism of political reverse engineering. Imagine if The Philippines had long ago adopted both a federalised political map of the country whilst the national government was a parliamentary rather than a presidential system?
The conclusion of this hypothetical question is that the Bangsamoro region would have long ago had autonomy as a matter of constitutional principle, as opposed to a process that took years of bloodshed and difficult negotiation to bring to the current constructive stage. Likewise, there would have likely been no struggle between Moros and the central government because in a federal system, all distinct regions have a measure of self-government which can look after the interests of local people according to their direct aspirations and needs. In other words, if one supplies that which is politically necessary, one will not face unreasonable or difficult demands.
Even taking federalism temporarily out of the equation, had someone like Rodrigo Duterte entered national government in 2016 as the prime minister in a parliamentary system whose party-political parliamentary majority was a reflection of the confidence Duterte’s ideas command throughout the nation, a hypothetical Prime Minister Duterte could have likely staged last month’s plebiscite within his first months in office. This remains crucial because in May of 2017, just under a year into the Duterte Presidency, a breakaway Daesh (ISIS) aligned Moro terrorist organisation called the Maute Group laid siege to the city of Marawi – thus threatening the entire hard fought peace process. Whilst Duterte was quick to enact Martial Law in order to aid the armed forces in ultimately liberating Marawi in October of 2017, had an efficient parliamentary system been in place from the beginning, Duterte could have scheduled the Bangsamoro plebiscite far earlier, thus draining the swamp from which latent extremism arose in May of 2017.
Moreover, had a hypothetical Prime Minister Duterte rushed the Bangsamoro plebiscite through parliament whilst then spending the rest of his first year in office organising a nationwide referendum on federalism, the problems that plagued Marawi in 2017 would not only most likely never had happened, but overall economic growth and national harmony could have blossomed far more rapidly than it has under a Duterte Presidency that whilst successful, has been constricted by an outdated pro-oligarch constitution and a political system which promotes show-businesses style politics over an ideas driven meritocracy.
In this sense, whilst Duterte’s opponents complain about the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, they fail to realise that the federal-parliamentary system that they largely deride, could have abrogated the need to declare Martial Law in the first place.
Clearly, the Bangsamoro leaders who have laid down their guns to form a regional parliament, seek to avoid the deadlock and anti-democratic tendencies of a congressional style system. They know first hand that in certain regions, a lack of political consensus and clear democratic accountability can be the difference not just between prosperity and poverty, but between life and death.
Therefore, the rest of the country should take notice and demand that they be given that which Moros in Mindao now have – parliamentary governance and autonomy through nationwide federalism. All Filipinos deserve the opportunities that the Bangsamoro now have.
The Bangsamoro transitional parliament now stands as a model for how the entire country could do something similar. This year, existing members of the House of Representatives and the soon to be elected new Senate, could all sit in a unicameral transitional parliamentary chamber while preparing for full democratic elections for a new national parliament. The parliamentary elections could be held in 2022, in place of a presidential and congressional election that is currently scheduled for that year.
This could help ease the country into a new parliamentary system that could come into full effect at the same time as the one in the new Bangsamoro region transitions from an appointed to a fully elected chamber. Until such a thing happens, the region that was once politically behind the rest of The Philippines, will remain substantially ahead. Bangsamoro leaders have laid the foundations for accountable governance. It is time for The Philippines as a whole to do the same.