The only time I chanced upon Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was long ago: we happened to be staying in the same hotel, the Paris Intercontinental. He was traveling with a movie starlet whose name mercifully escapes me now. He flouted the dress code. The hotel staff were amused that he was young and irresponsible.
Going home to Manila, we took the same PAL flight. All the other passengers had long disembarked when he finally came out. I lingered behind so I saw what happened. President Marcos walked alone on the tarmac to confront him at the foot of the airstairs. Bongbong stood hangdog while his father wagged a finger in his face. He was young and irresponsible.
Today Bongbong Marcos is a member of the Philippine Senate and chair of its Committee on Local Governments. In that position he has junked the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would create a territory called Bangsamoro in the heartland of Mindanao where the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) now stands.
The passage of the BBL would fulfill the Malaysia-brokered framework agreement between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Proponents say that after its approval in a plebiscite, implementation of the BBL would bring peace to Muslim Mindanao.
“I share our people’s thirst for peace,” says Marcos, “but the BBL has so many bad provisions.” In its present form, he says, the BBL would only lead to more bloodshed.
Marcos says those who crafted the BBL “totally ignored the major stakeholders. The Sultanate of Sulu, the Moro National Liberation Front (of which the MILF is a spin-off), the lumad (indigenous people), the Christians, the local government units and business were abandoned at will.”
Earlier the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments headed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago reported that the BBL was unconstitutional because it provided for a parliamentary form of government within a presidential system, and it would make the Bangsamoro parliament equal, not subordinate, to the Philippine Congress. The exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro would diminish the powers of the national government. And, for good measure, the BBL didn’t have the authority to create a Bangsamoro territory.
Marcos vows to file a new version of the BBL that will rectify the defects of the government version. He says he’ll not abide by the June 11 deadline set by the government and he’ll resist any effort to railroad the BBL in the Senate.
Obviously he’s no longer young and irresponsible. But some members of the House of Representatives are looking irresponsible. They’re trying to railroad the BBL in the House, after President Benigno S. Aquino III talked with them. People say the railroad is fueled with pork barrel funds, which the government denies.
Why the hurry? President Aquino wants to leave a legacy of peace before he bows out of office in June 2016. But that’s his problem.
The country’s problem is how to create durable peace in Muslim Mindanao, regardless of whose legacy it is. Peace through a BBL that can survive the slings of constitutional challenge, and is acceptable to an array of non-Moro stakeholders. A BBL that must also meet the wishes of the MILF. That’s a tall order.
It takes time to fulfill that tall order. Time to heal wounds and to restore the trust lost in the bloodstained cornfields of Mamasapano where 44 police commandos and at least 17 MILF fighters died in a so-called mis-encounter last January. Time to disabuse the public of rumors of a secret deal between Aquino and the Malaysian government on Sabah. Time for stakeholders to learn to make the necessary compromises.
And perhaps time for legislators to mature and become more responsible, as Bongbong Marcos did.
Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based literary writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy. The views expressed here are his own.