By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte had a private meeting with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nurulaji “Nur” P. Misuari last Wednesday in Davao City, Malacañang said on Thursday, Aug. 23.
In a press briefing at the Palace, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said the two men “talked about federalism.” It was also the first meeting between Messrs. Duterte and Misuari since the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) last month. Mr. Duterte previously had an audience with Mr. Misuari in 2016 and last year.
Sought for comment, University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman law professor Antonio G.M. La Viña said in a phone interview: “I think it’s about getting Misuari onboard.”
Mr. Misuari has been consistently against the signed BOL, which provides for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on the watch of leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s.
Mr. La Viña also said the MNLF leader can wait until the government shifts to a federal setup, “but it doesn’t change anything because even the draft prepared by Justice (Reynato S.) Puno and others already says that the Bangsamoro will be a federal region under the Federal Republic of the Philippines.”
“If he runs for Bangsamoro Parliament and he wins, he can be elected Chief Minister. The President can promise him that, but it’s going to be hard to deliver because it is expected that the MILF will dominate the Bangsamoro Parliament,” Mr. La Viña also said.
On whether it is possible for the MILF and MNLF to work together, Mr. La Viña said: “Theoretically, why not? There are some of them who are, in fact, allied with the MILF….So, the whole question now is that what’s the role of Misuari in the BOL? The answer is there is no role; but if there’s federalism, will it open up a role [for him]? I actually don’t think so.”
Meanwhile, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin M. Andanar said on Thursday that the campaign for federalism is “on a power nap” for now.
Business groups, the Senate, and even Mr. Duterte’s own economic managers have made known their reservations about transitioning to a new government system. Mr. Duterte himself barely touched on that advocacy in his State of the Nation Address, and new House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed doubts about Congress tackling federalism before the midterm elections.
In a press conference last Monday, new House Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur District Rep. Prospero A. Pichay, Jr. said: “If the senators are not willing,…then there is really no time for Charter change. Not in even five or 10 years from now. That is why I am calling on the senators to be more open-minded about this so we can discuss it.”
“Cha-cha is just on a power nap,” Mr. Andanar said in a radio interview when asked if charter change is now “dead.”
Ibig sabihin nagpa-power nap, eh nag-iipon lang ng lakas para pag gising niya ay tuluy-tuloy na ang ating kampanya dito sa pederalismo or Charter change. But we respect of course the opinion of our lawmakers kung iyon po ang sinasabi nila,” he added. (What I mean with ‘power nap’ is that we are just saving energy so that when we wake up, our campaign for federalism will be nonstop).
In a press briefing, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said: “That’s a good way of putting it. To me, the timing is really difficult at this point. I’m not for it, but I’m not against. But the timing is really difficult. Our time is limited because of the elections. It will be easy to discuss it after 2019.”
Sought for comment, UP Political Science assistant professor Perlita M. Frago-Marasigan said in an e-mail that “Introducing a new political system amidst more or less persisting problems does not augur well for investment given our present circumstances. Nevertheless, having a government with a strong political will can make federalism happen. You just cannot help but ask, why federalize now?”
She added: “It is true that change is always met with resistance. But sometimes, if there are just too many obstacles along the way, perhaps it is also a sign to pause and reflect if indeed it is the only path. These are clearly warning signs. Is federalism the change that the country needs right now? Better safe than sorry.”
Also on Thursday, Mr. Roque said of the draft federal constitution submitted by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) to Review the 1987 Constitution: “The President will consider the comments of the people and can improve the draft accordingly before officially transmitting it to Congress.”
He also said the “draft is a very good draft.”