As we work for peace in Mindanao and hope that all will be well, it might be good to explore the possible choke points. These possible choke points are offered to help the parties plan the implementation of their agreements. From my point of view as a third sider, some of the choke points in the continuing peace process between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are the following:
- No final agreement. While this choke point is highly unlikely because the parties are highly invested already and the whole world is watching, there is a still a possibility that they will fail to agree on the annexes and the comprehensive compact. If this happens, the peace process is stalled. This choke point derails the process even before it could takeoff.
- Deadlock in the Transition Commission. No agreement on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. In this choke point, the members of the Transition Commission fail to agree on a common draft to be submitted to the Office of the President. While the MILF contingent in the Transition Commission will be expected to have more unity and cohesion in their positions (they will take their cue from the MILF) the same cannot be expected from members of the Government contingent who most probably will be independent-minded and responsible to some other constituencies other than the National Government. Members of the Government contingent might take on different views from that of the National Government. If this happens, the negotiations and debates will shift from Kuala Lumpur to the Transition Commission.
- Office of the President has serious political and legal reservations on the draft Basic Law as submitted by the Transition Commission. Once the draft Basic law is approved by the Transition Commission, it will be transmitted to the Office of the President who, in turn, will submit the same to Congress as a priority measure. My layperson’s understanding is that the transmittal to Congress by the President will largely be ministerial. In reality, this will not happen. The Office the Executive Secretary and the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, for example, will do its own due diligence and seek broader political and legal advise on the submitted draft law. A choke point would be if the Office of the President will have “reservations” on some portions of the submitted draft and will not submit the same to Congress until such reservations are addressed. Under this choke point, we will have a deadlock between the Office of the President, the Transition Commission and the MILF.
- Congress passes a law substantially different from that crafted by the Transition Commission. The success of the peace process hinges substantially on the power of the Chief Executive to persuade Congress to pass the Basic Law in the form and substance designed by the Transition Commission. It is reasonable for the MILF and the Transition Commission to expect that what goes in must come out the same. It is also reasonable for them to feel betrayed if the law that is passed is not what they envisioned it to be. Thus, a choke point would be if Congress passes a law that is substantially different from that submitted by the President and the Transition Commission. Political maneuvering skills are needed to enact the Basic Law as it essentially requires Congress to “limit” the exercise of its broad plenary powers and prerogatives to what is contained in the FAB and in the comprehensive agreement.
- The Supreme Court declares the FAB as unconstitutional or stays its implementation.- In our system of government, the Supreme Court ultimately has the power to say whether a peace agreement is in accord with the Constitution or not. Thus, a choke point would be any TRO or declaration of unconstitutionality by the Supreme Court on the FAB or other matters arising from the negotiations. While we can expect more legal challenges filed in the Supreme Court when the comprehensive compact is signed, we cannot for sure say which direction the Supreme Court will take.
- The MILF loses in the elections for the Bangsamoro Government. If the MILF party loses in the elections for the Bangsamoro Government, they will have to ask themselves: What now? What shall we do next? Shall we disarm? I consider this a choke point because the loss will be a huge factor in the events and activities that will follow. This event will determine whether normalization will be completed.
- Armed hostilities and acts of violence on the ground. The ultimate choke point will happen on the ground. If armed hostilities or acts of violence erupt in Mindanao, irrespective of who or what started it, the peace process will be threatened. It does not matter at what stage the negotiations are. Once the situation becomes violent or internal security is threatened, all the relevant actors – the President, Congress, the AFP, the PNP, the LGUs, the MILF, the BIAF, the so-called lost commands, the MNLF, etc., will be pushed to take a pause and rethink the trajectory of the process. If this happens, this will definitely be a choke point.
These choke points are possibilities. No prediction is made that they will actually happen. I am placing them on the table for consideration by the Government and the MILF (and all peace supporters) so that they can prepare and not be surprised when such choke points do happen. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.