By Raïssa Robles
The Constitution has long been used as a reason for not granting Muslims widespread powers. During the administration of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos, government peace negotiators told Muslim rebels that the charter would have to be amended for their wishes to be granted. And then they would add that it was next to impossible to amend it.
I used to think the 1987 Constitution had to be amended in order to let our brother and sister Muslims exercise autonomy and their right to self-determination.
I realized one day, while reading the Constitution, that the problem is with Congress, not with the charter.
The Organic Act for the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is the way it is because our lawmakers chose to drastically limit the Muslim autonomy laid out in the 1987 Constitution: First on August 1, 1989 through the enactment of Republic Act No. 6734 or the Organic Act; then it further watered this down in 2001 by enacting RA 9054 or the amended Organic Act.
The 1987 Constitution in fact provides genuine autonomy.
After 25 years of covering the Mindanao conflict I decided to take a long hard look at the Constitution.
And I realized the following:
First, Article X entitled LOCAL GOVERNMENT of our Constitution breaks down our political structure in this manner:
The national government
The barangays or villages
And then it inserts a substructure called AUTONOMOUS REGIONS. I’ll go into this later.
For now, please think about this.
The Philippines has 17 “regions”, but only two of them are political structures.
Even NCR (the National Capital Region) is not a political structure – meaning, it is NOT headed by an elected official who governs together with an elected legislature, and which altogether can enact laws and enter into contracts that would be binding to all 17 cities and towns.
But the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao was intended to have even more powers than any provincial governor and assembly. And this is in the Constitution.
In effect, the Constitution provides a political sub-structure – which you could even call a sub-state. But these are only to be located in two areas in the country: one “in Muslim Mindanao” and the other “in the Cordilleras.”
It is interesting to note that while the second one points to a geographic location – the Cordilleras – the first one is not a physical place. It is more a description that limits an actual place – Mindanao. The “autonomous region” to be provided has to be one that is in Mindanao, which is “Muslim”.
This section on autonomy is the only instance in our Constitution which seems to point to a particular religious affiliation. However, the word “Muslim” is defined by the same Article X Section 15 as “consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics.”
Congress greatly watered down the autonomy granted by the Constitution
The powers and functions granted to Muslim Mindanao are contained in Sections 17 and 20 of the Constitution
Section 17 states that:
Section 17. All powers, functions, and responsibilities not granted by this Constitution or by law to the autonomous regions shall be vested in the National Government.
Section 20 states that:
Section 20. Within its territorial jurisdiction and subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national laws, the organic act of autonomous regions shall provide for legislative powers over:
(1) Administrative organization;
(2) Creation of sources of revenues;
(3) Ancestral domain and natural resources;
(4) Personal, family, and property relations;
(5) Regional urban and rural planning development;
(6) Economic, social, and tourism development;
(7) Educational policies;
(8) Preservation and development of the cultural heritage; and
(9) Such other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.
Notice that the scope provided above is quite broad.
But then notice how the Organic Act enacted by Congress (Republic Act 9054) in 2001 under the Arroyo administration greatly narrowed the broad scope by specifically excluding
customs and tariff
Patents, trademarks, trade names, and copyrights
I can understand barring the ARMM legislative assembly from enacting laws on foreign affairs, coinage, national defense and security, citizenship, naturalization, immigration and deportation.
But the rest seem to me possible areas for legislation by the autonomous region.
The Constitution gave the autonomous region the power over the
(2) Creation of sources of revenues;
But Congress in RA 9054 drastically limited this broad power by enumerating fourteen (14) exceptions:
Section 7. Extent of Tax Powers; Exceptions. – Unless otherwise provided herein, the taxing power of the regional government and of the provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangay located therein shall not extend to the following:
(a)Income tax, except when levied on banks and other financial institutions;
(b)Documentary stamps tax;
(c)Taxes on estate, inheritance, gifts, legacies, and other acquisitions mortis causa, except as otherwise provided by law;
(d)Customs duties, registration fees of vessel and wharfage on wharves, tonnage dues, and all other kinds of custom fees, charges, and dues except vessels which are registered by their owners with the Regional Government and wharfage on wharves constructed and maintained by the Regional Government or the local government unit concerned;
(e)Taxes, fees, or charges and other impositions upon goods carried into or out of, or passing through the territorial jurisdictions of the provinces, cities, municipalities, or barangay of the autonomous region in the guise of charges for wharfage, tolls for bridges, or otherwise, or other taxes, fees, or charges in any form whatsoever upon such goods or merchandise except tolls on bridges or roads constructed and maintained by the provinces, cities, municipalities, or barangay concerned or by the Regional Government.
(f)Taxes, fees, or charges on agricultural and aquatic products when sold by marginal farmers or fisherfolk;
(g)Taxes on business enterprises certified by the Board of Investments or by the Regional Assembly as pioneer or non- pioneer for a period of six (6) and four (4) years, respectively from the date of registration;
(h)Excise taxes on articles enumerated under the national internal revenue code, and taxes, fees, or charges on petroleum products;
(i)Percentage or value-added tax (VAT) on sales, barters, or exchanges or similar transactions on goods or services except as otherwise provided by law;
(j)Taxes on the gross receipts of transportation contractors and persons engaged in the transportation of passengers or freight by hire and common carriers by air, land, or water except as provided in this Organic Act;
(k)Taxes on premiums paid by way of reinsurance or retrocession;
(l)Taxes, fees, or other charges on Philippine products actually exported, except as otherwise provided by law enacted by the Congress;
(m)Taxes, fees, or charges on countryside, barangay business enterprises and cooperatives duly registered under Republic Act No. 6810, the “Magna Carta for Countryside and Barangay Business Enterprises” and Republic Act No. 6938, the “Cooperatives Code of the Philippines,” respectively; and
(n)Taxes, fees, or charges of any kind on the central government or national government, its agencies and instrumentalities, and local government units except on government-owned or -controlled corporations or entities that are primarily organized to do business.
The Constitution also gave the autonomous region legislative powers over
(3) Ancestral domain and natural resources;
But Congress enacted RA 9054 which removed from its power the following: “strategic minerals such as uranium, petroleum, and other fossil fuels, mineral oils, all sources of potential energy, as well as national reserves and aquatic parks, forest and watershed reservations.”
See the section of RA 9054 below:
Section 5. Use, Development of Mines, Minerals, and Other Natural Resources; Revenue Sharing; Exceptions. –
(a)Regional Supervision and Control. The control and supervision over the exploration, utilization, development, and protection of the mines and minerals and other natural resources within the autonomous region are hereby vested in the Regional Government in accordance with the Constitution and the pertinent provisions of this Organic Act except for the strategic minerals such as uranium, petroleum, and other fossil fuels, mineral oils, all sources of potential energy, as well as national reserves and aquatic parks, forest and watershed reservations already delimited by authority of the central government or national government and those that may be defined by an Act of Congress within one (1) year from the effectivity of this Organic Act.
(b)Sharing Between Central Government or National Government and Regional Government in Strategic Minerals Revenues, Taxes, or Fees. Fifty percent (50%) of the revenues, taxes, or fees derived from the use and development of the strategic minerals shall accrue and be remitted to the Regional Government within thirty (30) days from the end of every quarter of every year. The other fifty percent (50%) shall accrue to the central government or national government.
This means the autonomous region would not have any say on power plants and logging activities in certain areas, for instance.
Hmmm. Why is that? Are there vested interests being protected here?
A law is always the product of the times.
The newly installed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo allowed RA 9054 to lapse into law on March 31, 2001. She did not sign it into law.
Arroyo, it soon turned out, had political allies in Muslim Mindanao who were sworn enemies of the Moro rebels. Among them were Simeon Datumanong (whom she appointed public works secretary then justice secretary) and the Ampatuans, as well as the late Zamboanga City Clara Lobregat (the present mayor-son seems more open to a political settlement). In addition, Arroyo spent her childhood in Iligan City, which had a love-hate relationship with the Moro rebels.
In both chambers of Congress, there was a palpable feeling that the Moro rebels should be crushed first and then negotiated into an agreement. Only the year before RA 9054 was enacted, Joseph Estrada who was the president then had overrun MILF’s main Camp Abubakar and three other smaller camps.
And Nur Misuari, the governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao – the father of autonomy – was governing so badly that even his fellow leaders in the Moro National Liberation Front were despairing of him.
RA 9054 or the newly amended Organic Act was all about submission, not justice to the long-simmering demands of the Moro people and not just the rebels. One thing about the MILF – it is a citizen army fueled by ordinary Muslim Filipinos crying out for justice all these years. Land-grabbing in the Mindanao heartland has been so rampant.
As I said at the start, the Constitution has long been used as a reason for not granting Muslims widespread powers. During the administration of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos, government peace negotiators told Muslim rebels that the charter would have to be amended for their wishes to be granted. And then they would add that it was next to impossible to amend it.
During the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the tack changed somewhat. The argument turned into something like this – yes, let’s amend the charter to give Muslim rebels genuine autonomy. And oh, by the way, while we’re at it, why don’t we change the form of government to parliamentary.
In short, the Arroyo government wanted to use the rebel conflict as a way of prying the Constitution wide open in order to change the form of government and enable the Arroyo government to stay in power indefinitely.
The point I’m trying to make here is – Muslim autonomy will only be as extensive as what Congress will make it.
Is this something the rest of the nation should just accept or not, just like the Cybercrime Law?
How Muslim autonomy can benefit the rest of the country
Personally, I believe Muslim autonomy could be the Philippine experiment toward federalism. And a key to the nation’s progress.
Just think. The heart of the second biggest land mass in the country continues to be mired in poverty and conflict.
The present Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao as well as the previous one was based mainly on the idea not to give rebel Muslims too much power in the south, or else they will secede and besides you can’t trust them.
I’m being blunt about this. Over a century after we booted out colonial Spain the prejudices they implanted in our brains about Muslims remain very much alive. Many of us tend to think of Muslims as an “other people” and a most untrustworthy lot. No wonder they want to secede.
I think there are trustworthy ones and untrustworthy ones among them – just like among Christians.
Having said that, I see the need for trust to be built between Muslims in Mindanao and Christians in Luzon and the Visayas, especially among the youth.
Mutual trust is the key that will make autonomy succeed. And lots of hard work.
As for their being an “other people” I was amused when at one point, while interviewing the MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal in English, he kept answering me in Filipino.
You know who Muslim women in Jolo most admire as an actress?
It’s Sharon Cuneta. Because she mostly wears shirts with sleeves down to her elbows.
In central Mindanao, Muslim women there remember Sharon Cuneta’s daughter, KC, who visited them a few years back as ambassador for the United Nation’s World Food Programme.
While protracted peace negotiations were going on all these years, Muslims in the south were quietly imbibing Filipino culture through the TV network which they refer to as “Abs-Sban” ( ABS-CBN).
Through TV, Muslim Filipinos have learned a lot about Manila culture. It’s time for Manila to know more about Muslim Filipino culture. There’s a lot to admire, such as their perseverance to fight for human rights against all odds.