Without doubt, the statement of Davao Del Norte representative-elect and presumptive speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez, if he indeed made those sweeping statements, that the "there’s no more need for a BBL" and that the "Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) had been rendered moot by the new government and its plan to federalize the political system" is a non-starter. It does not build confidence that the Duterte administration understands the Bangsamoro Problem.
So we asked ourselves who are shocked by such sweeping statements: Did Congressman Alvarez ever think deeply of the consequence of his statement? Did he confer with presumptive president-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte before making those statements?
These statements are baffling because they are completely contrary to the statements of then candidate Rodrigo Duterte during his visit to the MILF’s administrative base in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on February 27 and also during the third and last presidential debate in Pangasinan on April 24. On both occasions, Duterte assured the implementation of the CAB and the passage of the BBL. He even said that he will consider the BBL as a template for federalizing the whole country.
There are three ways to consider the statements of Congressman Alvarez. One, he is already telegraphing the policy of the next administration under Duterte which is the setting aside all the agreements, including the CAB and the BBL as moot and academic. This is going to be a cause of grave concern. Two, he is completely unaware of the nuances and realities of the GPH-MILF peace process wherein both parties have their respective obligations to comply with. This mindset will be problematic especially once Alvarez sits as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Three, he is expressing his own thinking and did not mean the setting aside of peace agreements but only expressed his belief that federalism is symmetrical in all its forms and applications. It is good to note that Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak have governors, although symbolic, while the rest of the 11 states have state sultans. We choose to treat Congressman Alvarez's statements under the third reading. Thus, we hope to see him come with a more definitive clarification of his statements.
Federalising the Philippines, contrary to Alvarez’s belief, will not solve the Bangsamoro Question. There are peculiarities that are unique to the Bangsamoro but are not present in the other possible federal states, which are predominantly Christians, such as the issues of Shariah, madrasah systems, need for Bangsamoro police (which is still part of the Philippine National Police), etc. Even in terms of narrative, the Moros have their distinct history. In particular, how would he address the issue of MILF’s weapons and combatants and the need to normalize the situation? The CAB has all the answers to these concerns. All that is needed is for the Duterte administration is to implement the signed agreements, including the passage of the BBL.
As incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives, Congressman Alvarez's voice will be an important voice in the next administration. We hope to engage him more constructively for peace in Mindanao. We hope that he will come up with a more definitive articulation of his ideas on the GPH-MILF peace process.