The plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is almost over and its ratification is already almost a sure thing.
The ratification of this law and its consequent implementation is in one way a realization of the dream of the Muslim separatists in Mindanao and hopefully put an end to their almost half a century of fighting the democratic government of the Republic of the Philippines. On another part of the equation, the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) spells the correct application of the concept of autonomy as enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. We sincerely hope that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region would be a better and more effective version of the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
To be sure if the BOL is finally ratified Mindanao will effectively have two autonomous regions one will be the BAR comprising those provinces, cities and municipalities who gave their consent to be included and the ARMM.
Is this a violation of the Constitution?
I think not because a careful reading of its provisions particularly Section 15 of the said law states that: “There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Clearly our basic law of the land provides for the creation of an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao but it does not state that the autonomous region shall be limited to only one. What the law only provides is that for Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras there must be autonomous regions to be established.
But beyond this explanation lies a deeper reason behind the establishment of autonomous regions and it is actually the necessity for some regions in the country to be allowed to have more authority and leeway to govern themselves. This is not to say that the national government will no longer have any supervision over these regions but what autonomy actually implies is the grant by higher authority of the opportunity for these regions to develop in a way and in the manner acceptable to them based on their, “common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures and other relevant characteristics” (Section 15, 1987 Philippine Constitution).
This is the dream and aspiration of our brother Muslims who yearn to govern themselves in the way and manner that they see fit and to finally break the chains of poverty and economic strife that they are experiencing for so many years.
For us in the Cordillera region, we have yet to comply with the mandate of the Constitution to have our own autonomous region. At this time we are still waiting for that golden opportunity to once again go to the ballot box and decide for ourselves whether we want to embrace the benefits offered by autonomy or remain the way we are.