Power Shifts: Milestones and Muni-muni

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Saturday, March 29, 2014


THIS week is truly eventful on several fronts for Filipinos, what with many milestones occurring within the period.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed on March 27 in Malacanang, a year and five months after the Framework Agreement was inked by the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act although signed on March 8, 2004 actually came into effect on March 27 of the same year, and is thus marking a decade of implementation. And on March 29, the country will join the global campaign for Earth Hour. Power shifts are a thread that runs through these seeming different milestones and have become the focus of my muni-muni.

Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the GPH panel, described the CAB as cognizant of the "justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people, their aspiration for meaningful autonomy through a democratic process; the aim of finding a solution to the Bangsamoro question with honor, justice, and dignity; the aim to end the fighting between the government and the MILF and promote peace and stability; the recognition of the responsibilities of the parties to protect and enhance the rights of the Bangsamoro people and all other inhabitants, correct historical injustice, and equitably diffuse wealth and political power."

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The CAB signals shifts in the power relations between central government and the upcoming Bangsamoro autonomous political entity. The CAB's component Annex on Power Sharing elaborates on a relationship that is premised on respect for identity and self-governance, thus addressing centuries old issues of disempowerment, power abuse and marginalization.

However, for the relationship and its manifestations to be effectively reconfigured, the CAB has to be translated into the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will in turn have to be enacted by the Philippine Congress. It is recognized that this lawmaking process, dominated as it were by the political elites of the country who are either misinformed or apathetic to the struggles of the Bangsamoro or out rightly opposed to it, could potentially throw a monkey wrench into the 17-year effort of the government and the MILF to arrive at a peaceful and political settlement.

Another concern is whether the CAB would indeed successfully diffuse political power or merely abet its transfer from one group to another. Issues of culture and history also come into play, as different models of governance will have to be looked into. There are those who advocate for more prominent roles to be given to the traditional leaders such as the Datus and Sultans. There are those who are for practices that are perceived to be more in synch with Islamic belief; arguing that these connect well with people's beliefs, without necessarily transforming the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity into an Islamic state.

For me, any shifts in power relations involving the Bangsamoro will necessarily have a collective aspect as the people and its political representation continue to redefine and rearticulate themselves in relation to the central government (vertical), and the rest of the country (horizontal). But equally inescapable would be questions about power shifts within Bangsamoro society.

How would the individual women and men inside Bangsamoro society partake of and participate in the power structure? Applying the same descriptors used by Professor Coronel-Ferrer in describing the CAB and its intentions, would individuals in the Bangsamoro experience and wield meaningful autonomy and experience democracy? Would females and males regardless of age, ethnicity, class and belief be accorded honor, justice, and dignity? Would the promotion, fulfillment and claiming of rights, the correction of historical injustice, and equitable diffusion of wealth and political power benefit the marginalized families and communities in the Bangsamoro?

RA 9262, commonly known as the Anti-VAWC law, protects the rights of women and their children. There is recognition that unequal power relations make women and children vulnerable to violence that can take the forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence, and economic abuse. There have been many gains from the implementation of the law and these should be celebrated. But the challenge of staying vigilant and addressing power relations remains. The forms of violence against women and children may shift shapes, guises and degrees as the social milieu changes. But for as long as unequal power relations between and among men and women in our country exist -- abetted, justified and transmitted by societal processes - our women and children are at risk from violence.

For this year, Earth Hour rather tongue-in-cheek calls for people to "use your power" obviously referring to the exercise of different forms of power, rather than the use of electricity.

Organized annually by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Earth Hour 2014 still advocates that non-essential lights are turned off from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on March 29, Saturday. But beyond this the call is to get involved in concrete campaigns to protect the environment. The Earth Hour Blue was launched as an "all-new digital crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platform for the planet... to capture the power of the crowd and engage people around the world beyond the lights out event". WWF-Philippines for instance has a "Bancas for the Philippines" project to provide assistance to fisherfolk whose means of livelihood were affected by Typhoon Yolanda. Local business establishments in Davao like the Reggae Bar and Grill at Pryce Business Park are supporting this drive.

Regardless of our stations in life we are never bereft of power, to change, to build, and to rebuild ourselves and our worlds. So we have to cultivate and wield our power sources in ways that do not overwhelm and lead us astray.

Besides, you know what they say about power. It's not the size (of your resource or abilities); it's how you use it. And if you don't use it, you could lose it to those whose intentions might not be respectful of individual, societal and environmental wellbeing.

Email feedback to magszmaglana@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 29, 2014.

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