CMFR Notes Exceptions to Pedestrian Coverage of BOL
A HISTORIC moment, the people of Mindanao ratified the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) on January 21, fueling the hopes for a peaceful and prosperous Mindanao. The announcement of the referendum results on January 25 capped two decades of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The ratification will make possible the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that would replace the 30-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which was called a “failed experiment” due to corruption issues and mismanagement.
But the coverage did not quite capture the significance of the holding of the plebiscite nor of its resounding approval. The coverage of the plebiscite was pretty much run-of-the-mill, with little attempt to impress on the national community the magnitude of the event, with reports enlivened with a sense of its importance to the country and the stakes reflected as the Bangsamoro moves forward to, in the words of the law: establish an enduring peace based on justice, to chart their future through a democratic process that will secure their identity and allow genuine and meaningful self-governance.
Only a few reports went beyond the mechanics, which, while necessary, hardly tell the story: reporting the conduct of the plebiscite, the vote count, and the statements of concerned parties. Few recalled the long history of the BOL. Fewer still recorded the voices who spoke of their yearning for peace, or notes the fragility of the promise of BOL unless more communities joined in the spirit of its ratification.
The coverage did little to engage the national community, to stir among the non-Bangsamoro and non-Mindanaoan Filipinos their ownership of the BOL, their acceptance and support of this national law, as it will provide for all Filipinos the dividends of peace forged in Mindanao.
CMFR monitored the broadsheets Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star; the primetime newscasts 24 Oras (GMA-7), Aksyon (TV5), News Night (CNN Philippines) and TV Patrol (ABS-CBN 2); as well as selected news websites from January 19 to 27, 2019.
Counting the Vote
The media covered the plebiscite as they do national elections by closely following developments in the polling areas. Early reports tracked the preparations for the plebiscite, including the security measures in place. Media captured the tension in some areas due to disruptions caused by the lack of personnel and delays in the delivery of voting materials, as well as alleged cases of flying voters and ballot-snatching.
The plebiscite was declared peaceful by authorities, which the broadcast media promptly noted. The Manila newspapers followed suit in their January 22 editions with similar reports.
In the days that followed, TV and print closely monitored the canvassing of votes, noting as well the reactions of various sectors to the results of the plebiscite. These included those who opposed the BOL, such as Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi who was displeased over her city’s voting in favor of the BOL. Sayadi registered her intent to question the plebiscite results due to alleged irregularities in the certificate of canvass, referring to the supposed discrepancies in the number of “yes” and “no” votes. She also claimed many voters were intimidated into voting for the BOL. The discrepancies, however, have been reconciled by the National Plebiscite Board of Canvassers upon retabulation of the canvass, putting the issue to rest.
Coverage of the plebiscite waned by the weekend.
Coverage failed to capture the import of a historic milestone
The BOL is the product of formal negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF, involving four administrations since 1996. It is an enabling measure based on two agreements previously signed by the two parties: the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsmoro (CAB) in 2014.
It has been a long and difficult journey. Peace talks nearly ended with the scuttling of the BOL’s predecessor, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The BBL was a casualty of the Mamasapano incident of January 2015, which provoked anti-Moro sentiments among lawmakers and the public, mobilized anti-Moro propaganda and galvanized resolve against then President Benigno Aquino III’s intention to pass the BBL.
At least four versions of the measure have been drafted since then, before the final version was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2018. The BOL is essentially a means to pave the way for greater autonomy and self-governance for the Bangsamoro.
A bit of history and a background to show the BOL’s crucial role in making possible an enduring peace would have helped the public to better appreciate the significance of the BOL’s ratification. But such information was scant in the coverage, if not totally missing in most media reports.
Only a few media organizations made the effort.
An explainer by Aksyon news anchor Ed Lingao on January 24 briefly recalled history and background. He noted how this is part of the implementation of the peace agreement with the MILF. The report also looked forward, explaining what will happen next, with the MILF’s transformation from a rebel group, undergoing the process of decommissioning their forces in three phases to be completed in time for the regional elections in 2022. The MILF would evolve itself to become part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which with the full force of law serve as the governing body of a new autonomous region.
The Star on January 27 provided a historical account of previous attempts at autonomy by the government and the Moro people. It recalled past agreements that led to the creation of autonomous regions in Mindanao, such as the 1976 Tripoli Agreement during the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ regime which led to the creation of the Regional Autonomous Governments of Regions 9 and 12. The report also recalled key turning points in the peace talks with the MILF, such as the ill-fated Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008, and the signing of the FAB and CAB which eventually led to the drafting of the BBL.
It has taken Rappler to report the plebiscite as it deserves to be understood and appreciated by all Filipinos.
CMFR cheers Rappler for the emphasis it gave to the importance and relevance of the BOL’s ratification not only for Mindanao but also for the entire country.
In its January 19 article, Rappler asked: “What is at stake in the plebiscite and why should it matter to Filipinos?” The piece moved away from the mechanics and the technical aspects, projecting the drama of the event in stirring reportage that identifies the vote as more than just a regional issue, but one that matters to all Filipinos.
Rappler said that many believe that the BOL is “Mindanao’s best chance for peace and progress.” It could end the conflict, lead to the development of the region, and improve the people’s quality of life. Implementing the BOL and constituting the BARMM will also mean that the Bangsamoro people “will be finally recognized before the law as a people with a distinct historical and cultural identity.”
The article went further to analyze the possible impact of BARMM and its relevance to the efforts to adopt federalism as a mode of government.
The BARMM “is a test for even bigger, nationwide changes,” the report said; observing those who are waiting to see if its success could lead to the creation of more regions with similar powers given to the BARMM.
But the opposite could happen as well. Prof. Ela Atienza, chairperson of the UP Department of Political Science, told Rappler that if the BARMM solves Mindanao’s problems, then President Duterte might no longer see the need for federalism. “If the issue is Mindanao, why change the system? If [the BARMM] works, maybe there is no need to change the entire political system,” Atienza said.