OPINION: Just a question of coordination

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Jan 03 2020 11:43 AM

If only government agencies really coordinate, perhaps we can avoid precipitous, even reckless reaction from our officials. In the first place, when in government, it might be best, in fact it is the standard, that officials use formal mechanisms in doing official work. The very reason why the government is an institution is that it is supposed to be impersonal. No doubt, emotions are part of being a person, regardless of being an official of government. Precisely why norms are established and expected to be followed, so that some level of objectivity can be maintained.

When our Secretary of Foreign Affairs (SFA) Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted his disapproval of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Chief Minister (CM) Murad Ebrahim’s official visit to Turkey and meeting various Turkish government agencies there, it didn’t look like it was official. It was more a tantrum than an official act of an SFA.

SFA tweeted “Firing a diplomatic protest against Turkey; study charges vs. Filipino BARMM officials involved. If not repudiated by Ankara NOW I propose breaking diplomatic relations. A slap at Philippine sovereignty and an attack on our territorial unity and integrity. Reeks of a Sellout.” It is a statement that obviously was an instant judgment that the visit was unauthorized and therefore should be sanctioned. Yes, he was acting as an individual as he says “I propose breaking diplomatic relations”, but unfortunately, he is not just any individual, he is “the” SFA, so whatever he says will be considered as the act of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and therefore official and or final.

I may be wrong, I would rather be wrong, as I don’t remember any SFA before who would say something personal first before doing anything official. In the first place, of all the agencies, the DFA is the agency we expect more professionalism from as it is our face to the whole world.

So, there’s the irony. The SFA was reacting unofficially to what he thought was an unauthorized therefore also “unofficial” visit by the BARMM CM. Even if it was true that the visit was unofficial, the action by the SFA was still unusual, especially since it was an international incident. It has been the public persona of the Secretary to react vigorously on issues and that’s okay (in fact, I agree with many of his positions on various issues), but this involves another country and an ally at that. There has to be some reason why foreign affairs officers are called “diplomats”.

Then again, if there was coordination, this could have been averted. Regardless of one’s personal position and or biases for and against BARMM, laws are already there and should be the basis of any and all action on BARMM.

BARMM is not just a result of the government’s peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). BARMM is the fulfillment of the key provision in the 1987 Constitution, setting aside an autonomous regional government for Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera (Section 1, Article X). This is but one of the concrete steps on autonomy of “the territorial and political subdivisions," a key principle embodied in our constitution (Section 25, Article II; Section 2, Article X).

These mean that BARMM is not just any local government. In fact, 
it is comprised of local government units (LGUs) within its territory, consistent with the constitution’s characterization of an autonomous region, i.e. consisting of “provinces, municipalities and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics…” (Section 15, Article X).

This is the very reason why BARMM has been endowed with powers beyond what any LGU has been given in R.A. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). It is granted “Self-Governance”, the power “to pursue its political, economic, social, and cultural development as provided for in this Organic Law” (BOL Section 2, Article IV). Specific to the CM’s official trip to Turkey is the authority given to BARMM on “cultural exchange, economic and technical cooperation”, including “trade and industry” (BOL Section 2, letters o and zz, Article V).

Evidently, these powers coincide with the functions of various national government agencies (NGAs), one of which is that of the DFA. This is why, as it is in other countries where autonomous territories are created, there is a particular dynamic of relations with the national government that is always provided. This is found in a whole article on intergovernmental relations in the BOL (Article VI). This is the very heart of the issue that led the SFA to rail against the CM’s visit to Turkey. This is the reason why a thorough understanding could have been considered before taking action, as it is something that is entirely new in the country’s political and administrative system.

Governments all over the world know that there is such a thing as a special relationship between national governments and autonomous governments or autonomous territories. Turkey must have welcomed the BARMM CM as an official of the Republic of the Philippines with this consideration. In the first place, no foreign government would welcome a foreign guest in an official capacity without the proper papers and processes followed. If there was something amiss, it could not be the fault of the foreign country but ours.

There are various intergovernmental mechanisms created by the BOL, different councils and boards created for specific purposes. It would be best if these mechanisms are already put in motion so that we don't get ourselves in another delicate situation where it will only show how ill-prepared we are. 

More than anything, there has to be a sustained and effective effort to popularize what BARMM is, especially its nature as a territory and political subdivision of the country, specifically for our government officials. In time, everyone will be properly informed and adequately tooled to respond to similar cases like this as there will, for sure, be similar cases that will happen.

It was a good thing that Turkey’s Ambassador to the Philippines was responsive and wasted no time seeing the SFA to avert the situation. Imagine if this was not the case and it actually escalated to breaking diplomatic ties with Turkey.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.