By Juan L. Mercado

PRESIDENT GLORIA Macapagal Arroyo  may be what   her rabid critics insist. But the lady is not dumb. She knew that the  draft  proposing   Bangsamoro Juridical Entity  to be fatally-flawed. Then, why did  she shuffle  this proposal to dismember Mindanao even  to the brink?.

A quarter-to-midnight  Supreme Court temporary restraining order derailed signing of  the Memorandum of  Agreement.  By  then,  diplomats  were in Kuala Lumpur  to witness the ceremony. Was  this  what John  Kenneth Gailbraith called: “the ingenuity of  larceny”?

Malacanang  never  officially released  the MOA, claiming “executive privilege.” This  blindfolded citizens en masse. But what  the leaked texts indicate, as ex-Senator  Franklin Drilon claims, could  be  “impeachable  ‘chop-chop’  of the  country.”

Without even a  by-your-leave., eight of  every  10 residents  in  Iligan  City, Ms Arroyo’s old hometown, for example, will be swept  into  BJE – and  come under  Sharia law?  Some  712  barangays, from Palawan  to the   Zamboanga   Peninsula , are in a similar fix.

The plan  expands “the  present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to places whose inhabitants never had any inkling that they could be part of a virtually new state,” an equally-startled Inquirer noted. The backlash to this grab-one-take-one has been understandably  furious.

Three  scholars (  Inquirer columnists all, coincidentally )  skewer  patently  unconstitutional  proposals  to gift  powers, reserved only  for  sovereign states,  on BJE..

University of the Philippines’  Raul Pangalangan  notes conduct of foreign relations, establishment of a separate financial system, even  sovereign control  over  “territorial sea” (  the band of  water, within 12 nautical miles around  coastlines) would be given away

The  MOA  accepts “Bangsamoro as a separate state, with full and expressed preference “in their favor’ in case of conflict”, notes  former Supreme Court Justice  Isagani Cruz notes  MILF is only a rebel group. Like local communists, they  haven’t won recognition as a “belligerent community.”

The MOA seeks to overhaul  the Organic Act which established the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Ateneo’s  Joaquin Bernas notes:. “These  cannot be achieved by a mere MOA. Implementation involves amending the Organic Act, even the Constitution.”But the document’s terms of reference ignore the Philippine Constitution

So what?,  snaps  Ghadzahi Jaafar,  MILF’vice chair for political affairs.. ”We don’t recognize the Constitution.” Beyond that  soundbyte,  the  historical  fact is:   21,118,209 electors cast their ballots, in the February 2,1987 referendum on the Constitution.

The “yes” votes swamped the “no” votes three-to-one.  Of  this total, 17,059,495  voted “yes”.And  5,058,714  cast a “no” vote. Over 800  thousand  of those votes came from Muslim provinces. Thus, the  Constitution  came into effect on February 11 of that year.

BJE  hasn’t  even  bothered with  a Bill of Rights, leaving  women open to abuse., Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr  has  noted. But   Filipinos take  the Constitution seriously.  Horacio Morales and local communists belatedly discovered that  when they tried  to  peddle  junta ( a  politburo  really ) rule for 1,000 days. They were snickered into silence.

“In  peace, sons bury their fathers,” Croesus once warned. “But in war, fathers bury their sons.”  The over 120,000 lives lost in Mindanao  conflicts attest to this truth. Violence is unpredictable.  Mindanao is not a war movie. Happy endings can not be scripted in. Muslims, Christian, lumads or Buddhists and atheists welcome giving  the fragile  peace process a chance to take root.

Thus, the late Pope John Paul  II  urged use of the negotiating table for the Mindano problem. This commitment to non-violence resonates in the call of Mindanao leaders like Archbishops Orlando Quevedo and Antonio Ledesma, SJ..for continued dialog, both  on legitimate Muslim grievances and equally valid rights of non-Muslims.

But  ignoring  people’s aspirations, whether expressed in Constitutions or negotiations, and keeping stakeholders in the dark, as the Arroyo regime has done, invites the  violence it claims to abhor. This  will  beat  plowshares into swords.

“Ms. Arroyo’s support…of this ploy seeks to consolidate her own hold on power,” writes Johns Hopkins   University  professor  Brett Decker in an Wall Street Journal analysis.   Expanding Muslim autonomy requires  constitutional  changes. And while the MOA would   flunk  the exercise, it  opens a door to extending presidential terms or federalism. This is a “Trojan Horse” for her drive to cling to power.

Filipinos abroad are reacting. “Ms Arroyo really has her hands tied because there are more than million Filipinos as hostages in OFW workers in Muslim countries, emails Michael Avila from Australia . “Any drastic move could threaten their vital remittances.

“ Malaysia sees her interest in Moros carving out an Islamic state in Mindanao . A strong Philippines would be a base. This makes neighbors  nervous. To prevent this, they will weaken us any way they can, he adds..

The Arroyo regime led us down the garden path by fracturing of  the Bill of Rights ( Section 7 ) “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized”. To prevent a repetition of  this BJE  fiasco, Congress should approve soonest a Freedom of Information Law.

“I’ve not become the King’s First Minister to preside over liquidation of the British Empire ”, Winston Churchill  declared   in 1930.   And in 2008, can  President Arroyo say: I’m not  president  to oversee dismemberment of  what Rizal  called   nuestro  perdido  Eden. (