“Consti experts” work on “fast mode” for gov’t peace panel’s revised draft pact

Dureza has been pushing for the Cabinet’s plan to have the 1987 Constitution amended
to allow for a “federal framework for the Bangsamoro,” a proposal that is not among the consensus points reached by the government and MILF peace panels.

Providing a “federal framework” is the only intent of the Charter Change they want done through a Constituent Assembly, he said.

“The details are being worked out. The panel is still working on it. Our Constitutional experts are working on it. And ultimately, Congress will be the one who will make the final determination (on the) formulation because it is Congress that will pass the resolution that will convert itself into a constituent assembly but what we want as a way forward is to provide a federal framework so that when the details are worked out in the negotiations, the way is clear so that we can really respond to the Bangsamoro aspirations,” he said.

Dureza had earlier told MindaNews the proposal does not mean shifting from a Presidential system of government to a federal system.

But asked how a federal set-up within a Presidential system can work, he replied: “when you amend the Constitution to provide a federal framework, it is merely a framework. The details will have to be done by legislation so we leave that to Congress later on to really come up with a…  You amend merely the Constitution to allow a federal framework to emerge but the details that you want to know now will have to be fleshed out by Congress because that’s where lies their competence.”

He declined to name the “Constitutional experts”  but replied “there are fathers and mothers” when asked if a Catholic priest was among them.

Dureza said he has met the team, the number of which he would not also divulge, “several times” and that the team met with the government peace panel last Saturday.

Dureza did not also say what provisions in the Constitution they are proposing to be amended. “You wait until our Constitutional group will come out..”

But he hinted at Article X which provides for the creation of an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, when a publisher said there were questions if the Bangsamoro federal set-up “will be carved out from what?”

Dureza said, “do not forget that we have the ARMM already as an experiment to a federal set-up. We just have to enhance it. It’s not plucking it out of nowhere.”

“This is hypothetical, to clear your mind. Can we not provide an amendment to the Constitution that will say a federal set-up in the Bangsamoro or any other area that is ready to shift already by way of legislation that only Congress is the one who will make a determination as to whether a cluster is ready already?” Dureza said.

“One unit that can be a very good start is ARMM plus other territories, di ba?”  (right?)” he said.

Dureza said the proposal, which he says is still being studied by the Constitutional experts is “not a trial balloon.”

“This is a work in earnest…. It’s something that we’d like to give our best shot on,” he stressed.

Asked if the team was given a timetable, Dureza answered, “we are on a fast mode.”

In November 2007, Dureza expressed optimism that by March 2008, the unimplemented provisions of the 1996 peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the peace pact with the MILF shall have been “downloaded” into bills and consolidated because without a new set-up, the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will have to continue. The ARMM has a three-year term of office, until 2011. President Arroyo’s term of office ends 2010.

Campaign period of the AMRM elections begins in the last week of June.

“My timeline has not changed,” he told reporters at the family-owned Seagull Beach Resort after the board meeting of the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) and the agencies dealing with the transfer of the national office of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Davao City.

Dureza said his “best-case scenario” now “is that when the elections in the ARMM will take place, before that we can have something..”

“We’re on the fast mode. We don’t want to lose the enthusiasm . a lot of enthusiasm for final settlement. We’ve gone this far already,” Dureza said.

He expressed confidence there is a bipartisan support in Congress for the proposed amendment.

“Does the President have the numbers (in Congress),” Dureza was asked. He changed the topic.

Secretary Norberto Gonzales, National Security Adviser, who was also present, told reporters separately that the proposed federal state, which he acknowledged was not part of the consensus points reached by the government and the MILF,  is “actually at the informal level, being mentioned (by the MILF) because when you look at the package of the MILF, they’re really looking at something like…statehood and that is not possible.. in the terms of our Constitution today. But the idea of federalism, the … Bangsamoro states will be possible but of course that will call for a Constitutional amendment and I think given our political climate, anything about Charter Change is suspect so that would be the difficulty there.”

Gonzales explained the need to amend the Constitution had become necessary “because we cannot enter into agreement outside the Constitution.”

Gonzales said that when he was involved in the peace talks, “we were not discussing anything political. That’s why it led to the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Agency. During those times, I was insisting on discussing the political issues. They were insisting on economic and social issues.”

“This time it’s being raised. The political issue being raised is territory and the format of that kind of region or how that territory will be governed. Some are definitely outside the framework of our present Constitution so the solution there is charter change,” he said.

Gonzales is aware the ARMM election period is about to begin but said, “there are certain issues that we cannot rush just because elections are coming. We cannot rush it if we cannot agree. The problem of the government is that it cannot give something that it cannot grant. If what they’re asking for is outside the constitutional framework then we cannot give,” he said.

“Let’ smake this clear. This peace process is very important. We want to finish it within our watch. But we cannot sacrifice content. If we cannot finish it in 2010, so be it,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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