How can the GRP-MILF peace process move forward?

For Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, the way forward is “for the Philippine  government and the Filipino people to amend the Constitution to allow a power-sharing arrangement contemplated in the MOA-AD between the central government and Bangsamoro entity.”

For lawyer Sedfrey Candelaria,  the chief legal consultant of the Garcia-led government peace panel that was dissolved on September 3 last year, the Supreme Court may have ruled the MOA-AD as unconstitutional but “the doors leading to Charter Change to accommodate a negotiated political settlement were definitely not closed by the Court.”

For lawyer Ishak Mastura, Deputy Executive Secretary at the Office of the Regional Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,  the Constitution should not be treated as an obstacle in the peace negotiations.

“Instead of treating the Constitution as an obstacle in the peace negotiations, we can take the view put by the study (on “Mediation and Facilitation in Peace Processes by the Center for Security Studies, Zurich, 2007), that ‘the creation of a constitution is a key component (in peace agreements).”

“What this seems to be saying is that in order for successful implementation of a peace agreement, the minority population or minority peoples have to be accommodated in a constitution’s political and social order on their own terms and not upon the majority dictates, as for example in the present Philippine Constitution,” he said.

For lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC),  one should no longer harbor the illusion that a peace agreement can still be forged under the Arroyo administration, given the fact it has only up to June 30 next year.

“That is why the advocacy work should now focus on ensuring that the Ancestral Domain will remain high in the national agenda and become an electoral issue in the 2010 synchronized elections,” she said in a paper read for her by MPC chair, Prof. Octavio Dinampo.

Candelaria quoted the Supreme Court decision as saying that “the sovereign people may, if so desired, go to the extent of giving up a portion of its own territory to the Moros for the sake of peace, for it can change the Constitution in any way it wants, so long as the change is not inconsistent with what, in international law, is known as jus cogens (compelling law)…”

The pronouncement, he said, “stands as a retort to the oppositors’ view that any changes in the Constitution as a consequence of the peace negotiations is unthinkable or impossible.”

“The doors leading to charter change to accommodate a negotiated political settlement were definitely not closed by Court,” he stressed.

Lingga said the prospects for peace in Mindanao “will remain uncertain” until the “Philippine government and Filipino people will be able to dismantle the constitutional and legal obstacles to the exercise of the internal aspect of the Bangsamoro right to self-determination.”

The MOA-AD was initialed on July 27, 2008 and was supposed to have been formally signed on August 5 in Putrajaya, Malaysia, as the last agreement on the three-item agenda of the peace talks, after security and rehabilitation, prior to the discussion of  the political settlement for what would eventually be the comprehensive compact.

But the Supreme Court, acting on a petition initiated by North Cotabato officials, issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) afternoon of August 4, preventing the government peace panel chair from signing the agreement.

The government dissolved its peace panel in the negotiations with the MILF on September 3.

The Supreme Court on October 14 declared the MOA-AD contrary to law and the Constitution.

Critics of the SC ruling have repeatedly said that, the  Supreme Court did not even bother to listen to any of the Moro groups that intervened in the case and while it cited Canadian history, did not delve into Mindanao’s history, which details, among others, the injustices done to the Moro.

Candelaria noted that the SC did not invalidate the executive orders issued in relation to the peace process.

Executive Orders 125 of 1993 and EO 3 of 2001 “recognize that the comprehensive peace process may require administrative action, new legislation or even constitutional amendments,” Candelaria said.

But “the judgment point out that EO 3 requires not just the conduct of plebiscite but regular dialogues with the National Peace Forum and other partners.”

“It is unfortunate that the Court failed to give sufficient weight to the 112 or so consultations that the GRP panel secretariat submitted for consideration,” Candelaria said, adding these consultations even involved those who petitioned for a TRO.

“A serious and incisive examination of the documented consultative fora, resolutions of  local government units and position papers, reveals consistency with EO3,” he said.

But Candelaria added that the High Court “admitted it may not require the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to conduct consultation in a  particular way or manner but may require him to comply with the law and discharge the functions within the authority granted by the President.”

“The threshold of a constitutionally compliant consultative process, however, is not clearly defined in the judgment. This is where peace negotiators and advocates may contribute in crystallizing the limits of compliance with the corresponding respect for the integrity of the confidential character of crucial stages of peace negotiations,” Candelaria said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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