Amending the Constitution: for foreigners or term extension, yes; for self-determnation, no

Leonen, who delivered the keynote address at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao (ISCM) on Monday morning, asked these questions as government, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, civil society and residents in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao await  the resumption of the peace talks. The Supreme Court,  by a vote of 8-7, declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of the government and MILF peace panels, unconstitutional.

The SC decision has been assailed by critics for, among others, allegedly not allowing “thinking out of the box” with several justices saying, among others, that the President “may negotiate but only within the parameters of the Constitution.”

“I wonder why when foreign chambers of commerce say that we should change the nationalistic provisions in Article 12 of our Constitution, suddenly our political leaders want to change the provisions of the Constitution. I wonder why, whenever some person who wants to run for a fourth time in congress or a third time as a Senator suddenly says that it is important to look at parliamentary system of government or semi-parliamentary, semi-federal form of government, they .. initiate changes to the Constitution but whenever we talk about self-determination, many people upstairs, those in power, become allergic,.” Leonen said.

“Do we listen only to foreigners? Do we listen only to people who are… in power? Or should we listen more to people who keep on saying, ‘you forgot us in your history, you forgot our culture, you hid our culture behind the concept of what is a Filipino, you hid our language in the concept of a national language,  you hid our aspirations behind the barrel of a gun,’ and therefore I think  it is important that we open our minds to actually looking at establishing that political leverage in order for people to be at that bargaining table whenever that negotiation happens.”

He listed at least 11 times when the Philippine Constitution underwent changes, from that Biak –na-Bato Constitution to the1 987 Constitution.

“This should be what we should aspire for as model – a Constitution that is constantly being reflected upon, debated upon, and as soon as the dominant political powers change and hopefully they truly represent the people – the masses — our people – change for the better,” he said.

At the height of the controversy over the MOA-AD in August, House Speaker Prospero Nograles pushed for Charter Change through House Resolution 737,  which seeks to scrap the 40% limit on foreign ownership, thereby allowing the “acquisition by foreign corporations and associations and the transfer or conveyance thereto, of alienable public and private lands.”

In a press statement in September, Nograles said he filed HR 737 because of his “frustration in finding solutions that would end the four decades of armed conflict in some parts of Mindanao” which he said “is trapped in a chicken and egg situation.”

He said “despite its natural wealth, fertile soil and favorable climate, Mindanao has remained at the tail-end of investment destinations in the Philippines because of the insurgency problem in the region.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Avelino Razon in the afternoon session told the conference that government will “endeavor to put a closure” to the discussions on the ancestral domain aspect of the talks by way of “exploring possibilities to renegotiate the MOA-AD in accordance with the parameters and principles reflected in the decision of the Supreme Court.”

By a vote of 8-7, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the MOA-AD but noted that “surely, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one will be drawn up to carry out the Ancestral Domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, in another or in any form, which could contain similar or significantly drastic provisions.”

Earlier, Sedfrey Candelaria, chief legal consultant of the Garcia-led government peace panel that was dissolved on September 3 told the  3rd Consolidation for Peace in Mindanao conference  in Penang, Malaysia last January that the Supreme Court may have ruled the MOA-AD  unconstitutional but “the doors leading to Charter Change to accommodate a negotiated political settlement were definitely not closed by the Court.”

Candelaria quoted the SC as saying “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 said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)