COMMENT: Aquino’s Best Option (3). By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 June) – President-elect Benigno C. Aquino III has already made known his intention to resume the peace negotiation between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The question is not only “Will he succeed to have an agreement signed?” but, of more concern, “What and how will he negotiate?” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got entangled in the second.

Last June 3, the Government and the MILF signed the Interim Agreement – Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiation – intended, on the part of the Arroyo government, to pave the way for the incoming Aquino government setting the what and the how to negotiate. The Arroyo government intended to limit Aquino’s options to its intention.

GRP’s Intention

GRP chief negotiator Ambassador Rafael E. Seguis spelled out this intention in his June 2 opening remarks, “Closure and Transition Statement”, before the signing of the Interim Agreement. Seguis made a series of pronouncements:

• First, (after tracing what his panel has done): From the start, the GRP Panel declared its intention to respect the fundamental law of the land while opening the possibility for a negotiated solution that may require Constitutional change. It is of course guided by the Supreme Court’s pronouncements on the MOA-AD case.

• Second, (after interpreting the meaning of three key words in the first and third items of the Interim Agreement):

1. We cannot negotiate and adopt an agreement that is outside the boundaries of the Constitution. (Referring to “framework”, meaning “Constitution”).
2. “New formulas” may include enhanced autonomy… (Obviously referring to “negotiated solution that may require Constitutional change” in “First” above.)

What is the policy? Adhere strictly to the Constitution (Meaning: the present); be guided by the Supreme Court pronouncements; negotiate for enhanced autonomy which is within the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, not for “Bangsamoro juridical entity” agreed in the MOA-AD. This explains the GRP Draft Agreement offering enhanced autonomy while ignoring the guideline reframing the MOA-AD.

Has the Aquino government any option other than that limited to this Arroyo policy?

SC Decision

Is this Arroyo policy what the Supreme Court means by its “pronouncements” that Seguis has invoked as “guide”? Let us look into the Court Decision.

Final verdict: The Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 is declared CONTRARY TO LAW AND THE CONSTITUTION.

Fourth Paragraph of the SUMMARY: The MOA-Ad is a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001. Hence, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original.

From discussions on the President’s authority to propose constitutional amendments: As long as she limits herself to recommending these changes and submits to the proper procedure for constitutional amendments and revision, her mere recommendation need not be construed as an unconstitutional act.

From discussions on the power of the President to conduct peace negotiations: If the President is to be expected to find means for bringing this conflict [between the Government and the MILF] to an end and to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao, then she must be given the leeway to explore, in the course of peace negotiations, solutions that may require changes in the Constitution for implementation.”

To restate the evident:

• The MOA-AD is unconstitutional. However, by the “Fourth Paragraph” of the Summary, it has not been annulled.

• In the Fourth Paragraph, the Court recognizes the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of June 2001 and also the MOA-AD as “significant” and “necessary” to carry out the TAP. The recommendation: Renegotiate or revise the MOA-AD.

• In Court discussions: (1) Proposed amendments to the Constitution when properly done are not unconstitutional; (2) the Constitution may be amended to end the Mindanao conflict and bring lasting peace.

By “solutions that may require changes in the Constitution for implementation”, what does the Court mean the Constitution to be in relation to the solution of the Mindanao conflict? The Government and the MILF have contrary responses.

Agreed to Disagree

Obviously guided by the Court Decision, the Government and the MILF agreed to resume their negotiation. In their July 29, 2009 Joint Statement, they acknowledged the “MOA-AD as an unsigned and yet initialed document” and they committed “to reframe the consensus points with the end in view of moving toward the comprehensive compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement”. [Item No. 2]

To move forward, on December 9, 2009, the GRP and MILF panels agreed to draft and exchange proposed peace agreements based on a common 7-point guideline – basically an outline of the reframed the MOA-AD. While the MILF adhered to the guideline, the GRP did not.

The GRP Draft Agreement offered Enhanced Autonomy — the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to be enhanced with “doables”. Without explicitly saying so, Seguis justified this last June 2 in his statement, “We cannot negotiate and adopt an agreement that is outside the boundaries of the Constitution.”

The MILF Draft Agreement referred to the Constitution differently. In its Article II, Section 3, it proposed: “Each Party recognizes that the Constitution of the Philippines should cover a completely new document agreed in the light of an option for free association of state or union in the context of this Comprehensive Compact.” The “what” and the “how” are elaborated in subsections a, b and c.

It is significant to note: (1) by signing the July 29, 2009 Joint Statement, they agreed to be guided by the Decision of the Supreme Court on the MOA-AD; (2) in their respective drafts of their proposed Peace Agreement, they made reference to the Constitution; but (3), they differed in their views – the GRP’s, a Constitution closed and bounded by its existing provisions; the MILF’s, a Constitution open to accommodate the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

Best Option

That in its Draft Peace Agreement the MILF has recognized the Constitution as the instrument of negotiation is a very significant breakthrough which Arroyo and her peace negotiators failed to see and exploit. This is a cue that Aquino and his peace advisers should not miss.

The best option of Aquino is:

First: Study thoroughly the Supreme Court Decision on the MOA-AD and be guided by it.

Second: Reconcile the Court Decision and the MILF Draft Peace Proposal of January 11, 2010. It is most significant that the MILF, after having vehemently denied the Philippine Constitution, recognized it in Article II, Section 3 of its Draft. This section only reiterates the Court’s bidding to give the President “the leeway to explore … solutions that may require changes to the Constitution for their implementation”.

Third: Appoint peace negotiators like the Afable Panel who seek the meeting of minds “outside the 1987 constitutional box”, not the “closed-box”-minded like the Seguis Panel.

Briefly, stated: Taking off from the July 29, 2009 GRP-MILF Joint Statement on the resumption of the talks a year after the MOA-AD debacle, tackle the MILF Draft Agreement guided by the Supreme Court Decision. There should be no hitch since the MILF, by the Joint Statement, has heeded the Decision and, in its Draft, recognized the Constitution as an instrument of negotiation.

With openness and sincerity and honesty to all, the Parties, taking this option, can sign the Comprehensive Compact within a year or two.

As a footnote, Aquino must have the political will to mute the shrieks of the hawks in his government – among the fiercest being in the Liberal Party.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])

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