PEACETALK: Declare GRP-MILF negotiations as constitutional negotiations. By Bong Montesa

MANILA (MindaNews/08 August) — If there is one thing that President Noy Aquino can do that will send a strong signal that the Government has the political will to solve the Bangsamoro problem (which, in turn, will create a groundswell of support for peace in Mindanao), it is to declare the present negotiations between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as constitutional negotiations.

At its core, the Bangsamoro Problem is sovereignty-based and requires a restructuring of the basic relationship between the Filipino people and the Bangsamoro people. Since that basic relationship is defined by the Constitution, then an amendment of the Constitution to reflect a changed relationship, a common vision is needed.

As Sol Santos eloquently puts it: “The need for some constitutional restructuring becomes further evident when looking at legal and scholarly studies which show that Philippine constitutional arrangements have been a major part of the Bangsamoro problem. The structural relationship between the Philippine state and the Bangsamoro people is a basic part of this problem. Such kind of structural relationship is a constitutional matter. ”

The MILF, in behalf of the Bangsamoro people, have always insisted that the present conflict is sovereignty-based and stemmed from their illegal and immoral incorporation into the Philippine State without their “plebiscitary consent”. Stated in simple terms, the argument of the MILF is that the exercise of sovereignty by the Philippine Government over the Bangsamoro people is illegal and without basis since Spain never exercised actual sovereignty over them and therefore, no sovereignty was transferred to the United States by virtue of the Treaty of Paris. Ultimately and by the very same logic, no sovereignty over the Bangsamoro people was transferred by the United States to the Philippine State by virtue of Tydings-MacDuffie Law and the consequent ratification of the 1935, 1973, Freedom and 1987 Philippine Constitutions. You cannot give what you do not have.

By “constitutional” negotiations, I mean that, at the onset, it must be made clear that the aim, scope and purpose of the negotiations between the Government and the MILF is to restructure the basic relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Filipino. This will be done through an amendment of the Constitution. This is not to say  that the negotiations will not be subject to the Constitution. The negotiations will always be subject to the Constitution since the authority of the President to negotiate with the MILF is defined and limited ultimately by the Constitution. What is needed is a declaration that while the GRP-MILF negotiations is subject to the Constitution, the aim is to transform the basic relationship of the Filipino and the Bangsamoro, to rectify historical injustice by amending and changing the Constitution. This should be the starting point.

(PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wants to contribute his/her share for peace in Mindanao. Camilo “Bong” Montesa was a former Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and a former member of the technical committee of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF).

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