OUR PEACE: Substate, Senate, and Democratic Debate

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/28 August) – One of the painful lessons that the negotiators, stakeholders and general public learned from the dramatic fall of the MOA-Ancestral Domain, forged between the Philippine and Bangsamoro panels in Kuala Lumpur in 2008, was the need for openness and transparency in the negotiation process. Its particular, relative absence until then was one of the adverse observations made by the Supreme Court when it ruled the MOA-AD as unconstitutional. Hence, the resumption of the negotiation this year has been attended by a great deal of public consultations not only by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but civil society as well.

Notwithstanding those preparatory consultations, including the quantum meeting between President Aquino and MILF chief Ebrahim Murad in Tokyo, the talks’ second round scheduled for August 22-24 was prematurely terminated on the second day. It came after the rebel side rejected the government’s counterproposal to the MILF’s avowed bottom-line demand for the creation of a so-called substate in ancestral communities. The momentum and spirit of goodwill that animate the present process is thankfully keeping the doors open, but only just so.

The beauty behind the government’s “3-in-1” counterproposal and MILF’s “1 for all” compact is that real-life mathematics knows no bounds and therefor the negotiation can – and should – continue on a very democratic way. The negotiators’ academic and technocratic formulations can be shuffled to redeem themselves and save the peace process when applied to actual social, political and economic realities, which are increasingly fluid and dynamic in today’s world (case in point is the Arab Spring). All it requires from all sides and sectors is absolute honesty, which as we know is the best policy as well as the first principle of any kind of mathematics.

In ancient Greece, that cradle of democracy, important pubic issues or questions were debated in the Areopagus, a council in whose deliberations the citizenry would actively participate. Thusly, wisdom from all over is shared and the wisest decisions are made for the good of all, especially the people’s future welfare and security. The GPH-MILF negotiation should not degenerate into a crass contest of Constitutional or political eruditions or one-upmanships (I’m smarter than you), but a pragmatic and honest collaborative sharing of wisdoms of what is best and practicable for this but especially future generations, for our children.

One way to level up this indispensable public involvement in the peace process is to submit the questions, the hardest of which is about the “substate”, before the wisdom of Congress. The Senate especially can serve as its “Areopagus”. With its clean hands (honesty!) and of all those who shall come to speak in its sacred hall, Congress can do more to achieve Mindanao’s longed-for peace than anyone or anything else – Kuala Lumpur included. Heroic sacrifices/investments from all concerned, too, may be crucial to the blossoming of a Mindanao miracle.

This is republican democracy, by which we – including modernizing Islamic societies that are now beginning to see – stand or fall today. Such respectful process alone may already be the subliminal peace we seek in our society of mirrors. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Our Peace is written by the Peace Advocates Zamboanga.)