PEACETALK: Substate, a Solvent Political Option

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/19 August) — In the Philippines, cynicism is common in journalism but weirdness is routinely in politics.  It was more than cynical for Armando Doronila (PDI, 17 August 2011), a well-respected columnist and long-time opinion maker, to react to the proposal of the Moro revolutionary movement for a “substate.”

There’s nothing bestial about a substate where there’s a parent state.  The twin realities of politics of conflict of personalities and business as usual coverage by media loomed more like beasts.  The astonishment of the Aquino-Murad meeting in Tokyo deserves to come in for more enlightened analysis of the ambiguity of the substate than of truncating the republic.  Substate is a solvent political option juxtaposed opposite mainstreaming-mongering in which conventionality is the test of an idea, not logic or reason.

So: nondisclosure, yes—when confidentiality produces classified information.  As a product of the era of conspiratorial paradigm of secrecy, Doronila has only dated himself.  Just like I said before, my retort to critics of the Bangsamoro juridical entity then was there’s nothing wicked about the MOA-AD.  Just the same we face a choice (correction: not an ultimatum) if we are to move forward with resolve, or we can go on for generations in a state of denial simply to pass it on to the next presidency.

Why should Filipinos take offense when the Moros are bound up with separatist sentiments for failure to seek a negotiated political solution?  Doronila is misinformed about the MILF leadership holding President Aquino III hostage to its draft.  The context of my interview with the PDI reporter was that “the President told the MILF Chairman political reform is long and difficult.”  To my mind, so is any serious reform agenda hard because it requires fundamental changes.  The revolutionary idea of a modern state was a polity characterized by homogeneity.  Thus it was shared by enlightened eighteenth-century reformers ‘as not one fractured by differences’ of language, ethnicity, and religion.  To bind the people (populations) of their state together, European reformers wanted to eliminate these differences within their national boundaries.  The American revolutionaries were no different insofar it was a requisite to achieve ‘a more perfect union’ as well as an explanatory argument for retaining their residual state rights within the political contrivance of federation.

Whatever might be said about the Substate there’s no proposal for partition of the host state in the draft.  Trying to extract some kind of premium or worthwhile significance my account was that the original MILF draft demanded “unity with option to secede” similar to the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army.  Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had much more difficulty relating to his commanders in the field when he conferred with General James Garang of the SPLA.  The basis of statehood, and of unity, can gain acceptance of the incorporation of the Bangsamoro areas with the maintenance of ‘state rights’ derivative or inherent now listed in the Draft as exclusive, concurrent and residual in the Annexure.

So why are non-Moro commentators or political elites still talking about dismemberment?  This seriously misreads the decade of armed struggle by those who seek to torture its cause.   Cynics and critics should address instead the Bangsamoro Question with adequate treaty provisions from which we have drawn historical antecedents or constitutional act of settlement.  Were a Bangsamoro substate to occur in Mindanao, we would not embark upon “the imagination of the Islamic separatist movement” in the Philippines in their exposition of it as a historic nation.  Contemporary debates on Muslim polity deserve more space than available here.  Far from it, I want to encourage my favorite analyst Doro Doronila to keep abreast with contemporary readings on ‘earned’ or ‘shared’ sovereignty contemporaneous with the emergent regime of lex pacificatoria for new formula arrangement.

Many among op-editorial writers would be surprised to discover that there no longer is a “constitutional default position” where polities agree on an institutional form of hybrids for pragmatic political solutions rather than in theoretical purity.   The unincorporated U.S. territory known as the Philippine Islands was not a compact of sovereign peoples but a commonwealth, it was a mercantilist idea.  Indeed the code word “economic rents” that comes from mining, oil, and gas is what MILF is contesting in terms of economic development and creation of wealth from resources within their ancestral domain. Government negotiators must not confuse or obfuscate basic services development with projects that seek “economic rents” being the true value of goods.

For the sake of clarity, we may distinguish three institutional models or varieties of union.  At its initial stage Belgium prior to becoming a non-unitary form thus combined elements of shared-rule through common institutions with regional self-rule through constituent units.  Here we need only cast a cursory glance at transforming the unitary structure like the Philippines to admit of a degree of power sharing and wealth sharing to change the constituent parts.  Indeed, it is rather by abuse of language of the majority and the political class at the seat of power that “the rights remedy only” for MILF assertion of ancestral domain has been denominated outright secessionist.

The MILF substate model is not novel after all, nor a rare functioning entity.  How do you go about this within the framework of an asymmetrical formula?  What we are contemplating resembles the United Kingdom’s descriptive term “federal devolution” loosely used in current discourse on constitutional change as applied to the whole country (not just parts of it such as Scotland and Wales or Ireland).  This mechanism avoids confusion with strict federalism—which is not a descriptive but normative term—for the advocacy of multi-tier government.  Nonetheless, the context of the MILF draft proposal combines elements of shared powers and substate self-governance for accommodating their distinct identities and yearning to exercise the right to determine their future political status.

No, I am not merely reinventing the concept of sovereign state (as Doronila impresses upon his readers), because, as a young constitutional delegate I already sought knowledge in Scotland, in 1970s, to observe the debates and referendum on devolution.  Twenty years after, the abortive Scotland Act of 1978 in contrast to the Scotland Act of 1998 has provided lists of the reserved, not the devolved, functions carried out at UK level.  Today, anything not specifically reserved, hence residual is vested in the Scottish substate.  Consider the cycle of abolition of the schemes for instituting autonomy after the abolition of the Moro Province that continue to founder with resentment against an agricultural colony of Christian settlements and agrarian violence. Whereas the 1976 Tripoli Agreement after two decades in contrast to the Jakarta Accord of 1996 existing security doctrinal prism despite MNLF demobilization and reintegration does not even clearly thwart the blurring relationship between soldiery and policing work in the Muslim autonomous region.

Asymmetrical relations define the bifurcation of state-substate as a “think-piece” to test political maturity with the value of unity and diversity in divided societies.  The manifold links between Britain and Scotland or Northern Ireland in finding a stable constitutional settlement have not been contained within a framework of total separation or partition.  And more to this point, Doronila’s piece misleads his readers for indeed we could turn Britain into a quasi-federal state, still asymmetrical, with a rough “balance of power” between the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and the English regions.   In Spain, a distinction was made between Cataluna and the Basque country (so-called historic communities) corresponding perhaps to Scotland.  The irreformability of the Philippine unitary state is unacceptable driving the MILF to the Puerto Rico model only to demonstrate how federacies occur where a large unit is linked to small unit/units that retains substantive power relationship which can be dissolved only by mutual agreement.

If the Bangsamoro substate comes about this way, it would be characteristic of maturity in constitutional reforms through pragmatic necessity, not on the acceptance of appeasement or compromise but the participation of subnational as well as national governments in the decision-making processes.

If the MILF draft seeks to introduce the principle of subsidiarity that some of the functions of the state are best carried out at subnational level, it is an excellent illustration of the German Laender states. Yet, to be sure, there is a pre-existing Moro affinity with the Malay Negri states nurtured by the sultanates.

Why Armando Doronila felt compelled to call the proposal a “mongrelized state” is a resort to or an attempt to “get over with it” at once just as he had doused enthusiasm for “the universe of the possible” including constitutional change Dean Marvic Leonin said.  When I make this argument with friends we end up with anecdotal alibis that Doronila being a man of probing intelligence is curious and knows his own limitations.

By measures both objective and subjective, this misses the point about making President Aquino III the object propaganda apparatus.  Doronila wrote that I tried to picture “the President’s Tokyo talks with Murad as a cheap publicity stunt to enhance his popularity.”  This charge seems to have clarified things for Doronila but with a wrong premise.  Why say that when I was there making “no story” about “a four eyes only” meeting?   Paraphrasing my challenge was of no moment to media milage.  To use our draft as a “working draft” was already placed at the negotiating table at the very inception of the resumption of Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wants to share his/her views on peace in Mindanao. Lawyer and historian Michael O. Mastura is a senior member of the MILF peace panel negotiating with the government).