PEACETALK: Grounding the Substate Differently

A couple of days after the national dailies unloaded the Aquino-Murad Tokyo episode that began on the front page, the newspaper readership in general has not lost interest in it as an event in foreign policy.  Websites uploaded it with a global reach and meanwhile the lead story about the MILF proposal coded “substate” jumped inside to the commenting community.  Obviously, what make op-ed pages are the differences of opinion.  Now it is a question of molding public opinion that in a hybrid structure agreed on the broadest concept of “pact” you have a basic tension.


If you doubt this typology anyway you will not find the substate word itself in the text of the comprehensive compact MILF draft.  But what is startling to me is that journalistic pathology (if not faulty character) gets almost everything Muslim on the wrong side.  By having failed to do justice to whatever exhaustion of Moro “rights remedy only” is denial of conflict.   Much of this stuff of op-ed pieces stir more memories of antagonism that is a catalogue of specifics affixed with label currently cast as “beast” (Doronila, PDI), “mayhem” (Paredes, Malaya), “sob state” (Villanueva, PhilStar).  Still, an explanation that fails to provide the specificity has no explanatory power.  I love newspapers but ours are becoming subset of the electronics media, if they are not already subset in content.  Never mind the ultra-imaginative flair for fearsome “Micha” subalterns (Bondoc, PhilStar); it is polemical to the point of stereotype and media hype.  That’s bad news for the bigot-provoking heated commentary blinded by the Micha (a surrogate for fundamentalist far right Catholicism and Protestantism) alliance of establishmentarians footing the bills for the roguish negative ads during the MOA-AD litigation.


My observation turns to this point immediately because public discourse demands a higher rationality with deep arguments, not rhetorical publicity.  I have suitably updated the generic phrase “juridical entity” for those who still do not “get it” right in my piece “Substate, a Solvent Option” (PDI found no reply space; download at luwaran website and mindanews website).  The solvency of the ‘substatal’ governments I have sketched is somewhat different to illustrate subnational/ plurinational demands for devolution.   Its concrete manifestations are: transformative method, revolutionary will, and progressive base for the modern theory of balancing powers, with a different principle for shared authority and wealth sharing arrangements.  If we limit the ambit to Philadelphia experiment, the question about the possibilities seems to be basically a negative one.  How it is possible to talk about ‘family resemblances’ when as Joaquin Bernas (PDI) opines the substate “dream” will not fit into the structure of the present Constitution?


Ask why, for statecraft practitioners, the task of construction of nation is never completed. When the French in their modernity posit that ‘in true democracy the political State disappears’ the question turns to what disappears?  This premise has implications for our understanding of sovereignty-based struggle today.   Western social scientists of the 1950s thought of nation and citizenry as one embodied in the idea of the UN.  On the question of status, by late 1960s, former overseas territories fitted the standard description of “sovereign states” through 1970s and 1980s.  In this particular march of history the Philippines is included in the diversity of political status, and “national liberation” was presumed to coincide with the diversified reality of decolonization.  From the perspective of the 1990s, conflating nationality with territorial order was increasingly at odds with spatial structure of the international economy contemporaneous with the collapse of the USSR.   At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the state-territorial model does not fit neatly into the EU reality.


The status option for the Bangsamoro—though by no means exhaustive—points to the varieties of totality of relationships as well as the intricacies of constitutional and international law.  Granted, under the republican state, a schema of “united public opinion” is necessary for democracy, if we are ready to apply the non-coercive approach to the Mindanao conflict.


At stake, this specification in deeply divided societies is the key: democracy or partition.  That the range of political opinion is up against the MILF Substate proposal means the logical Idea functioning is not conformed to the nature of the modern Filipino republican state.  At any rate, let us set aside for the moment partition; for admittedly the MILF comprehensive draft contains no “option to secede” clause.  Grounding the MILF position on the “different moments” of our people’s life specific to democratic modernity does not dismiss the concept of the nation-state and that of politics.


And that is the point.  Is there nothing to build upon democracy to change majoritarian attitudes towards the unitary State structure implanted in the Philippines unless certain ready-made political differentiation is deployed?  Is it not time now for the parties of change (not the filibusters of status quo) at the metropolitan power center?


My argument about the bankruptcy of the ARMM is bolstered by its failure as an experiment.  So far, it is enigmatic why the MILF justification for resisting the offer is not listened to carefully.  This validates the MILF position that the majority Filipino political elite rarely listen to the force of argument about power asymmetries.  Once unveiled as a mere rationalization, the substantive parts of the MILF draft formulate the corrective features based on salient episodes of the history of Bangsamoro as a decent people.  Yet it is by no means self-evident in each instance that we marked dependency/ subordination in the events leading to the 1914 abolition of self-rule under the Moro Province—or as a closed-country model whether in the economic or political realms—because, it simply did not fit the retrocession of Hong Kong by the 1990s.


There are two originalities here: the territorial termination policy placing them under a Department of Mindanao and Sulu and thus overriding their distinct and separate governance; and the other, the reduction policy to the extent of the course urged upon the path of Islamic institutions trapped in the suzerain of Sulu as the “head of the Mohammedan Church” (sic).  This is an example of surface framing in place but its meaning and future was uncertain in continuum.  With yet rather incongruous, facetious caricature, this anomaly has posed a Moro dilemma to a Statist secularist or a Secular religionist.  It is a misreading of the Moro narrative that Muslim identity formation had not articulated a way to legitimize the Islamic resistance against oppression.


How could it have been crafted otherwise?  Here we detect status deficiency in parity of esteem: the downgrading of Moro identity under the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes.  The notion of identity is problematic, but if we look at historical precedents, there have been cycles of abolition of the Commission type of “special relationship” with the National Government.  Serious commentators have recognized these realities long before. That is why the Commission for Filipino Muslims and Mindanao Development Authority evoke bitter memories as they are a shameful replay of events thirty years earlier.   To date of course, coding and decoding narratives in specific ways inscribe the ongoing process of turning peasants and masses of people into Bangsamoro with lived memories of the past rather than a hyphenated identity.

When we, as readers or observers, ask what are we negotiating about to analyze the production of meanings as it pertains to the notion that people and government are not identical?


Acknowledgement of the historical injustices against the Moro and indigenous peoples is a starter for the substantive part of GPH proposal to set in motion a cascade of changes and reforms.  Allow me to elaborate.  Basing the MILF offer on the widest typologies of accords, grounding a Substate is rooted in a process of aggregation (compact) of the prior existence of unitary center. (Debates about type of “units” in prototype federacies or free states are quite revealing with family resemblance structure to control their constructive ambiguity).


Why is reframing the MOA-AD crucial to asymmetrical ties in compact and tiers in accord?  Concepts with family resemblances structure are problematic. The discursive space of Bangsamoro is constituted by priority of right to ancestral domain existing before the Philippine state did fall into a causal monism.  This interpretive framework supports the “inherent right” position because its existence continues despite the mere State assertion of sovereignty.  On the other hand, the “contingent” position is not definitive in current constitutional thinking.  Any ancestral or treaty rights are contingent upon the State’s existence with its expressed recognition of it, and thus cannot exist in a constitutional sense.  This implies that the operative function of the word concerning “existing” is to incorporate recognition of these rights into the Constitution.  I will return to this point for the dualist approach as space warrants.


My politics hasn’t changed this.  I believe it is fundamentally a mononational model that avoids the basic question about ‘who the people are, and whom decides who they are’ to forge political ties at the center.  Therefore, it remains unanswered in democratic theory.  But whether it was bad history or not, the Philippines is an example of state-molded nation, as opposed to a nation formed on the basis of demotic ‘ethnie’ as the founding people.  Ethnic flooding of Mindanao followed the agricultural colonies to arrest the agrarian unrest in Luzon and the Visayan islands.  In other words, the very definition of ‘people’ was also in crisis being not identical with ‘government’.  The precedent of a Moro “home rule” enactment defining their status as a national minority took the form of so-called “Special Provinces” under the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution.  By this account, there was more to bear.  The final blueprint for the future gerrymandering of Muslim provinces is the master strategy that still kills off autonomy, which kicked off under martial law.  One difference is this: Perhaps not by any conceptual flaws, but by the Mindanao settler’s veto power seeing self-determination through judicial umpire is a sign of breakdown.


Many outside observers will find MILF’s offer on the table summons for political will rather than a call for Bangsamoro sovereignty.  For the sake of brevity, national integration has a typical single State-nationalist approach with all power concentrated in the capital region.  It asks: after devolution, how should we treat ‘constitutional and political imbalance’ arising from power asymmetries in an otherwise unitary state?   Why have we failed to achieve these ends via the Organic Act in the 1987 Constitution?  The 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement was implemented via the conflict-regulating modality of the SPCPD.  The fact is I find the Jakarta Accord a paradigmatic case of positive convergence for momentary workable solutions with resort to brinkmanship at the very moment MNLF politicians plunged into the process of ‘electoralism’ in the ARMM.  Were MNLF to eclipse the MILF, all those GRP circuitous excuses for breaching signed documents would end and put closure to the GPH-MNLF-OIC tripartite endgame.  The trouble was that this was all high elected politics and others in the ‘revolutionary’ forces and Islamic movement knew different which can only be corrected by experimenting with new formulas.

Now, for reasons of pragmatism, the GPH three-fold outcome approach put across the negotiating table the establishment of JCCD (Joint Coordinating Committee on Development) co-chaired by OPAPP and BDA in “partnership” to calibrate development initiatives.   Taking alternatives off the table, here the Bangsamoro Commission is to be created within thirty days from the signing of the GPH-MILF Peace Accord by Executive fiat.  My own take is that we can come together with opportunities for comparing bananas to bananas but it looked to us there will be no ‘small wins’ on the process and outcome.

Commentaries about alternatives to choice between constitutional status quo and separation led the MILF to explore associative relationships.  The entry menu of “consociational practices” represents a judicious compromise for the protection of collective minority rights being a better solution to majority-minority relation.  Inasmuch as the Bangsamoro have a readily identifiable territorial base and to denote political units they retain a majority status within the recognized political jurisdiction.    Consider at this point the Substate as a “remedial rights only” presentation of governmental powers and bureaucracy for the negotiated and objective determination of the parent State.


Against those who claim to derive a doctrinal foundation and could offer a scientific definition of power sharing, it is instructive that the constitutional design comes with demonstrative effect.  What is lacking in the current discourse and political thinking is the ideological trajectory at the moment “presence” becomes historical.   Certainly the furious reaction of the settlers made the MOA-AD seem more radical than it was, but they could hardly present root and branch objections to something that could impair the negotiation in good faith or drive a commander berserk or ‘freedom fighter’ run amok.  From the outset, the Christian politicians began to frustrate the initialed but unsigned Agreement.  In diplomacy, we introduce the term “revolution” in the analysis of State interest on an ad hoc basis only to explain an ‘event outside’ and unpredictable within it.  In concrete terms, the identity of the host State with the civil society and the family is external to the extent that it is obtained by violence, since they represent but moments in the armed struggle.  In the field where detractors figure out is in the nature of violence as a threat, a tactic for public effect, while pushing the MILF model of political governance to ‘succeed or self-destruct on their own’.


There is the disappearance of the schema of reference (enigma) when opposition to the principle is possible in the way we think the political realm.  There is open artificiality of the public opinion, too.  What is clear about the thinking and the decision to advise the Central Committee to reject the GPH proposal contained in the draft has shifted the onus.  This rests upon a political judgement that the acceptance of the risks of asymmetry is preferable to the alternative risk of fueling the support for Bangsamoro separatism. The MILF panel was guided by the lesson on ‘minding the gap’ and its ultimate effect to a nonnegotiable minimalist edge.  Clearly GPH proposal is “detached from what the two parties had agreed upon previously,” concluded MILF chairman Murad in a statement.

But what of the forceful message of the GPH position ‘to reject your rejection’?  According to the GPH panel, the context was explanatory to understanding their principals’ perception that their counterpart “neither had the patience nor appetite to negotiate in good faith.”  To this, we in turn, ask what can convince the MILF that the current Aquino government will negotiate in good faith. But it’s just that peace research focus on this principal dichotomy, which pits a diplomatic subculture against a security subculture shaping negotiating stance.

[To be continued]

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wants to share his/her views on the peace process. Michael O. Mastura is a senior member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel).