COMMENTARY: Give PEACE a CHA-CHAnce

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There is a more important and much better reason than economic liberalization for convening Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution. And this would be for introducing needed charter change for the peace process. The successful conclusion of the latter would itself bring economic dividends such as improvement of the economy. Such a constituent assembly for specific constitutional amendment purposes, or even a full-blown constitutional convention to consider a wider range of needed constitutional reforms, that would interface with the peace process can also help spur on or speed up the already protracted peace negotiations on both the Moro and Communist fronts. This is the light on Cha-Cha which P-Noy, his solons and other allies, among others, have to see.

The four-decade internal armed conflict on two major fronts of insurgency, Moro and Communist, has been a strategic albatross around the country’s neck that has resulted in our being left behind economically by our neighbors in the Southeast Asian region. The armed conflict contributes to grinding poverty and social inequalities and is at the same time fueled by them in a vicious cycle, which also occasions excessive corruption, particularly with the huge war budget of the military that could otherwise have been used for much needed social services and reform programs, if not also for spurring economic growth and development. No amount of economic liberalization, foreign investments and massive socio-economic funding will prosper without a successful resolution of the armed conflict, a resolution that lies mainly in the political rather than the military field, as shown by the negative experience of martial law in generating more armed resistance instead of quelling it, in the process also resulting in massive violations of human rights.

To quote the Supreme Court (SC) Decision on the aborted GRP-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008, “As the experience of nations which have similarly gone through internal armed conflict will show, however, peace is rarely attained by simply pursuing a military solution. Oftentimes, changes as far-reaching as a fundamental reconfiguration of the nation’s constitutional structure is required.…the typical way that peace agreements establish or confirm mechanisms for demilitarization and demobilization is by linking them to new constitutional structures addressing governance, elections, and legal and human rights institutions.” For a truly just, lasting and comprehensive solution, it will not do to have just socio-economic reforms without also political and constitutional reforms to effectively address comprehensively the various interrelated root causes of the conflict. Thus, the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations explicitly indicate “political and constitutional reforms” to be its third out of four major agenda headings.

In the case of the conflict on the Moro front, the root of the Bangsamoro (Moro nation) problem has to do with the non-fulfillment of their legitimate aspirations of respect for their identity, way of life and longing for self-rule as a historically and culturally significant and distinct nation and people, being fettered under a highly centralized unitary Republic of the Philippines. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), mandated by existing constitutional provisions, has been proven by more than two decades of experience (Part I: under RA 6734, from 1989 to 2001; Part II: under RA 9054, from 2001 to the present), infamously capped by the Maguindanao Massacre of 2009, to have failed to achieve its promised peace, development and even meaningful autonomy. A qualitatively higher and better degree/level of autonomy or self-government, albeit short of independence, than that of the ARMM would necessarily have to go beyond the present level (“think outside the box”) of the constitutional provisions on which the ARMM and its Organic Acts are based and circumscribed, as those organic springs cannot rise higher than their constitutional source. In this sense at least, the Charter is broke, as also “we are,” and both “need fixing.”

Seeking that qualitatively higher and better level of Bangsamoro self-governance within the Philippine republic is precisely at the crux of the current GPH-MILF peace negotiations. To quote the Separate Opinion of Justice Chico-Nazario to the aforesaid SC Decision, “Peace negotiations are never simple. If neither party in such negotiations thinks outside the box, all they would arrive at is a constant impasse… It must be noted that the Constitution has been in force for three decades now, yet, peace in Mindanao still remained to be elusive under its present terms. There is the possibility that the solution to the peace problem in the Southern Philippines lies beyond the present Constitution. Exploring this possibility and considering the necessary amendment of the Constitution are not per se unconstitutional. The Constitution itself implicitly allows for its own amendment by describing, under Article XVII, the means and requirements therefor.”

Providing the optimum constitutional space for the Bangsamoro people, who are a portion or sub-set of the entire population of the Philippine State, to establish a system of life and governance suitable and acceptable to them, would also be a good re-defining and rebuilding of the state in a way that accommodates and does better social justice to the culturally diverse peoples of Mindanao and the Philippines, in turn serving as a more solid foundation for national unity, as common ground is found between Filipino and Moro national interests. To again quote the SC Decision, “The sovereign people may, if it so desired, go to the extent of giving up a portion of its own territory to the Moros for the sake of peace, for it can change the Constitution in any [way] it wants…”

Just as important as the constitutional outcome is the constitutional process. The constituent assembly or constitutional convention, in developing the proposed constitutional amendment for the creation of a new Bangsamoro self-governing region in lieu of the ARMM, should interface, through suitable and mutually acceptable mechanisms, with the Mindanao peace process, especially the ongoing GPH-MILF peace negotiations, so as to properly inform the work of the assembly/convention and avoid the bane of unilateralism in policy-making for the Bangsamoro or Muslim Mindanao. Due regard should be given to all past agreements, consensus points, and terms of reference in the negotiations (which are not starting from scratch), as well as to relevant experiences and models from other countries in conflict resolution and peace-building. The Bangsamoro in particular, for whom a new self-governing region is sought to be created, must have their due say and share, through their best representatives, in the sovereign act of constitution-making and pursuant to their constitutional right, as a portion of the Filipino people, “to effective and reasonable participation in all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making.”

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Soliman M. Santos Jr. has been a long-time Bicolano human rights and IHL lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar with degrees in history and law; peace advocate, researcher and writer, especially for and on the Mindanao peace process, with several books on this. He is now Presiding Judge of the 9th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Nabua-Bato, Camarines Sur, and Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Balatan, Camarines Sur.]

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