PEACETALK: Of failed states and sub-states, of ATS and other spaces

Second of two parts

NAGA CITY (MindaNews/2 Nov) – Sen. Santiago warned that if the rule against invasion of ATS continued to be observed (though we have pointed out above the error in this premise), “the Philippine military would be severely hampered in its law enforcement functions that the Philippines would be flirting with the status of a failed state.”

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnists Ramon J. Farolan, Rigoberto Tiglao and Randy David have all relevantly made reference to the notion of a failed state, with the first two making reference to and invoking the basic definition of a state by sociologist Max Weber as that organization which has the monopoly of the legitimate use of force over a particular territory.

The first two columnists posit that the Philippines is in danger of becoming a failed state by failing to meet up to the standard of that definition, as shown by the so-called MILF-controlled areas or territories, even recognized to some extent by the peace process.

The third columnist, the sociologist David, on the other hand, says that the Philippines is a failed state in so far as it has, from its inception, never been in full control of Muslim Mindanao precisely because it has used all the violent means at the disposal of the state to pacify the Moro people to no avail, and because the latter have in turn all the more resisted in kind through the leadership of the MNLF and then the MILF.

This actually brings us to what we really should be discussing more in media for the better understanding of the Filipino Christian majority and its leaders: Why is the MILF (and before them the MNLF) fighting in armed rebellion against the Philippine government in the first place? What are they fighting for?

What is the so-called Bangsamoro problem that they say should be solved by the peace talks? Why bother negotiating with them on this? What is the solution to the problem? What does this solution entail? These are some of the basic questions that should also be addressed in the wake of the shrill and predominant blood-thirsty calls for “all-out war,” including for the AFP to “occupy” certain MILF areas/communities in the Zamboanga peninsula and Basilan.

The Bangsamoro problem is of course a complex, multi-dimensional and even evolving centuries-old problem. At the risk of over-simplifying this problem as well as its solution, it has to do with the Bangsamoro identity, way of life and longing for self-rule. It has to do, as explained by MILF senior negotiator Datu Michael Mastura to still another Inquirer columnist surnamed David, Rina Jimenez David, with respect for and recognition of their identity as a people with a proud history of never having been colonized; with recognition of a territorial homeland within Mindanao where Moro culture and their Islamic religion hold sway; with control over their own resources and income; and with freedom to decide their own local policies without being subject to the politics and dictates of “Imperial Manila.”

An editorial in the MILF website ( boiled it down even more simply: “The MILF’s formula to solve the Moro question in Mindanao is very simple… Let the Moros run their affairs. Let them succeed or self-destruct. Gone [are] the days when the government in Manila designed everything for them.”

To be sure, it is not as simple as that at the negotiating table, where the MILF’s formula has taken the form of what it calls a “sub-state” within the Philippine state and national territory. It is not Bangsamoro independence from and territorial dismemberment of the Philippines. But it purports a qualitatively higher and better degree or level of self-governance than the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under the present provisions of the Philippine Constitution.

That ARMM has been proven over more than 20 years, capped on its 20th year by the Maguindanao Massacre under the Ampatuan dynasty, to be a “failed experiment” in terms of its promised peace, development and even autonomy. Stated otherwise, it is a failed “subs-state.” It has been a low-intensity autonomy very much subject to the highly-centralized unitary system of the Philippine State under its Constitution.

The recent Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of R.A. 10153 postponing the ARMM elections and allowing the President to appoint Officers-in-Charge only confirms and reinforces the National Government’s tight control over its own creation and creature, the ARMM. This is stifling to the Bangsamoro people’s aspiration and right of self-determination. But is there constitutional breathing space for something instead like the MILF-proposed “sub-state”?

A Bangsamoro “sub-state” (used generically, without necessarily referring to the specifics of the MILF proposal), or by whatever name it is finally called (I propose “self-governing region”), has the real potential of helping the Philippines avoid the danger of becoming a failed state in Muslim Mindanao. How? By sharing and more effectively undertaking in partnership with the Philippine State the burdens of governance as far as the Bangsamoro people are concerned.

In the process, we can re-define and improve the Philippine State and Filipino nation-building 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. A key concept in the MILF-proposed “sub-state” is that of shared sovereignty, authority and responsibility. This includes the notion of shared security.

The preservation of peace and order within the Bangsamoro “sub-state” shall be its responsibility which shall be exercised through its police and internal security force, which will not be seen as an “occupation force” aside from being most familiar with its own people and the geographical terrain. The external defense and security of the “sub-state” shall be the responsibility of the National Government which shall exercise it through the AFP which, as the constitutionally-mandated protector of the people and the State, is also a protector of the Bangsamoro people, since the AFP is supposed to exist to protect the human rights of every Filipino citizen.

But how do the Filipino Christian majority and its leaders react to ideas like this? Well, there is Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile for one, who may be representative of the thinking of most when he says: “If the MILF continues to demand a sub-state, that means war. They are not talking of peace. In effect, they are challenging government. This is because the MILF knows the government cannot accommodate that request. It is unconstitutional. Many of its members studied law. They know that.” This is precisely the kind of majority thinking that Randy David had criticized as early as in a 1999 column piece as “the constant invocation of constitutional limits as a warning against insolent initiatives” instead of “the readiness on the part of government to allow a wide latitude for institutional experimentation in the region.” The challenge here for now is primarily in the constitutional rather than the military realm. In fact, no less than the Supreme Court decision on the MOA-AD in 2008, even as it declared the same to be unconstitutional for certain reasons, also stated just the same that: “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…. 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…”

How come then is the “unconstitutional!” hue and cry immediately raised against the MILF-proposed “sub-state” while nothing of the sort met then Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.’s proposed “Federal Republic of the Philippines” with no less than 11 “States” (mind you, not even just “sub-states”) nationwide from North to South, including “The State of BangsaMoro”? Is the answer to that question the same as that to the following one?

How come the ABS-CBN “TV Patrol” text-in poll of the viewing public soon after the big news on “19 soldiers slain in Basilan” resulted in 97% in favor of ending the peace talks and launching an “all-out war” against the MILF, and only 3% against? The answer clearly lies in the considerable 33-39% anti-Muslim bias among Filipinos across the country, as surveyed by Pulse Asia in 2005. Would news on say “19 Moro civilians slain by soldiers in Basilan” get the same kind of screaming headline treatment? And would there be the same kind of outrage and outcry for “justice!” (read “vengeance!”) from the general public? Is there any outrage about the 30,000 (and counting) mostly Moro civilians displaced (with the inevitable evacuation center deaths of infants and young children) by the “all-out justice” military operations in Zamboanga peninsula, with Basilan coming soon? Do they not also have “dreams, promises gone”?

Are MILF mujahideen slain in battle not also “heroes” to their own children and people? Are perhaps some of them not also set to marry their girlfriends? But we have only outrage for the 19 or so soldiers slain. This is our failed state… of the hearts, souls and minds of the Filipino Christian majority.

That is why the best part of the current GPH peace panel “3-for-1” proposal is that which “meets the need to acknowledge a distinct identity and history of the Moros as part of the Philippine mosaic… recognizes their legitimate grievances and provides, where possible, appropriate forms of reconciliation and restorative justice… symbolic measures like a heroes’ memorial and concrete steps like reviewing history books for misrepresentations of the Bangsamoro… to build mutual respect for religious, historical and cultural differences.”

The MILF should not undervalue this aspect and leave it to the unilateral action of the GPH. The Bangsamoro know their own history, have their own national narrative. Historico-cultural consciousness-raising, which also addresses the anti-Moro bias, is part of the much needed public constituency-building to support the peace process and its outcome. It is the historical injustice that calls for or justifies the right politico-constitutional solution, the latter must be commensurate to the former.

Acknowledging the historical injustices will just be empty words if not redressed or corrected by the right solution.

Let there be no more dilly-dallying and deliberate going around in circles (“paikutin”) regarding the substantive peace negotiations. The issues are, after all, already joined, even if one side does not like the proposal of the other side. That is precisely why there are negotiations. It is a process of mutual problem solving and reaching an acceptable compromise settlement. As it is, the already formidable substantive agenda has now to be coupled with the immediate matter of the 18 October 2011 Al-Barka, Basilan incident fallout, including a review of the ceasefire and AHJAG agreements and mechanisms. From the experience of the peace talks, there is a danger of getting bogged down in the tactical to the detriment of the strategic. But the tactical is also important for the strategic, as the most recent events have shown. There is no more time to waste for both concerns. Get on with the talks, no matter how “tough, still tough, and tougher.” There is no substitute for this. To win-win the peace is the real victory.


[SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. has been a long-time Bicolano human rights and IHL lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer especially for and on the Mindanao peace process, with several books on this, among them The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process (UP Press, 2001; with 2nd printing, 2009), Dynamics and Directions of the GRP-MILF Peace Negotiations (AFRIM, 2005), and In Defense of and Thinking Beyond the GRP-MILF MOA-AD (AFRIM, 2011). He is presently Presiding Judge of the 9th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Nabua-Bato, and Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Balatan, both in Camarines Sur.]