PEACETALK: Reflection on the mandate of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/02 Dec) — Can we reach a negotiated transition through successive consultations? The MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) was struck down as unconstitutional for “lack of consultation” rather than to settle the issue of final status on the right of self-determination (RSD) of the Bangsamoro people.

This underscores the differentiated understandings on the stakes and issues of the Bangsamoro case as rooted in serious legitimate grievances. The “Moro problematic” was deconstructed as a project of liberation movements (for MNLF and MILF non-state actors) and morally regarded as a struggle against “internal colonialism” within the Philippine singular unitary state system. Our homegrown form of Islamic resistance was seen as a program of collective survival through the prism of “identity politics” but it is not totally resistant to compromise (even if some are amenable to extremism in a zero-sum game plan).

I have for many decades served in various capacities as an interlocutor for the Bangsamoro cause or legitimate grievances. But here again I find myself in search of a verb matrix to communicate what is the justness of our original position—whether negotiated as constitutional or statutory processes. Apart from implications, I prefer to use the word justness which carries with its word form a suffix -ness (as in goodness). For what is “just” is to have direct cognition of what is “right.” Justness is a condition or status or quality.

If we cut deeper into the Constitution, the rubric of oath of office for the Presidency is pointedly “to do justice”. Its construct state puts us on notice that as legally conceived the executive mandate is modal. Thus it is transitive and requires an object. Modals ask the question for whom?

Justice is a noun hence to make it a verb is a grammatical metaphor. A metaphor means “to transfer” which helps us to visualize something so we can make sense of things. It opens up discursive space for transitional justice. Words matter particularly during the tactical concession phase.

At this conceptual level, the state’s response to reconciliation is or ‘ought to be’ to resolve or settle the conflict (i.e. difference). The task of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) allows us to reflect on the mechanisms and practices associated with “dealing with the past” and thus correct historical injustices.

Parenthetically (see my own graphic organizer), my verb matrix survey develops at the local level to adopt differentiated metaphors within the context of human rights (HR) and international humanitarian law (IHL) and how humanitarian intervention can help guide citizens’ behavior. How we use metaphors to think about work or task as advocate, interlocutor, peace negotiator or facilitator and perhaps even less flattering images of “spoiler” can impact on the beliefs, practices and behavior for guarantee of non-recurrence and prevention of impunity.

masturamatrixThe action of reconciling is a verb matrix that means to reconcile is to justify. If we accept the “state” to be a justificatory concept, then we are able to distinguish the very question of legitimacy versus legality.

For legitimacy concerns what is acceptable and justificatory workable arrangements. However, what is legitimate must not be confused with justice. Legitimacy in contrast to legality has two components: acceptance and content. As some author’s account suggests, acceptance is preoccupied with the form of legitimacy. Content is concerned more with results than with mechanisms.

A reflective activity and evidence-informed practice can contribute to the inadequacy of a bottom-up or grassroots approach to the conceptual framework for transitional justice. When we recognize further that metaphors (images) can lead to orientations and orientations to theories, we realize that theories are not hard to construct. Government and the Filipino elite cannot continue to “manufacture consent” to cover up for historical injustices without becoming a “target state” labeled as norm-violating regime.

So how much do we “know” to deconstruct the mandate of the TJRC? Can we articulate a position (that is, a source of legitimacy) anchored on the power of human rights to influence domestic political change? A realist approach views the actual marginalization through land dispossessions, timber and now mining concessions within their ancestral domain. There can be little doubt that the cumulative effects of all of this have helped to legitimate dividing up our land and maritime base.

Power of Human Rights

Thus, in dealing with the past, we have traced historically to state-sponsored and legislated agricultural colonies the undeniable concrete evidence of ethnic flooding. In recent years, the indelible marks of civilian non-combatant displacements are attributed to military “mopping up” operations but made to appear rule-consistent. External actors need to be aware that there is a way to “vindicate” the serious demographic consequences. The cases of humanitarian intervention have become more significant for inducing change with caveat when bargaining mode and leverage prevail.

As practitioners in the field, we put on record our main contribution to the growth points of protocols on IHL by raising awareness of and invoking the legitimizing effects of international humanitarian norms underlying “the right to protect.” This prime duty deters attendant “all-out war” by state apparatus.

What our case studies tell is that the American-model of political culture extended to the Philippines has always served to privilege the “private” over the “public” realm. Tactical concessions of the government to international pressures to move toward rule-consistent behavior are useful during this ripening stage of the GPH-MILF peace process.

The TJRC can make immediate interventions to policy circles that a re-emphasis on economic or strategic goals should not lead to a condition in which norm-violating actors are “left off the hook” even where restoration is no longer possible.

The harsh political economy of MNLF and MILF armed struggle competing with individual self-interests of settlers or migrants and corporate capitalist accumulations have militated against active citizenship.

The personalized patronage shapes of elite political culture are bound to negate the requirements of citizen bearers of rights.

Are there observable current behaviors in government towards these collective types of human rights violations that make it accountable according to the “rule of law”?

[Datu Michael O. Mastura is a senior member of the peace panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and legal adviser of the MILF. Mastura was a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention and served as Congressman of the 1st district of Maguindanao]