SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Sub-state as substrate of peace

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/01 September) – Those who sincerely wish for the success of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front need to keep in mind that the unrest can only be effectively addressed by resolving the issue of territory. And corollary to the granting of territory is giving the Moro people wider latitude in exploiting the resources therein, together with substantive changes in the political setup that would secure their rights to manage these resources.

Physical territory and relative control of resources are two interlinked ingredients that will give meaning to the aspiration of self-determination. At the moment, however, their relationship can only be painted in broad strokes. The actual form and substance will hopefully evolve as the discourse progresses, presuming that all parties (not just the negotiators) keep their minds – and hearts – open to the possibility of conceding to a certain degree what some may hold dear and inviolable. Such openness has to start from the realization that the Moro struggle for self-rule has been with us the past 40 years, and attempts by successive administrations to resolve it through palliatives and half-hearted, if not deceptive, measures have all failed.

At the heart of the failure, of each failure, starting from the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, is the superficial attention given to the quest for self-rule (not necessarily independence), with each administration, from Marcos to Arroyo, resorting to conflict management instead of conflict resolution. Even the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, which is the “full implementation” of the Tripoli pact, hedges on, if not completely jettisons, the issue of effective self-governance by referring to the Philippine Constitution as its framework.

This explains perhaps why, as recounted in the book “Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao”, it took a great amount of pressure and persuasion before Moro National Liberation Front Chairman Nur Misuari finally acceded to the pact brokered by Jakarta. The book describes how Ruben Torres, executive secretary of then President Fidel V. Ramos, almost literally dragged Misuari’s reluctant hand to the signing table. Misuari certainly knew he was about to turn his back on the ideals he had stood for, that it was a virtual act of surrender that was made to appear honorable by a package of political and economic incentives.

Having learned from Misuari’s blunder, the MILF is not about to drop the issue of territory and greater political authority in negotiating with government. Since it has become unrealistic under present conditions to stick to the original goal of secession, then something close to it would be good enough, if only to accommodate the growing sentiment to put an end to a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Hence the birthing of the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain during the Arroyo administration and the currently proposed Moro sub-state.

Predictably, like in the case of the MOA-AD, the sub-state proposal immediately drew rabid reactions in particular from Manila-based columnists and “analysts” who are ignorant of its historicity. To gain sympathy for their skewed opinions, they have resorted to intellectual dishonesty by equating the proposal to a demand for independence. It’s unfortunate that such reactions have permeated the political air with the apparent end of preempting a levelheaded discussion and tying the hands of government negotiators.

Government seems to have deferred to the adverse reactions towards the sub-state proposal with its counter-proposal that includes three main components: socio-economic; a “more empowered, more workable, and thus, more genuine autonomy of a Bangsamoro region;” and acknowledgement of Mindanao history that would include retelling the history of the Bangsamoro struggle.

Again, government sounds evasive on the issue of effective self-rule by going around the sub-state thing as proposed by the MILF and reverting to the open-ended “more genuine autonomy” phraseology. If the negotiation takes off from this framework, what will eventually emerge is a rehash of the 1996 FPA with the MNLF except that government has added the component of correcting the narrative of Bangsamoro history. The only things that will change are the names of institutions and offices that will be tasked to implement whatever agreement may be forged.

It’s obvious that in dealing with the MILF proposal, government negotiators have been handicapped by constitutional issues that hang over their heads like the biblical Sword of Damocles. Recalcitrant Philippine officials, politicians and interest groups will likely harangue them if they opt to “think out of the box”. But that is exactly the challenge of peace negotiations: to muster enough courage to depart from failed paradigms and try uncharted paths, including changing the Constitution for a greater political purpose – lasting peace in the country’s economic lifeblood called Mindanao.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno received in 1987 the Jose W. Diokno Award for winning in a national editorial writing contest sponsored by Ang Pahayagang Malaya and the family of the late senator.)