COMMENT: An unlikely solution. By Patricio P. Diaz

A similar story by Agence France-Presse was posted in INQUIRER.net of January 9. Like the PDI, AFP had presidential adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza as its source.  Dureza told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, February 9, that this is “a key step aimed at breaking an impasse in talks” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
This looks like going from one unlikely solution – the “best-case scenario” – to another solution more unlikely.

Half the Truth

Dureza assessed “the current impasse” correctly as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks – a big hump” over which the Arroyo government has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.

But the Inquirer reported only half the truth when it said that the GRP-MILF talks “hit a snag last December when rebel negotiators walked away from a Kuala Lumpur meeting to protest Manila’s insistence that the talks be held under a constitutional framework”.

This is attributable either to Dureza or to the Inquirer.  Understandably, the Arroyo government does not want to be blamed for the impasse and it is letting all know that it is leaving no stone unturned “to revive the talks.”

At the break up last month, the Inquirer reported that the GRP-MILF meeting on December 15 was primarily for the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement containing the 19 consensus points on the ancestral domain they had negotiated since last September and had signed witnessed by the Malysian facilitator. Obviously, the negotiation on ancestral domain had been practically over with only some minor kinks to iron out.
 
It was not Manila’s “insistence” per se on holding the talks “under a constitutional framework” that irked the MILF. It was the fact that they already had an agreement but Manila wanted it revised following the constitutional processes.

The MILF position was: “The government can undertake all constitutional processes it wants provided that they do not derogate what the Parties jointly ‘crafted , agreed and signed’ in the negotiations with the third party facilitations.” (Luwaran, Jamuary 7)

Hard Stand

The Inquirer report acknowledged that “months of steady progress in negotiations” had “led to the drafting of a key accord on the extent of southern Philippine territory that would fall under Muslim rule in a final accord” – the 19-point consensus on ancestral domain.

However, in reporting that the ‘breakdown in talks came as a surprise,’ the Inquirer or its source was feigning. It had long been reported – and Dureza knew – that talks progressed because of the mutual agreement that GRP should not make reference to the Constitution and the MILF would not demand independence.

The hard stand of Arroyo’s security cluster in her cabinet is hard to understand. The GRP panel had been mandated to negotiate.  It did negotiate. Yet, it revoked what the panel had negotiated with the MILF. What was the rationale of the panel’s mandate?

Did the negotiation really ignore the Constitution? Paradoxically, according to Datu Michael O. Mastura, a member of the MNLF panel, their arguments for self-determination were anchored on the clause of Section 2, Article II: “The Philippines …adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land….”

Before he resigned, GRP Panel Chair Silvestre Afable had acknowledged – published in the Inquirer – the Moro right to self-determination.  His successor, Rodolfo Garcia, must not have reversed Afable. Why did Arroyo and her security advisers reverse Garcia and his panel on ground of constitutionality?

The annexation to the ARMM of dominant Muslim villages contiguous to it is provided in Paragraph 2 or Section 18, Article X of the Constitution. That there is no law defining “geographic areas” should not be an excuse. Why not go to the records of the Constitutional Commission to know the intention of the framers?

It appears that Congress did not want to define it.  It omitted the term from RA 6734.  In the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, the GRP and MNLF panels agreed that predominant Muslim villages in provinces that would vote “NO” should be included in the ARMM if they would vote “YES.” Again, Congress omitted that provision in enacting RA 9054. Congress has twice amended the Constitution.

What Arroyo now wants is to amend “the 1987 Constitution for the sole purpose of creating an autonomous Muslim territory in Mindanao” – providing explicitly for the creation of “a Muslim federal region”. Is that necessary? Will that satisfy the Moro aspiration? In reversing what the GRP-MILF panels had agreed and signed in Kuala Lumpur, Arroyo dealt the Moros a big let down.

Will It Work?

Will the amending the Constitution to create a Muslim federal region solve the Moro rebellion? Very uncertain! Only the big expense especially if the amending is done by the Constitutional Convention is certain.

Will the Constitutional Convention or the Constituent Assembly adopt the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity concept and as agreed by the GRP-MILF panels? If it will, why go through the amending process? To satisfy themselves, Arroyo and her security advisers should study the constitutional basis of the consensus points so far signed by the two panels.

If the Convention or the Assembly will create the Muslim federal region and impose it on the Moros, that will dash their right to self-determination.  Will that solve the Moro rebellion? It looks sure to bring the problem to Square One.

Ominous

The statement of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, one of Arroyo’s security advisers, is ominous. “We must tell the other side the restrictions of our laws and if the [MILF] demands are too much and contradict these laws the government must prepare itself to go back to war.” (Enthusiasm & Forebodings, by Rene Q. Bas. The Manila Times, January 9)

This is most unfortunate and unnecessary. Incidentally, Puno was among the advisers who advised then President Joseph Estrada to launch the all-out war against the MILF in 2000. In a sense, he is warning the MILF of the repetition of that all-out war.

Is the MILF asking too much? Did it get all it demanded? If the reference that popped out of my mailbox last week is genuine, the MILF did not get all it wanted. The consensus showed a very good understanding between the two panels – a lot of good will.

I think the GRP and MILF panels have done a good job in resolving the Moro rebellion according to Art. II, Sec. 2 and Art. X, Sec. 18, Para. 2 of the 1987 Constitution.  It’s unfortunate and it could be tragic that President Arroyo and her security advisers have nullified the two panels’ good job by ignoring the constitutional basis of their consensus. (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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