To their credit, Manila dailies have suppressed from their news pages the provocative statements of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno but not columnist Rene Q. Bas of The Manila Times of January 9. Puno is one of the members of the security cluster – known to be hawkish – advising President Arroyo.
As played up by Bas in his column, Enthusiasm & Forebodings, Puno said:
“The Constitution must prevail. The implementation of any GRP-MILF agreement cannot be exempted from the processes required by the Philippine Constitution. The government cannot carve out entire provinces and parts of cities and include these in a new autonomous entity to be called ‘Bangsamoro Homeland’ without violating the Constitution.
“The government should stop pursuing a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front if the means to achieve this objective is unconstitutional….
“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.” (Bold italics supplied).
It was perfectly alright for Puno to state the position of the Arroyo government on the consensus points sealed by its negotiating panel with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur in relation to the Constitution and Philippine laws. That could only raise a controversy. But to threaten war was not only unnecessary but provocative, so uncalled for.
Not content with playing up Puno, Bas added what appears to be his own way of stoking anti-Muslim embers: “Peace with the MILF cannot be established at the expense of the Christian majority in areas that will be included in the ‘Bangsamoro Homeland’. The Christians can mount an even more destructive separatist campaign, leading to war, in Mindanao.”
This is playing up to the biases, prejudices and, much worse, ignorance of Christians in Luzon and the Visayas who have strong kinship with Christian immigrants in Mindanao and historic hatred for the Muslims. The statement reflects ignorance of issues and conditions related to the ancestral domain question.
The peace forum in Zamboanga City, the peace rally in Cotabato City and the indignation rally in Marawi City are signs that the Muslims are following avidly the GRP-MILF negotiation and solidifying behind the MILF’s quest for Bangsamoro Homeland through self-determination. President Arroyo and her security advisers should view this development with utmost prudence.
On the surface and at a flash, the forum and rallies, as reported in Malay Peninsula Standard Time (Luwaran.com, Jamuary 8, 9 and 10) may sound unacceptable and provocative:
∑ In Zamboanga City, 33 Muslim dominated barangays, two Muslim settlements and the Muslim-dominated Kabatangan, the ARMM property, declared to join the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. And they urged the inclusion of 41 other barangays with about 40 percent Muslim population. That was a confrontation with the anti-Muslim autonomy mayor and other leaders of the city with 93 barangays.
∑ In Cotabato City, the rally leaders called for the immediate resumption of the peace negotiation and submitted a 5-point manifesto.
∑ The Marawi rally was in a war mode – the rally participants wearing red dresses and headbands, carrying red banners and streamers inscribed with fighting slogans like “Give Us BJE or Give Us Death”, and punctuating the rally speeches with the universal Muslim rallying cry, “Allahu Akbar”. They reminded Manila “to honor its commitments to the agreements and consensus points it has crafted, agreed and signed” with the MILF.
But President Arroyo should not be provoked. If she is sincere in her search of peace for Muslim Mindanao, she should leash her hawks and release her doves instead – unless she is also a hawk. There must be ways under the present Constitution to give the Muslims “BJE” not “Death”.
Chief GRP negotiator Rodolfo Garcia – he must be a dove, unless he is dissembling – cooed: “The negotiation is not in the stage of hopelessness. I don’t think so. It is very far from it. The situation is very much workable and that is what the panel is doing right now.” (Luwaran, January 10)
When he said that “they are consulting their legal team to address the constitutional issue in the demands of the MILF”, did he mean that he was convincing the President and the hawks that the solution is right there in the Constitution without amending it? He has studied the question more than did the President and her hawks.
How did he and his panel arrive at the 19 consensus points on the ancestral domain question with the MILF panel? We can only surmise. The MILF panel must have shown them cogently how sovereignty-based conflicts in many parts of the world – such as those involving Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, Aceh and East Timor in Indonesia – had been solved under international laws like the United Nations Charter.
Like Silvestre Afable, the immediate past GRP panel chair, Garcia and his panel must have been convinced that acceding to the Bangsamoro right to self-determination is not unconstitutional because Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution recognizes international laws as Philippine laws among which are their agreed terms of reference — the UN Charter, the UN Declaration on Universal Human Rights, and the UN Draft Convention on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.
RP in a Jam
Garcia and other doves around President Arroyo should convince her and the hawks that the constitutional solution is right in the Constitution without amending it. They must look very hard to see for the Philippine is in a jam — its national honor is at stake. It cannot just turn its back on the 19 consensus points its negotiating panel has signed before the Malaysian talk facilitator.
The MILF and its supporters have resolved to reject the creation of the Bangsamoro Federal State through constitutional amendment. The only option acceptable to them is for the GRP to honor the consensus points it has signed and return to the negotiation table.
Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF panel chair, said: “The government should reconsider its stand on the ancestral domain, sign the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain and then we’ll discuss the political peace pact.” The MILF, he said, will not oppose the Charter change as long as the issue of the peace talks is not used as the reason in doing it. (INQUIRER.net, January 12)
Professor Abhoud Syed M. Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and chairman-executive director of the Bangsamoro People’s Assembly, supported Iqbal, adding, “Government should wait until agreement is reached with the MILF before it will propose for charter change.”
He explained” “You will know if there is a need to amend the constitution, or what provisions will be amended, after an agreement is crafted. Charter change before any agreement might not be able to address the core issue of the problem, and it will limit the exploration of innovative ways that will be explored.”
He argued: “I don’t buy the argument that the consensus points infringe on the constitution because there were lawyers in the GRP panel (Atty. Leah Armamento of DOJ sits in the GRP panel) and I cannot be convinced that it took them three years to realize that what they agreed on violate the constitution.”
Datu Michael O. Mastura, MILF panel member, reacting to our last Comment (Unlikely Solution), explained:
“Our Panel decided not to meet the GRP Panel but send instead, through Datu Oathman bin Abdul Razak (the Malaysian facilitator) the ‘crafted, agreed, signed’ documents (authenticated with watermarks by both Sides. It was a powerful message that cannot be read otherwise than that, why meet if you do not intend to comply with what you had previously signed? (Bold Italics supplied)
“The issue is not one of legalism, i.e. about constitutionality or legality of the negotiation process. It is simply a Political Question, not something justiciable at this point in time. This is a basic precept in constitutional law, such that the Supreme Court will not rule upon it.
“I have to point out that the legitimacy issue comes before us. To talk of federative asymmetry with the Bangsamoro state is ‘to put the horse before the cart’.
“Negotiating the outstanding issues within a Protocol or what is known in diplomatic practice as ‘Treaty Framework’ will achieve further ahead the transition mechanism in sequence, ending the process with the results of a referendum.
“Legitimacy here refers to something that could be done based on standards or conventions. Those who tie the so-called ‘constitutional process’ to the Mindanao conflict resolution tend to forget the legal history of the constitution (the 1935 Constitution) that created the ‘Moro problem’ itself. It is a fundamental one in which the plebiscitary consent of the Bangsamoro was never sought (but ignored instead).
“This demand for legitimating – say, domestic and international support for the negotiated peace deal – must be treated as distinct from the demand for justifying on the part of the government (president and cabinet) its action.”
The Real Issue
Iqbal, Lingga and Mastura are arguing that the real issue in the stalled GRP-MILF peace talk is not constitutionality but consensus points. The only option to save peace – and national honor too on the part of the Arroyo government – is not the lately proposed amendment of the Constitution but the return to the negotiation table after signing the MOA embodying the 19 consensus points.
The final option is absolutely, exclusively in the hands of President Arroyo. Will she give the Bangsamoro “BJE” or “Death”? Will she unleash the hawks and hounds of war to lay waste the peace that has been growing with the help of international good will and cooperation? (“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]).